Localization in Central and Eastern Europe

As the European Union expands eastward, more language combinations come into play

May 1, 2004, is going to be a memorable day for 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). On that day, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will become full members of the European Union (EU), making it a community and market comprising 25 nations and a population of more than 450 million people, with an annual combined gross domestic product (GDP) in excess of $8,200 billion and a potential for accelerated growth. This will also put the EU in a stronger position in the triad of the major trading blocs, compared with NAFTA and ASEAN.

(Editor's Note: This article appeared in the October/November 2003 issue of MultiLingual Computing magazine.)

By joining the EU, these 10 countries will realize their long-term dreams and ambitions and at the same time complete a process, which for many started just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Emotions and national aspirations aside, the EU enlargement poses a number of opportunities and challenges for these countries, as well as for any company doing business with them or within their borders.

This article examines the CEE region as it counts the days toward membership, the impact for corporations, with a focus on implications for multilingual and localized content and the changing regulatory framework in the region. It also provides a brief history of the localization industry in CEE and considers future developments. It deals not only with the "10 new EU" countries, but looks also at some other countries in the region, including Russia.

What is CEE?

There are many views and definitions of what constitutes the region of CEE, just as there are about where Europe actually starts and ends. The accepted definition, based on geographical and political sentiments, has CEE as including all the European countries east of Germany and south to the Balkans. The region is made up of a rich and diverse population, encompassing over 20 national states and a population of more than 345 million people speaking a mixture of Indo-European and Uralic languages, in addition to English (Malta) and Greek (Cyprus).

The Languages

Overall, the largest part of the region speaks Slavic languages (Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Russian and Ukrainian), followed by a number of Baltic (Latvian and Lithuanian) and Finno-Ugric (Estonian, Hungarian) languages. These are complemented by Romanian and Moldovan (Romance languages), Greek (Attic), Turkish (Altaic) and Albanian.

While the Slavic languages have common roots and share a number of similarities (and are still mutually understandable to some extent), each language still possesses specific characters. Most of these languages use Latin scripts, but Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Moldavian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian use Cyrillic. In a similar vein, Greek uses the Greek script.

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