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Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe

Traian Stoianovich

Bogna Lorence-Kot


Because of common biological foundations, societies have tended to divide childhood into two main categories, children under seven and children from seven to fourteen or fifteen. The age group from fourteen to twenty-one comprises a third life category, which most societies did not, for a long time, associate with childhood.

In classical Greek antiquity, Hippocrates distinguished between three phases of early human life: that of the paidion, the child until age seven; that of the pais, the child of sevento fourteen; and that of the mourakion, the person between fourteen and twenty-one, when males usually were admitted into their father's deme and females were married. In western Europe, in response to urbanization, commercialization, the development of schools, and the rise of chivalry, this third stage was recognized between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. With the diffusion of chivalry to the Serb lands between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, which required long training in knightly games, delayed marriage may have become almost as common among privileged Serbian males of the warrior class as it was in the West. For most social categories of the western and central Balkans, however, a long transitional stage between childhood and adulthood came into existence only after 1830.

The Domestic Family

From the fifteenth century until 1830, the Balkans divided on the basis of biosocial regimes into three areas: the western and west-central or Serb, Croat, western Bulgarian, and Albanian lands; the east-central Balkan or eastern Bulgarian


lands; and the Adriatic, Aegean, and Black Sea coastlands. In the western and west-central lands, 60 to 80 percent of the population was included in extended households. In the east-central regions, the proportion fell to 40 percent; in the coastlands, to 20 percent.

Epistion was the ancient Greek term for household, meaning, literally, "(pertaining) to the hearth." The hearth was the place of assembly for the smallest socially defined unit for such common purposes as eating, celebrating, and grieving. The household could be small or large. Among the descendants of the Slavs who migrated into the Balkans in the sixth and seventh centuries, the term for household was the same as the word for house. In the early nineteenth century, however, south Slavic thinkers adopted the term zadruga to denote extended household, a term meaning "harmony" or "for the other." Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has suggested the use of another term, domestic family, for the extended household. We accept the suggestion but will define it in the sense of the extended household of the south Slavic or Balkan type. The latter was not just the product of a process of continuing lineal and lateral expansion and contraction but also of the aspiration to perdurability. It was a corporate body whose members identified land, work implements, and livestock as their common property.

Extension was a response to three circumstances. Pastoral transhumance, which needed the labor of male children from seven to fourteen years old, may have given an initial impetus to the formation of households of many adults and children. It was also a response to the need of agriculturalists and raisers of livestock alike for a household of more than two adults to assure the presence of someone to care for children in case of the death of one or two adults. Finally, large and strong families were a response to the need for protection against intruders during periods of insecurity.

By its very size, the vast Ottoman Empire created conditions under which long-distance transhumance was able to prosper and expand. It also engendered insecurity in the extensive marchlands formed with neighboring European states. Between the latter part of the fifteenth century and 1830, these marchlands remained an area of insecurity and of wide diffusion of a biosocial regime of domestic households, in which children up to fourteen years old made up well over 40 and even close to 50 percent of the population.

The Stages of Childhood

Records regarding the first phase of Balkan childhood are meager. Among the Balkan Turks, however, the sixteenth-century naturalist Pierre Belon du Mans, in a comparison of urban populations, says that children there were "never so stinky" or so difficult to bring up as the children of the "Latins," or Roman Catholics of western Europe. Turkish mothers breast-fed their infants until they were at least ten months old. They fed them no cereals or milk from a nonhuman source until that age, in contrast to the Latins, who gave them such foods much earlier. The infants were cradled until they were able to control their physiological needs. Through their cradles, which were made of taut leather, a hollow tube attached to the child's urinary member passed out through a small hole into a receptacle. In this way, mothers avoided the soiling of their rugs or carpets, diminished the need for linens, and kept their infants clean and comfortable.

Nineteenth-century and later observers note that infants were swaddled in almost all Balkan rural districtslightly in Albania, round and round in Macedonia. In Macedonia, infants were allowed to have one hand free after their first smile; in Albanian districts, after they were forty days old. In southern Macedonia, mothers changed their children as soon as they wet themselves. Macedonian mothers fondled or tapped them playfully, tickled them around the lips, and told them stories. In Macedonia and Montenegro alike, infants normally were weaned in their third or fourth year. The functions of Balkan mothers later shifted to accustoming children to recognize male authorities and to teaching them the requirements of communal survival: to honor elders, observe age and sex differences, economize by not dropping crumbs, and respond to household needs.

In the second stage of childhood, the head of the household and the fathers and paternal uncles took over the task of teaching male children work tasks and instilling in them the need for collaboration. Mothers prepared female children for wifehood and motherhood.

Adolescence was virtually absent. Early marriage was common. In 146 of the villages enumerated in the county of Belgrade in 1530, only 13 percent of the male adults (males fourteen or fifteen years of age and over) were unmarried. In the Croatian Military Frontier during the Napoleonic era, females were married at age thirteen or fourteen, males at sixteen or seventeen. Table 1 shows certain other contrasts in the percentage of children in the total population.

Celibacy and late marriage suggest a low representation of children. Many Dubrovnik nobles married after age forty or fifty or remained celibate. Dubrovnik noblewomen did not marry until they were twenty-five or thirty. In the new city of Sarajevo in 1516, only 13.5 percent of the Orthodox males over fourteen or fifteen were unmarried compared to 39.6 percent of the Muslim males. In 1528, the proportion among Muslim males rose to 52.8 percent. In late nineteenth-century Istanbul, most males married after age thirty, and many remained bachelors. The city's females married after age twenty.

The practice of abortion, other means of birth control, and venereal disease curtailed the number of children. A French consul versed in medical matters, F. C. H. L. Pouqueville, noted in the 1790s that Muslim Moreot (Peloponnesian) women practiced abortion and had fewer children than the Orthodox Greek women of the peninsula. Ottoman attempts to curb abortion were of no avail. Instead, Orthodox Christian women, rural and urban alike, also resorted to the practice. Long known to the western Asian and Mediterranean cultures, the practice of abortion and of other modes of birth control was less common in interior Balkan districts. Conducive to their diffusion were a growing acceptance between 1830 and 1880 of European ideas of fashion, an increasingly favorable attitude toward European conceptions of modernity and individuality, and the affirmation of European models of urban organization. Such influences emanated from two directions. They spread from the east (Istanbul) and south (Thessaloniki), moving northward and westward. They were also diffusedand ever more vigorously during the second half of the nineteenth centurysouthward from Vienna and Hungary. Finding acceptance among the Serbs of Hungary, they made their way to Serbia and Bosnia. In their wake and under the effect of compulsory male military service, urbanization, growing literacy, intensified contact with Europe, the relaxation of the authority of elders, and a growing propensity to delayed marriage, birth-control practices and abortionwhich together were known as the "white plague"spread southward.

The practice of delayed marriage acted to promote an upward creeping in the rate of illegitimacy in Serbia. From 1880 to 1884, however, the illegitimacy rate in that country still stood at less than 1 percent of all births. In 1877, it was1.41 percent in Greece, 4.74 percent in Romania, 7.1 percent in France, and 7.4 percent in Hungary. In 1878, it stood at 7.15 percent in Italy, 7.44 percent in Germany, and 14.1 percent in Austria.

Revision of the Biosocial Regime

The revision of the biosocial regime of the Balkan interior, however, was a product not simply of diffusion but of earlier changes promoted by Balkan elites: demographic growth, urbanization, improved communication and transportation, commercialization, the obligation of military service for males, the diffusion of an ideology of freedom and individuality, and the voluntary adoption of western European political, social, economic, and cultural models. These innovations included the establishment of governments of law, with provisions for the security of life and property and a favorable disposition toward the formation of an informed, communicating society. These innovations were introduced in Wallachia and Moldavia after 1830, and in Greece, Serbia, and Croatia in the 1830s and especially 1840s. Aided by a growing cereal economy, they spread to the Ottoman Danube vilayet (northern Bulgaria). After the Crimean War and the Congress of Berlin, they found root in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The best-informed person in a domestic household was likely to be the pater familias or stares œina. The following incident suggests that he sometimes may also have been the member most responsive to the new institutions supportive of individual initiative and an informed society. The Serbian ethnographer Milan <Eth>uro Milicevic (18311908), relates that when he was a child, his eighty-five-year-old grandfather gathered together his sons, grandsons, and older nephews to tell them that what hitherto had been known as "ours" henceforth would be "ours, yours, and theirs." The household would have to separate. Eager to favor their own children, the women of such households later would also favor separation.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the spread of elementary, intermediate, and higher schools, and of opportunities for the sons of the privileged to study in other European countries, aided the process of creating self-instituted generations, made up of persons in their late teens and twenties who, under the impetus of some great issue, interest, or idea, emerged as groups able to influence the rest of the population until another strong interest or idea gave rise to the formation of a new generation. In Croatia, Serbia, Vojvodina, and Greece, such a generation, informed by the ideology of liberalism, arose in the 1840s. Its elders, constitutionalist notables, regarded the demonstrations and polemics of this generation in 1848 as the "games of children." In fact, the extension of higher education to the sons of the privileged had resulted in the creation of a life cycle of delayed marriage. One demand of the students of the Licej (lyceum, the future university) of Belgrade in 1848 was that they be allowed to wear swords and marten-skin caps, parts of the uniform of the Serbian bureaucracy, in recognition of their right to fill future governmental positions. In 1868, Svetozar Markovic (18461875), the son of a Serbian prefect, urged the formation of a "radical party" to wage a "struggle against everything that has grown too old." The Bulgarian poet Hristo Botev emerged as a critic of Bulgarian mothers for striving to prevent their sons and daughters from becoming realists. A fellow Bulgarian, Ljuben Karavelov, discoursed on the conflict of generations.

Another consequence of the new societal model was that rural houses began to be built of more durable materials and with more rooms. The typical Balkan rural house in lowland districts grew from a dwelling of one or two rooms (without the kitchen) in 1830 to a dwelling of four rooms in 1900. In highland rural districts, it grew from nothing more than a kitchen and all-purpose room to a building of two or three rooms. Households became smaller. Houses became larger. The idea of a separate room for children or of the separation of the sexes could be conceptualized only around or after 1900.

The formation of a new biosocial regime of childhood and adulthood similar to that of Western Europe, which was simultaneously furthered and arrested by two world wars and by political and economic crises, continued after 1945, at first mostly under communist but ultimately again under capitalist direction. Its affirmation has been least complete among rural Albanian, Kosovo, and Bosnian Muslims. Specific conditions under communism, however, did generate some distinctive features. Housing shortages in countries like Hungary, for example, generated more multigenerational households after World War II, when these were virtually disappearing in western Europe. More recent developments point to a resumption of convergence in the experience of childhood between the Balkans and the rest of Europe.

See also: Eastern Europe: Poland.


Golden, Mark. 1990. Children and Childhood in Classical Athens. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Hammel, Eugene A. 1972. "The Zadruga as Process." In Household and Family in Past Time: Comparative Studies in the Size and Structure of the Domestic Group over the Last Three Centuries in England, France, Serbia, Japan, and Colonial North America, with Further Materials from Western Europe, ed. Laslett, Peter, with the assistance of Richard Wall. Cambridge, UK: University Press.

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Traian Stoianovich


The values of the nobility shaped the rearing of Polish children until the mid-to late eighteenth century, when Enlightenment influences and political developments led to major reforms. Enlightenment ideas about the nature and treatment of children had been seeping into Poland prior to the First Partition in 1772, when its territory was divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The loss of territory, along with fear of further losses, also spurred reforms dedicated to national priorities instead of the goals of the nobility, because child-rearing practices and educational norms were perceived as being basic to national interests. Reforms included the secularization, nationalization, and Polonization of schooling. Girls were to be educated and mothers were encouraged to raise good citizens from infancy by taking physical and emotional care of their young. These measures contrast with the preceding distant and intimidating attitude of adults toward the young.

Public discussion about children waned following the Third Partition in 1795, because the occupiers had little interest in Polish issues and even less in progressive ideas. During the period of subjugation (17951918), Austrians did little to proscribe Polish identity, viewing Poland as the empire's hinterland. The other two occupiers, Prussia and Russia, sought absorption of Poles into their own cultures, but Polish resistance to integration became apparent with the failed Uprising of 1830 in Russian Poland. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the failed 1863 Uprising in Russian Poland provoked elimination of all Polish topics from public school curricula. Prussians pursued similar measures in the wake of German unification and Bismarck's Kulturkampf. But Poles, who made clear distinctions between nationality and state authority, felt no affinity for either Russians or Germans, and continued covert inculcation of Polish national identity in the young.

Historically, Polish cultural intransigence came as a surprise to those who knew that prior to the partitions, progressive Poles had shown little interest in Polish identity, preferring cosmopolitanism and everything French. In its serious version, that sentiment promoted the modernization of Polish culture for the purpose of preserving independence by aligning it with developments in Western Europe. Upon loss of independence Poles refocused on neglected national traditions, rediscovering some of what they had scorned in the eighteenth century. It may well be said that the partitions helped forge a modern Polish identity.

Identity apart, Poles always followed developing Western European trends. They were particularly interested in Progressive education, such as the educational ideals promoted by Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori. To the extent that private school funding was available and the censors were satisfied, a minority of Polish children experienced the best that the educational world could offer. As for the rest, improvised home education augmented, if not negated, state schooling. Efforts to sustain the Polish ethos in the children of literate parents were expanded to illiterate peasant children. Progressives supported these efforts because they viewed peasant children as Polish nationals in the making; conservatives shared those goals because they were anxious to buttress class distinctions and inculcate the proper work ethic.

By the 1880s, when political activism turned to improving society instead of battling for independence, young Poles of both genders were proselytizing on behalf of Polish culture. The defeat of 1863 had turned Poles toward so-called organic work, which focused on social and economic improvement rather than armed struggle. Norman Davies points out that thirty years of such missionary activity yielded a bumper crop of private, informal, and covert Polish cultural enterprises, which swamped the Prussian and Russian educational system. Poles were culturally intact when they gained independence in 1918, but they faced enormous practical difficulties. The task of creating an organic infrastructure for three territories that had been apart for over a century was daunting. The problem of unification was compounded by the high rate of illiteracy and by the existence of several ethnic minorities who did not necessarily identify with Polish culture. The nation was still in the process of becoming when World War II began.

Loss is the operative word for the Polish experience of World War II. Estimates indicate that Poland lost over 2.6 million children under the Nazi and Soviet occupations. The children represent 38 percent of all Polish human losses during the war. Of the two hundred thousand children taken to Germany for the purpose of Germanization, only 20 percent returned. Both German and Soviet invaders destroyed school facilities and annihilated educators. Yet in the midst of terror, Poles managed to print books to teach their children Polish subjects, their teenagers finished high school, and graduates took university courses. It is as if wartime was just a variation on the period of partitions.

At the end of the war Poles expected to pick up where they had left off in 1939. That illusion lasted only three years. In 1948, having gained political control, the communists began organizing school reforms whose stated goal was raising the level and quality of education, but whose real purpose was indoctrination of the young. Polish texts were replaced with Soviet works. Contact with Western educational practice disappeared. Again, Polish families did their best to offset what children learned in school by exposing them to views that were not politically correct.

Following the dissolution of communist control in 1989, members of the Solidarity Partywith the support of the Catholic Churchembarked on new school reforms. In 1991, a law was passed authorizing the post-communist National School Reform Act. This act opened the door to the establishment of private schools by individuals, foundations, municipal governments, and religious institutions, none of which was possible earlier. According to observers, the reforms have had mixed success so far. Their stated goal has been to modernize Polish education and to meet the criteria of the European Union. But, according to some Polish critics, the constant search for new programs, new texts, and new pedagogical approaches has, at times, undermined the stability of the public school system. Ironically, democracy appears to present greater educational opportunity, but also greater challenges, than Poles faced under various occupiers.

See also: Eastern Europe: Balkans; Education, Europe.


Davies, Norman. 1982. God's Playground: A History of Poland. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lorence-Kot, Bogna. 1985. Child-Rearing and Reform: A Study of the Nobility in Eighteenth-Century Poland. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lorence-Kot, Bogna, and Adam Winiarz. 2000. "Education in Poland." In Kindergartens and Culture: The Global Diffusion of an Idea, ed. Roberta Wollons. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Bogna Lorence-Kot

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Eastern Europe


EASTERN EUROPE. SeeCentral Europe, Relations with .

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