When I began work on the first of my two volumes charting the history of the Baltic region, the first breezes of change were just beginning to eddy through the fug of forty-odd years of communist misrule in eastern Europe. I completed that volume as the breezes increased to gale force, sweeping away outmoded regimes and shaking to its foundations the seemingly solid edifice of the Soviet Union. As I began writing my second volume in 1991, the Soviet empire itself collapsed, releasing once more into the world of sovereign, independent nations the three Baltic states which had been absorbed into that empire some five decades earlier. No historian can afford to be indifferent to the happenings of his or her own times, and the unfolding of events over the past few years will clearly be reflected in these pages. This introductory essay was originally intended to be a link between my first and second volumes; now, I feel that it should also seek to present some kind of historical perspective of an earlier imperial experience which might be useful in the understanding of contemporary developments. Moralists and optimists might like to believe that history teaches us lessons, though I fear only cynics can draw any joy from that particular adage. Historians feel obliged to make some sort of sense of the past, although if they are wise they will refrain from drawing too many conclusions. But one conclusion cannot be avoided at the present moment: the old terminology of 'eastern' and 'western' Europe is no longer adequate and may indeed hinder future efforts to reshape or redefine a wider European community. In this volume, I hope to examine the prospects for a more balanced regional perspective, pointing up the affinities and shared

experiences as well as indicating the obvious differences and connections elsewhere of an area all too often relegated to an ill-defined 'periphery' or - more commonly - split into the political, Cold War categories of 'east' and 'west'.