That's 20 years after the dust of the crumbling communism had settled. Eastern Europe has reached its maturity, one could say, and seems ready to throw away the old labels that used to be stuck to it like a surname.
In 2011, what used to be the former communist part of Europe, will no longer be looking any worse than the rest of the happier parts of the Old Continent that remained at the right side of the Iron Curtain through all those years. Let's start with politics. The old stereotype that the "Eastern" European governments are unstable and chaotic, is no longer valid. Next year the Estonian PM Andrus Ansip will become the "almost" longest serving PM within the EU. He's been in power since 2005 (only the "eternal" Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg and the now very criticized Jose Zapaterro of Spain are still beating him). We should add the Polish PM Donald Tusk who'll probably be re-elected in 2011, and this would make him the longest-serving PM of his country ever since 1989, and surely a representative of the new breed of unostentatiously impressive leaders.
Next, corruption. It's becoming clearer than ever that the divide is rather South/North, not East/West. Estonia ans Slovenia are already doing much better than Spain, Italy or Portugal in countering corruption (and almost all East Europeans are doing better than "West-European" Greece, which is actually located in the south-eastern corner of the continent).
Next year several countries will climb up the rankings in terms of such positive indicators like competitiveness and credit reliability. After a brief period of cautiousness because of the threat of bankruptcies and devaluation during the global financial crisis, now investors are quickly re-assessing their prejudices to the region. In countries like Poland, there's a boom of investments and a rising living standard. Estonia will be joining the Euro zone in 2011, and that - in the middle of a crisis in the EU. And requirements are very tough for such an achievement. The investors are already flocking at the door, while countries like Greece and Ireland have gone down the gutter.
The generously planted Euro funds that were given to those countries at their entry to EU have started bearing fruit. New highways and faster railways are being completed, erasing the painful memories of the sluggish trains and the broken roads from the not-so-distant past. Even countries that are at the back of the queue, like Romania and Bulgaria, are enjoying an upsurge of infrastructure projects. A new, second bridge over the Danube river will be opened at the end of 2011, putting an end to one of the most paradoxical stalemate situations in the history of modern Europe.
It would be unfair if the former communist states are still considered marginalized in a diplomatical sense, too. Poland's chair at the EU summits, after that country becoming good pals with France and Germany, and improving its relations with Russia, is getting drawn closer to the table where they'll be sitting alongside the "big boys", while Spain's seat is looking more uncertain than ever. Obama, too, is planning the largest joint military exercises in the Baltic region ever, and it's scheduled for 2011, its aim being to underline the commitment to the security of Poland and its ever restless Baltic neighbors.
The outdated notion that the region is living in fear should also be thrown out the window. Even the latest concerns of Russia possibly cutting the energy supplies are soon to be answered. Latvia and Lithuania are actively building an "energy bridge" across the Baltic, which will connect them to Sweden. Other countries are at an advanced stage of constructing terminals for importing liquid natural gas, and some are developing their own gas deposits.
At Poland and Hungary's insistence, the EU is financing several pipelines spanning from north to south, which would break the Russian monopoly on the gas supplies (which now runs in an east-to-west direction).
All in all, by the end of 2011 and hopefully beyond, most of the new Eastern EU members, plus some from the further periphery, will be enjoying a much better position and looking for much improved perspectives ahead of them. In a sense, chances are that the "bright future" that our former communist rulers used to promise to us so generously, is getting closer, but this time truly due to the hard effort of all the people living east of the former Iron Curtain. And that's something the region hasn't realistically even dreamt of having for centuries. Maybe then we'll have to come up with a new name for the region. How about "the Advancing European Countries?"
Some useful charts & maps: