The article is premised on the idea that the concept of «Mitteleuropa» (central Europe) is part of the European mental map embracing a broad set of meanings. As such, it has been deployed for the construction of collective identities as well as for forging visions that tended to reshape geographical and cultural spaces. In the past the notion of «Mitteleuropa» has been associated with both nostalgic perspectives and forward-looking projects of territorial reorganization.
Among the many different views of «Mitteleuropa» two stand out and provide the focus for the article: an imperialistic one, associated with the Prussian-German plans of hegemony in the central and middle-east European area; and an anti-imperialistic model of political and cultural integration concerning a central part of the continent. Focusing on the World war one era, the article investigates the discussions over central Europe crystallizing in two programmatic writings, Friedrich Naumann's Mitteleuropa (1915) and Tomàs G. Masaryk's The New Europe (1917). The former represented a national-liberal viewpoint championing Germany's hegemonic ambitions in central Europe; the latter gave voice to the idea of a multiethnic evolution of the Habsburg empire in a democratic direction.