Central Europe is an area of Europe between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, based on a common historical, social and cultural identity. The Thirty Years' War between Catholicism and Protestantism was a significant shaping process in the history of Central Europe. The concept of “Central Europe” appeared in the 19th century.
Central Europe comprised most of the territories of the Holy Roman Empire and those of the two neighboring kingdoms to the east, Poland and Hungary. Hungary and parts of Poland were later part of the Habsburg monarchy, which also significantly shaped the history of Central Europe. Unlike their Western European counterparts, the Central European nations never had any notable overseas colonies due to their inland location and other factors. It has often been argued that one of the contributing causes of both World War I and World War II was Germany's lack of original overseas colonies.
After World War II, Central Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain (as agreed by the Big Three at the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Conference) into two parts, the capitalist Western Bloc and the communist Eastern Bloc. The Berlin Wall was one of the most visible symbols of these artificial and forced divisions. Specifically, Stalin had advocated the creation of a "Soviet 'sphere of influence' in Central Europe, starting with Poland, in order to provide the Soviet Union with a geopolitical buffer zone between it and the western capitalist world".
Central Europe began a "strategic awakening" in the late 20th and early 21st century, with initiatives such as Central European Defence Cooperation, the Central European Initiative (CEI), Centrope, and the Visegrád Four Group. This awakening was triggered by writers and other intellectuals who recognized the societal paralysis of decaying dictatorships and felt compelled to speak up against Soviet oppression.
All of the Central European countries are presently listed as being "very highly developed" by the Human Development Index (see List of central European countries by development indexes).