The centennial of the outbreak of World War I came and went in June 2014, but REGION can be excused for the delay in publishing a cluster of articles on the impact of the war in Eastern Europe. The war, after all, lasted more than four years, and while commemorations of the war’s outbreak have their purpose, so do sober reflections on the war’s continuation and geographical expansion beyond the initial skirmishes as well as its impact in the years that followed. The centennial commemorations inevitably concerned themselves with why Europe went to war, what was thought to be at stake, and how expectations were soon confounded. The focus inevitably was on the Great Powers and their politicians and diplomats.
The five articles assembled for this special issue address a broader set of questions and historical actors. In conformity with the animus of this journal, they concern the war’s impact on specific, regionally defined populations located in Europe’s east. The articles range in scope from a single fictitious individual whose wartime diary serves as the device for expressing despair at what had become of an entire region (the Banat), to the multiethnic population of a fortified town in Galicia (Przemyśl); a particular district of Albania (Mallakastër) that saw the presence of both Italian and Austro-Hungarian belligerents; the borderland between Austria and Hungary; and the entirety of a particular class in Hungary—that country’s peasants. Thematically, they address such pertinent issues as the psychic scars of war, the strengthening of ethno-national identity as a consequence of war, and new antagonisms spawned by it.
Together, these articles demonstrate that more than a hundred years after it began, World War I’s transformational power continues to astonish. By literally mobilizing, it made violent migrants of millions. By displacing them from home and often homeland, it not only expanded mental horizons but opportunities for physical destructiveness. This in turn precipitated waves of refugees, concretized ideas of national salvation, and left much bitterness and resentment in its wake. Regional variations on these themes are worthy of our attention not only because they can evoke empathy for the other, but because they expand our awareness of repertoires of survival. Eastern Europeans would, alas, have to draw on those repertoires again only a few decades hence. [End Page 149]