Geography of Europe 2017 – Blog #3 Posted on September 4, 2017 by saorsa2014 Discuss resistance to the USSR and communism in Cold War Eastern Europe Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related
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The Cold War is estimated to have begun in 1947 and to have ended in 1991, although most historians have conflicting opinions on those dates. At the end of World War II, the United States, Britain, and the USSR forged an alliance. They met so that they could discuss the future of Europe after the war. It was decided that the Western allies would maintain their sphere of influence over Western Europe and the USSR would maintain a sphere of influence over Eastern Europe. This led to the rise of the two central superpowers: The USSR and the U.S. Their conflicting ideologies, capitalism and communism, were the roots of the Cold War. Just having come out of such a devastating war, the U.S. and the USSR attempted to gain influence over one another without directly engaging in war, hence the title “Cold War.” Poland and Czechoslovakia were liberated from Germany by the USSR. The Soviets had also begun occupying Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The USSR established communist governments which became the “Eastern Bloc.” This led to the creation of the Berlin Wall or the “Iron Curtain” which can be seen in the bottom left and the top right images.
There were several programs, treaties, pacts, and attempts by the Western bloc to reduce soviet influence over the Eastern bloc. One of the first main events was the Berlin Blockade in 1948. The USSR blocked the West’s access to roads, railways, and canals. The West responded with the Berlin Airlift. The U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, and others rallied in an effort to provide the people of Germany with food, water, and supplies in which over 200,000 flights they successfully delivered nearly 9,000 tons per day. The Soviet Union did nothing to disrupt this as it would result in open conflict, therefore, the blockade was lifted.
Another program to reduce Soviet influence was the creation of NATO. It initially included Great Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, and Iceland. The purpose was to create a unified militarization pact. In other words, if one was attacked by the USSR or any other opposing faction, they would consider it an attack against all of them. This was a major component in resisting and limiting Soviet influence as they were trying to avoid direct wartime involvement. The Soviet Union later attempted to join NATO, however, they were rejected under the suspicion they were trying to weaken the alliance. The Soviet Union countered with the creation of the Warsaw Pact which claimed to be a defensive response to NATO. However, after the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia, several powers such as Albania and East Germany withdrew from the pact and led to the series of Revolutions in the 1980s just prior to the USSR collapse in 1991 (top left and bottom right images). These civil resistance revolutions occurred all across the Eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania (the only violent revolution). Ultimately, this led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and German Unification as well as the dissolution of the USSR.
Good thorough discussion but you don’t really discuss resistance until the last paragraph.
On March 5, 1946, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech to the Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri which is most famously remembered for Churchill’s use of the term “iron curtain” concerning the spread of Soviet-brand communism across Europe. Churchill stated: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.” Political cartoonist Leslie Gilbert Illingworth then took this speech and developed the famous image we see in the upper right corner of the collage. While the “iron curtain” was certainly intimidating and formidable, we see Churchill able to lift it up and look under it in the image. It is not impenetrable. And those living on the other side of it are not beyond reach; the connections are still there. Throughout the Cold War, there was always resistance to the USSR and communism in Eastern Europe.
I assume the top left image of the collage was taken during the Prague Spring demonstrations of 1968. After a series of reforms designed to grant additional rights to citizens of Czechoslovakia and government decentralization, Warsaw Pact troops entered the country to return Soviet order. A resistance formed to meet these occupiers and it took the Soviet military eight months to subdue the resistance. The image underneath it is of Lech Wałęsa, a co-founder and leader of the Polish labor union “Solidarity.” This organization, which encompassed around a third of the working-age population in Poland, was founded in 1980 and championed the advancement of workers’ rights and social advancements in the country. This was the first trade union in a Warsaw Pact country that was not under communist control and helped to push out Soviet control of Poland. The lower right corner image is of the decapitated statue head of Joseph Stalin which once stood in Budapest, built as a 70th birthday present for him. In October of 1956, around 100,000 Hungarians dismantled the statue as an act of sympathy with the events of Polish October. At one point during the demonstration, one Hungarian placed a sign over Stalin’s mouth that read “Russians, when you run away don’t leave me behind!”
The image in the lower left corner of the collage contains the most physical representation of “the iron curtain:” the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 to separate West Berlin from East Germany. The wall was constantly monitored and secured as to keep East Germans from fleeing to the West. The economic and social disparities between the two sides of the wall were the clearest examples of the effects of Soviet control on Eastern Europe. It is estimated that as many as over 200 people were killed in an attempt to cross the wall over the course of its existence. Serving as a massive symbol signifying the fall of Soviet communism in the region, the Berlin Wall was torn down and East and West Germany were eventually reunited on October 3, 1990.
After the war many countries found themselves very unstable and were very dependent on external support, this is when the USSR took control of the Eastern European countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. These countries relied heavily on the Soviets for economic aid therefore could not do anything to stop the spread of communism in the beginning because they were weak and they were afraid of the USSR due that they were well equipped military wise. Eastern forces would only attack if proven that the communist forces would be defeated, their only hope was the pressure coming from the west.
The USSR tried everything on their power to gain total control over these countries, creating new regimes which were imposed by Gorbachev. This was not very successful since most eastern countries were motivated by democracy and liberty, as the years went by the USSR empire was collapsing and the countries were independent no longer under the rule of communism.
Bulgaria was a country that was mostly anti-Russian coming from a large Turkish minority being 8% of the population. Other countries such as Bulgaria had the hope that the war would end on its own therefore didn’t do much to resist against communism. On the other hand there were other countries who were very active. Germany was very dependent on the West in order to be able to defeat the USSR. After the wall was built on berlin the West would not fall into temptation giving up on the fight, the U.S aided the Germans with food and water being transported every day. Many East Germans fled the country seeking for a brighter future and the communist regime disintegrated.
Poland was a very active country fighting against communism, they led strikes and movements calling for their rights, the soviet leader in Poland allowed for elections which was the end of the communist party in Poland allowing the rise on Mazoiecki the first non-communist as the head of government.
The berlin wall was a great example on how not only Germany but the Western and Eastern Europe are divided by a wall. On the cartoon image it is possible to see how the wall blocks any type of admittance from communication and transportation by blocking all movements. What showed to be the greatest symbol of the defeat of communism was the fall of the berlin wall on November 9, 1989. This was the day for the end of the cold war, many eastern countries were relieved because they felt liberty for the first time after the Second World War. The day in which communism ended was the best day for Europe, the statue of Stalin was completely destroyed as a sign of victory as seen on the image of the bottom right. Eastern countries were able to rule as they pleased, many countries executed their communist leader and changed their constitutions, in countries such as Romania some bloodshed was dispersed but in general it was a peaceful transaction.
Communism in Eastern Europe was often wholeheartedly embraced by large portions of the population. Outside of the USSR’s directly controlled territories, many states experienced the Soviets as antifascist liberators after the Red Army swept the Germans out of their occupied territories. Many of the East’s most effective resistance and partisan groups were ideologically communist, and the leadership of these groups made for an ample selection of local heroes to drive legal communist movements. With these two favorable variables, the USSR had little difficulty bringing favorable communist governments legally into power in the postwar period. However, in their consolidation of power, these communist governments slowly converted their respective political systems into single party states wholly in the pocket of the Soviet Union. Despite the official contraction of political rights, resistance groups sprang up across the Eastern Bloc throughout the Cold War period and left an indelible mark on the region’s quest for political self-determination.
The Czech Republic is notable for the Prague Spring, a 1968 attempt by the Dubcek government to democratize the state and grant the public additional basic civil rights. The reforms, sparked in part by the worldwide youth movements of the 1960s, were an early attempt at top down reform. Distinguished by uncharacteristic cooperation from the central government, the movement was characterized by peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations and a brief period of openness in the press. While the movement was exceedingly popular, the Politburo in Moscow saw instead a danger to their regional hegemony and responded with the Red Army. Rather than responding with reasonable terms, the Soviets chose the quick path to end Dubcek’s liberalization by force. Though the reforms were quickly undone, and the Czech state reverted to an equally oppressive government, the heavy-handed response galvanized dissidents’ resolve across the Eastern Bloc and discredited the legitimacy of the USSR’s claims to a much wider array of people.
Later, after the USSR’s ability to effectively impose its will eroded to match its dwindling ideological legitimacy, the Solidarity movement in Poland rose from a prominent Polish labor union to become a leading force in Poland’s quest for political independence. Led by eventual Polish president Lech Walesa, Solidarity grew from an independent trade union outside of Communist Party control into a broad social movement that united workers’ rights, Catholicism, and social change into a powerful movement against the communist leadership and the USSR’s hegemony. Unlike almost all social institutions in the USSR and most of its Eastern Bloc client states, Solidarity was not under party control. Since the 1920s, the Soviet Union consolidated its power in part by coopting most aspects of cultural life. Unions and workers’ rights were nominally the core supporters of communism, so their eventual downfall in Poland at the hands of a prominent labor union is quite ironic. Furthermore, the organization was demonstrably Catholic and was backed by the Holy See which railed against communist secularism, another core tenet of Soviet communism. With such wide backing, tenacious leadership, and outside backing, Solidarity achieved permanent change in Poland in 1989 and oversaw its transition to a democratic European state in the early 1990s.
With the end of the Second World in 1945 came the split of Germany and its distribution to Allied Powers. However, tensions arose over the method of governance and communism swept throughout eastern Europe under control of the USSR. On two sides we had a ‘stable democratic’ government against an inhumane authoritarian regime. Through paranoia and force, (the Iron Curtain) the USSR were capable of transforming bordering countries into communist states in an effort to solidify their power. As a result, resistance groups emerged to obstruct the USSR’s growing power and become independent. Just two years after the end of the Second World War, the Cold War begins. Though initially occupied by both the German and Soviet forces, Poland resistance groups would continue in their efforts against communist control until the Solidarity movement gained control in 1989 and the Third Polish Republic was created.
With it’s geographic location being between both Germany and Russia, Poland experienced a doubled sided occupation from both the Nazi forces and the Soviets during WWII. What followed was a series of push and pull endeavors in terms of who controls what. However, Soviets established complete control in 1944, following the Warsaw Uprising. Beginning in August of that year, an insurrection had occurred in Warsaw to force German troop withdrawal, unfortunately this uprising would lead to the Soviet occupation of Poland supposedly as a result of betrayal. The Soviet army advancing toward Warsaw seemed to promise aid had the Polish resistance groups staged an uprising, this obviously had not exactly gone according to plan, at least for the Polish resistance. Nazi forces effectively stumped the resistance effort while the Soviets watched and swiftly after, Soviet troops stormed the city and took control. Facing little to no resistance from Poland as forces were dismantled, communists quickly took power.
Over the next several years, various initiatives were taken place by resistance groups in order to receive control. Though the more active resistance initiatives took place after Stalin’s death, (with the establishment of De-Stalinization) which enabled the democratic transition in Poland. In particular, Solidarity was a Poland resistance movement that has received general scrutinization due to the fact that it was the big push that led to end of Poland’s communist government. The Solidarity movement began when a group of workers seized control over a shipyard in response to the failure of economy as a result of declining production. Their protest lead to negotiations with the communist regime in Poland and initiated the right to unionize, a first for a communist regime. The movement continued to gain momentum and gathered millions of participants, increasing the worry over another Soviet invasion due to weak power. This inevitably led to the outlaw of the movement in 1981. Despite this, the resistance still worked underground but unlike other resistance movements, pertained more towards nonviolence rather than riots and the like seen elsewhere. This nonviolent approach would help them in the end and with a push to legalize Solidarity from other western countries, the Solidarity movement would win the 1989 election and the communist regime would fall in Poland.
Very nice discussion.
Following the end of World War II, many countries were quickly ushered into the Cold War. This refers to a period of political tension between Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc and the United States and its allies. The Eastern Bloc included all of countries that were allied with the Soviet Union and supported communism. However, despite being labeled as communist countries, many of the Eastern European countries pushed back with some significance against communist power. Protests began to break out dramatically after Khrushchev publicly denounced Stalin. Each country’s defiance’s yielded different results.
A vast majority of Poland identifies as Roman Catholics, and the Church’s stance on communism was extremely influential during the cold war. The nation rallied behind the church after it took a stance firmly against communism. The Catholic Church was communism’s strongest opponent during the Cold War, and it was a relatively successful resistance. However, the Polish government suppressed resistance efforts by forcibly giving control of the Catholic churches to Orthodox leaders.
In 1953, following the removal of their Stalinist leader, Hungary revolted in revolutions. They abolished the secret police, declared their objective to leave the Warsaw Pact, and promised the adoption of free elections. However, they were quickly invaded by the Soviet Union. Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported. They were never able to recover from the Soviet’s response to their revolution, and remained under communism until the fall of the iron curtain.
The Czechoslovakia coup d’état held a lot of significance during the Cold War. This referred to the Soviets taking complete control of the Czech government. This drew the concern of the West, creating a quick adoption of the Marshal Plan and the official drawing of the Iron Curtain. Czechoslovakia remained complacent, until the Prague Spring in 1968. During this period, the country attempted to reform and liberalize its government. They intended to increase freedom of speech, press and movement as well as there had been talks about withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. In response, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia on August 20th. This started a wave of emigration in which 300,000 Czechs and Slavs would leave the country. The invasion was met with protest from several countries, including Yugoslavia, Romania, China and Western European communist parties.
By 1989, the Soviet alliance system was beginning to fail. Eastern European countries were finally able to take advantage of their weakness of the Soviets. Anti-Soviet movements were gaining power, such as Poland’s Solidarity movement. Hungary and Poland were the first to begin organizing their own set of competitive elections. Other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany, began to see mass protest which powerful enough to remove communist leaders from their seats. Communist regimes were finally crumbling. All of this finally came to a head with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. This represented the end of communism in Europe and the fall of the Iron Curtain. With the exception of Romania, who were ushered into a violent uprising, each of the communist countries were able to see the end of their Soviet regimes in a peaceful overthrow.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers by the Allied Powers at the end of WWII, two very distinct zones of influence were drawn. The Paris Peace Conference of 1947 basically split the continent by who had retaken territory from the Nazis. The Soviets, by the time they reached Berlin in 1945, had already liberated the governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia and had troops positioned within Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Within these countries, they established puppet communist governments and these states became known as “the Eastern Bloc.” Many of the Eastern European citizenry was not pleased with these puppet governments, as they completely changed their economic way of life and were notorious for suppression. As evidenced by the images on this blog post, many chose to resist rather than conform to their Soviet influencers. Key to European resistance to the eastern bloc was the formation of NATO, which pressured the Soviets to create the Warsaw Pact in 1954. The Warsaw Pact included the whole of the Soviet Union along with communist Eastern European and Central Asian states as well.
Control of the city of Berlin itself, despite being located centrally in Eastern Germany, was split in half between the occupying powers. The western half of the city became a West German exclave. When the Soviets attempted to blockade the city from receiving supplies one of the first major resistance moments came about. The Berlin airlift of 1948-1949 was the Western solution to the city’s crisis as American, British, and French airplanes airdropped supplies into the blockaded portion. The Soviets could not enter this part of the city or shoot the planes down without risking a war breaking out, and thus were helpless as the citizenry triumphed. However, further Soviet attempts to isolate the West Berlin populace would prove more successful but also more prevocational. The top right and bottom left images of the collage are instantly the most distinguishable due to their infamy. Erected in 1961 by East Germany following Soviet pressure, the Berlin Wall divided the city physically and symbolically in half. The wall came to symbolize how the Iron Curtain had divided the continent as one half was communist while the other housed democratic governments.
The top left image appears to display a Soviet (or other member of the Warsaw Pact) tank being surrounded by Czechoslovak insurgents during the Prague Spring of 1968. Following the election of reformist Alexander Dubcek in January, strong attempts to create “Socialism with a human face” through liberalization of censorship, movement, and a shift to emphasize consumer goods. In August of that year, militaries of the Warsaw Pact (mainly Soviet) invaded Czechoslovakia and asserted Soviet dominance in the region. The people of Prague understandably were upset and hundreds were injured as they resisted. Eventually, Dubcek was forced out of power and his reforms rolled back, allowing the Soviets to further assert control over the Czechoslovak government, as well as set an example to other communist states that they would readily respond with military force.
In the background of the middle left image, there is the logo for “Solidarity” which began as a trade union in Poland in 1980. At the time, it was the first trade union not controlled by any Communist Party within a Warsaw Pact country. Throughout the 80s it would grow into a full blown political party and gained financial support from both Pope John Paul II and the United States, despite Soviet imposed martial law being imposed for two years. It acted as a symbol of Polish resistance during that time and it’s leader, Lech Walesa, was elected as President of Poland in 1990 following the fall of communism.
Let’s face it. Life in the USSR during the cold war was still a higher standard of living than a good part of the rest of the world. Though given the term “the second world countries” citizens within the communist bloc still enjoyed things like (semi) stable governments and few armed conflicts. The issue arises when they are compared to the lives on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain. Life in the USSR in Eastern Europe was pretty stale compared to that of the Capitalist West. The west had stocked supermarkets, immense economic opportunities, and much better individual freedom. When citizens in the east would ask “why can’t we have those things” they received a swift kick in the back both metaphorically and physically. This is where resistance to the USSR would come to life and over the course of nearly 50 years, there would become a long saga of standing up to totalitarianism in the name of reform.
Of the first major resistance movements was the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. After students burst into a Budapest radio station broadcasting their demands to the communist government, much of the nation rose up to protest against the regime. In an effort not to show weakness and quickly quell the revolt, soldiers and police fired upon demonstrators killing hundreds of people. Though this would subdue the population fro much the rest of the Cold War, much of the population despised its communist leaders.
East Germany would be a problem state for much of the period. In 1953 a worker uprising that spread throughout much of the state would become a violent one. Workers demanded more civil rights and access to Western media and products flooded the streets, but this too would be brutally put down by the DDR. Another resistance movement, albeit far more passive and effect, would occur for the next 8 years, particularly in Berlin. As many East Germans feared, and many other Eastern Europeans as well, the Communist bloc would not be able to provide the life they actually promised and many opted to go west. At first, thousands upon thousands of Germans and Eastern Europeans crossed the border into Western Europeans state and were welcomed with open arms. Those ablest to leave were most often the wealthy and educated. Seeing their upper echelon of society leave, the communist states took action. Best personified by the Berlin Wall, there were border fences erected upon the entire border from the west. Anyone caught fleeing was to be shot. Churchill’s Iron Curtain had become a reality. This did not stop people from doing so, however, and there are many brave and tragic stories of those fleeing to freedom.
Other points of resistance include Pope John Paul II’s speech to Poland in 1978 and the 1968 Prague Spring. Though a brutal dictator, Tito’s split from the USSR marked one of the first major cracked in the Soviet bloc. Resistance to the USSR may not have directly caused its downfall in 1990, however, the resilience of those who stood up for their rights are extremely integral to many of these nations’ national identities to this day.
Initially, the Soviet forces were welcomed into many European nations as they were seen as the liberators that had come and fought to expel the Nazi influence. As many of the victims of the Holocaust came from Eastern Europe, the populations of these nations had been devastated and any group that seemed to get revenge for that was a welcoming sign for many. The greatest resistance to Communist incursion in Eastern Europe by the USSR during the Cold War was focused in three places: Poland, Romania, and the Baltic States. First, Poland was one of the countries most devastated by Nazi occupation during WWII. Because of this, they had a strong suspicion of any outside force coming in and occupying, especially that of one with a similar authoritarian structure and limits of liberty that the Nazi regime had. Despite the fact that the Soviets did rid Poland from Nazi occupation, the Polish saw many similarities between the two and did not want to be subject to another ruling without their consent. This sparked a pretty strong resistance movement against among the people starting before the conclusion of World War II. They were known as the “cursed soldiers” and swiftly moved from fighting the Nazis to the Soviets. They were known to carryout resistance operations all the way up until the 1960’s. Following this they moved from less of actual combative resistance to political resistance as demonstrated through protests on universities and the eventual Solidarity movement which arose as one of the most prominent anti-Communist movements. Second, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania showed similar resistance patterns to that of the Polish at the beginning of Soviet rule. A group of guerilla warfare fighters known as the Forest Brothers based their operations in the forests of the three nations and are said to have been made up of some 50,000 people. They took on Soviet forces head on to try to disrupt their activities and push them out of the nation, but may have only made it worse for the people in these countries as the Baltic states were one of the main targets of the purges. Formal cause for independence was much more successful in these states even during the early 1940’s as these nations maintained individual, independent diplomatic representation in the United States serving as one of our more realistic views into the Eastern Bloc. Last, in Romania there was a heavy armed resistance following World War II that remained strong until the late 1950’s with smaller groups continuing to fight into the 1960’s. As seen in the other regions initial armed resistance to the communists was not able to carry on past a decade or two before forming into civil resistance. Romania demonstrated one of the most aggressive and successful resistances with the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauescu followed by the public execution of him on Christmas day, broadcasted and celebrated nationwide. While these three regions were not the only places that resisted communist influence, these places had the largest and most successful attempts.
Very nice work.
Following the fall of the Nazi regime and the end of World War II, there were a lot of questions as to what was going to be done to keep Germany tame. The US, USSR, France, and England ended up creating a new divide between the west and east- the democratic West, backed by the US, and the communist USSR Eastern Bloc. On top of this, they divided Berlin into 4 separate areas, each being controlled by one of the 4 powers. This divide is one that lead to a lot of political issues, which eventually led to the Cold War, a war of ideologies. The Cold War was not one that had a lot of physical fighting, but one that eventually led to the “Iron Curtain” (an ideological barrier coined by Churchill), and eventually the Berlin Wall, which was a physical representation of the political divide between the east and west. Though there were no major battles, there were protests and some major fights back against the communist east. Ultimately, it was the citizens practicing civil resistance that led to the fall of communist rule in Eastern Europe.
The USSR placed communist governments all throughout the Eastern Bloc, which was something that some of the nations took well and others, not so well. However, their dependence on foreign aid is something that kept them quiet at first. As these countries began to get their feet back under them, and as the USSR became less and less politically stable, the Eastern Bloc began to fall out of communist rule- and the people fought back against their oppressors as they searched and fought for democracy. One of the first of these revolutions was the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was one of the only revolts that truly turned violent. It began as a student demonstration, marching through Budapest. As things escalated, the state police fired on the crowd, which spread the disorder and violence throughout the capital city and the country. This lead to many militias being formed and many battles fought in the resistance- leading to the death of many Hungarians and Soviets, along with Hungarians having to leave as refugees. Eventually, the Soviets got it together and suppressed all opposition in Hungary. However, though this gave the USSR more control in the Eastern Bloc, many of their western communist allies lost membership or became heavily split.
Many Eastern Europeans grew tired of all of the censorship and restrictions that came along with occupation by the communist USSR. In 1968 Czechoslovakia, when reformist Dubček was elected into the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, he began attempting to grant additional rights to the people of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization and democratization. This became referred to as the Prague Spring- which was nonviolent- and split Czechoslovakia into 2 republics, but did not hold the expansion of rights, due to the fact the Soviets sent in troops to occupy the country again- causing a mass emigration from the country. The Czechs stayed under Soviet control until the Velvet Revolutions in 1989 peacefully removed Soviet forces from the nation.
Also in 1989, communism was falling all throughout Eastern Europe- the Iron Curtain began to truly crumble. After Gorbachev gained power in the USSR and set up a lot of reforms that opened some public criticism, the secret police still had power over the public. More and more countries began demanding more autonomy as the years went by, which led to communism falling. The trade union Solidarity won an overwhelming victory in in 1989, which lead to the peaceful fall of communism there. This was followed by Hungary dismantling their part of the Iron Curtain, which lead to a mass exodus of East Germans, bringing destabilization there. This lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was the symbolic end to the Cold War. After all of this, in 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.
Following the Second World War, the global community, and more specifically Europe, saw a rise in popularity of communism governments. Communism promised a fair and equitable society which removed the importance and opportunity of accumulation of personal wealth and power. Communist leaders assured citizens there would be employment for all, and a standard of living that would be consistent throughout all peoples of the nation/union. After the defeat of Germany in World War II, Berlin and Germany were divided amongst the allied countries and The Soviet Union, which maintained a communist government. The territory gained served as a vein in which the USSR could use in an attempt to gain further control of Europe, and for communism to spread. Joesph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, stated that, “the present capitalist encirclement [must be] replaced by a socialist encirclement.”
The division of Berlin was the first precursor to the inevitable conflict between capitalism and communism. Initially, Berlin was not physically divided by the wall; the wall was erected because the citizens of eastern Berlin kept leaving for the better supplied western Berlin. In an attempt to cut the western countries off from Berlin, the Soviet Union implemented the Berlin Blockade in 1948. This prevented the allied countries from using the roads and railways in place to deliver supplies to the people of western Berlin, threatening their existence. In response, the U.K., the U.S., France, etc. worked together to airlift supplies so that the citizens would be relatively unaffected by the blockade. Eventually, the Soviet Union removed the blockade following the realization that it had little to no effect on operations of the allied countries.
Eastern European countries were especially susceptible to communist influence given their close proximity to Russia. Some of these countries include Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Many of these countries formed anti-communist insurgencies in an attempt to prevent their country from falling to the Soviet Union. An example of this resistance to the spread of communism in the Cold War era is the Polish Underground. They utilized guerrilla warfare including military attacks against Communist prisons, state security offices, detention facilities for political prisoners, and prison camps set up across the country. Unfortunately, after a pro-Soviet government was installed in 1945, the activities of the Polish Underground were deemed illegal. Many members laid down their arms after being promised safety, only to be imprisoned, tortured, executed, or deported to the Soviet gulag system.
Another example of communist resistance is The Prague Spring, a period characterized by the political liberalization of Czechoslovakia under Alexander Dubček. He sought to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in order to partially decentralize the economy and democratize. Moreover, he split the country in to the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, a change that lasts still to this day, although the names have changed. These changes were not well received by the Soviets, who deployed troops to occupy the country. The Czech citizens utilized a number of non-violent acts of resistance with sporadic acts of violence intermittently, but received no military resistance. Although Czechoslovakia remained under communist control until the Velvet Revolution, Czech citizens never ceased resisting the Soviet rule.
After the end of World War II, much of Europe and Asia was covered in ruins. Although the Axis Powers had been defeated a new threat began to emerge. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from the war as the two superpowers. Harry S. Truman was president of the United States in 1945. At the time the United States was concerned with stopping the spread of communism from the USSR to other European countries. To try to stop the spread of communism Truman first came up with “The Marshall Plan” or officially known as the “European Recovery Program” (ERP). The main idea of the plan was to help rebuild the economy of western Europe. It was hoped that in giving aid to the western countries they could become politically stable once again and fight the spread of communism. Sixteen nations, and Germany joined the program and got the assistance they required by the help of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) from the United States. These European nations ( Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and western Germany) received about $13 billion in aid, which was to help in shipment of food, fuel and machinery from the United States and basic necessities.
The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 was a nationwide revolt against the communist government. It began as a student demonstration which attracted a lot of attention when they marched through Budapest and to the parliamentary building. The revolt quickly spread across Hungary and the government eventually fell. Thousands of people organized into militias and were battling against state security police and the Soviet troops. The new government then went on to disband the state security police and declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw pact and re-establish free elections. After the announcement of the plan to withdraw from the Warsaw pact, the politburo changed its mind and moved to end the revolution. On November 4, a large Soviet force moved into Budapest and killed thousands of civilians, and organized resistance ceased just six days later. By January of 1957, the new Soviet installed government had successfully stopped all public opposition, and lead to a strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.
Following World War II, at the peace conference of Yalta and Potsdam Berlin had been divided into four parts; it was divided among the allied nations, being the United States, France, and Great Britain, which took control of the West and the Soviets taking the East. However, the allies then disputed over if a capitalist democracy or a Communist society would be instituted. However, the allies were able to institute a currency in West Berlin, the Deutschmark. Following the installation of a common currency, the USSR blocked western allies access into Berlin to protest the Deutschmark, in hopes of crippling Berlin’s economy and starving population, as well as driving out the allied countries out of Berlin. In response to this the western allies began an airlift on June 26,1948. This allowed the allies to fly in supplies to Berlin with military aircraft to support the entire population of Berlin. The divide of Berlin, along with the blockade and airlift, was one of many factors that lead to the “Iron Curtain” a term coined by Winston Churchill, and the Berlin wall that went up on August 13,1961 between East and West Berlin.
The Russian revolution started slightly before the end of world war I, and ended not to long after in October 1917. This revolution was initiated by the Bolsheviks, in which a man by the name of Vladimir Lenin charismatically lead the Bolsheviks in the rebellion against the Tsars who were formally in power during the time being. Vladimir became in charge of the democratic social party in which after seizing the government they later became known as the communist party. Communism didn’t exactly start in Russia, this economical/political ideology was pondered by two men by the name of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This happened 20 years before the Civil War that took place in America in 1861. Later, they go on to publish a book called the communist manifesto in which Vladimir Lenin was greatly influenced; he was so astonished, he even applies to his political agenda and to the newly governed Russia.
Communism became even more popular before/after world war II around other countries such as: china, Africa, and of course some of the other European countries the soviets invaded and force influence upon. Communism even reached all the Mediterranean northern Italy to be exact, Mussolini was murdered by communist supporters. Although communism was rising worldwide, other nations didn’t exactly agree with this political idea and one of those nations was the United states. In fact, the U.S. thought this communism ideology was profound and tried to prohibit it in many places in Europe/Asia. After world war II the U.S. made deals such as the marshal plan and many other arrangements that’d offered their assistance in exchange for to keeping communism from spreading. They even fought an unnecessarily war against Northern Vietnamese during the Vietnam war in which they failed trying to do so.
Another strong resistance to communism took place in Europe. In Germany, there was a huge conflict between eastern and western Germany causing them to build a wall to be separate from and another. As I mentioned before the Soviet Union was expanding the ideas of communism and after world war II they did just that in Eastern Germany. “Iron curtain,” referring to the capital driven western Germany, thought that communism was asinine much like the United States. In the Early 60’s at the peak of the cold war, the berlin wall was constructed. It became very violent in keeping one side separate from the other. Germany wasn’t the only the European resistance at the time. Romania during the mid-50’s and 60’s formed a movement called the Romanian anti-communist movement also known as the armed resistance in Romania. These movements were nothing more than armed militias who wanted to get from under the control of the Soviets set government. Depict the fact that it didn’t work to well with other places such as: Lithonia, Estonia, and Poland in which the KGB torched them and murdered them publicly. The Resistance in Eastern Europe took bravery a lot of people lost their lives for what they believed in.
While there are may resistance movements that take place in response to the USSR after World War II and during the Cold War, in places such as Poland, Romania and Hungary, I want to focus specifically on Czechoslovakia, as it is the country I know the most about. I will be talking even more specifically about the Prague Spring.
Due to the Soviets being a liberating force from Nazi control, the Czechoslovakian people welcomed communist ideals with open arms. However, in 1964, people began to gradual accepted more liberalizing ideas and in 1966 students and intellectuals began to call for changes.The current pro-soviet president and first secretary, Novotny, agreed to have reforms, although they were limited and controlled heavily by the Soviet government in Russia. However, many were dissatisfied with Novotny’s lack of progress and eventually he is replaced as first secretary by Dubcek. Even before the official beginning of the Prague Spring in 1968, people in Czechoslovakia were calling for reform. Inspired by the student movements throughout the world, the intelligentsia in Czechoslovakia expressed a desire for reform.
During this time the Soviet government had strict censorship on the media, especially on writers and journalists. Some leeway was given at this time, such as the Writers Union getting permission to have their own magazine, the Literarni Listy, however the mass media was still controlled mostly by the government and still censored heavily. Increased desire for reform was being displayed by students as well. On October 31, 1967, University students in Prague, inspired by the protests in Paris, protested the poor dormitory conditions. They were only met with police brutality.
The Prague Spring was a period of liberalization that officially began on January 5, 1968 as Alexander Dubcek is elected the first secretary of Czechoslovakia, replacing Novotny. Novotny however remained president. As the calls for reforms continued, Dubcek issues the Action Program of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Among these actions include the role of the party, the development of more social freedoms and economic interests.
Though the country was seemingly more democratic than communist after Dubcek implemented reforms, when a poll was taken to see if people wanted communism or capitalism, communism won with flying colors. Despite these results the Soviets were unhappy and by July had decided on three options: They would somehow get Dubcek to commit to their programs, enforce a coup among the leaders still loyal to Moscow or invade, invasion being the last and most unwanted option. Though the option of invasion was the least wanted, Brezhnev wanted to be sure that if the time came they would be ready and so he set in motion the mobilization of troops. On July 30th the Czechoslovak embassy in Warsaw reported high concentrations of Soviet tanks in Poland moving toward the border. The embassy in Berlin reported the same and that three years of reserve soldiers have been called into training. On August 1st, the embassy in Budapest reported that Hungarian and Soviet troops have been moving in for two days.
Dubcek agreed to Soviet reform terms while also promising the people that their civil liberties would not be compromised. On August 14th Dubcek received a declaration from Brezhnev expressing dissatisfaction with his failure to fulfill the agreements they had come to. In a phone conversation, Dubcek responds by stating that reform takes time and the Soviet government only needs to be patient and wait for the reforms to come about in due time.
On August 18th, Polish, East German, Hungarian and Bulgarian leaders unanimously approved Soviet stance on intervention and invasion and on the night of August the 19th the Warsaw Pact forces moved in for invasion. On August 20th, the government got word that the Warsaw five have crossed the borders. Around 1:30 to 2 am August 21st, two Soviet military aircraft land at the airport in Prague and take it over. Around 3 am, there was an altercation between the occupying forces and the citizens of Liberec where several citizens are seriously wounded. At 9am occupying forces entered into Dubcek’s office and arrested him along with other governmental officials.
On August 23rd, as the world has been watching the events in Czechoslovakia take place, the UN security council voted on a draft resolution condemning the Soviet intervention. On the same day delegates from Brazil, Denmark, France, Canada, Paraguay, Senegal, the United States, and Great Britain submit a draft resolution asking the UN general secretary to send an emissary to Prague to insist upon the release of the arrested Czechoslovak officials and guarantees for their personal safety. On August 24th, at the UN Security Council, the Czechoslovak minister of foreign affairs stated that they did not request military assistance from the states of the Warsaw Pact and that the government considers their occupation as an act of violence. In protest of occupation on August, 26th a nationwide work stoppage takes place and on August 27th the Soviet units begin to withdraw from the center of Prague.
On October 14th thru the 16th, peace negotiations take place, with the “Temporary Presence of Soviet Troops in the CSSR” being signed on October 16th. Despite the movement towards peace on November 7th a massive anti-Soviet demonstration takes place on the streets of Prague where 176 people are arrested and on November 17th, in response to the refusal to hold a parade, Prague University Students began a 3-day strike, with students from other cities joining in. Eventually Dubcek is relieved of his duties as first secretary and is replaced by Husak. The following year demonstrations take place in 31 towns on the anniversary of the invasion. The National Militia and Czechoslovak People’s Army are called in to suppress the demonstrations leaving five dead, 33 seriously wounded and 287 arrested. The following month began the process of crack downs by the Soviets on the society of Czechoslovakia.
Though the Prague Spring and the reforms were thwarted, this movement led to the influence of the worldwide view of Soviet control and communism. Soviet Russia was even condemned for the decision to invade by other communist parties such as those in China and France. However, Dubcek was removed from power in April of 1969 and the Soviet government enforced harsh rule discouraging dissent. Despite this, the Prague Spring served as inspiration for the Velvet Revolution in 1989. This revolution lead to the freedom from Soviet control, the election of the first non-soviet in 40 years, Vaclav Havel. Czechoslovakia eventually split into two separate nations, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Prague Spring is important in 1968 because it is one of the many reformist movements going on around the world. Most of these movements were led by more liberal thinking people such as the intelligentsia and students who had more time on their hands to protest. However, some reformist movements were done by working and poor class members of society, though these were fewer. People during this time were beginning to desire more civil liberties and an increase in human rights. Anywhere this was not the case, there tended to be reformist movements.
“Czechoslovakia.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed February 26, 2017.
Kurlansky, Mark. “The Place to Be.” In 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, 238-50. NY: Random House Trade Paperback Edition, 2005.
Navrátil, Jaromír, Antonín Beňcík, Mark Kramer, Malcolm Byrne, and Peter Kornbluh. The Prague spring 1968. Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998.
“Soviets Invade Czechoslovakia.” History.com. Accessed February 26, 2017.
The Cold War was a conflict between the United States and the USSR after the Second World War had ended. It was called the Cold War because the two countries never actually physically fought each other on the battlefield and a major reason it began was out of the huge differences in the countries’ governments. One was communist and one was democratic. There was a very intense and scary moment with the Cuban missile crisis that almost plunged the world into Nuclear War but thankfully that did not happen. After the Second World War, Europe was extremely divided as a continent. Western Europe had prevailed in the war thanks to the United States and the USSR and Eastern Europe had failed. While the entirety of Europe was destroyed, the Western portion was, in the coming years, to be dealt a better hand. After the war, the USSR was given major control over giant areas of the Eastern European region and Western Europe was in the hands of the westernized nations. Western Europe was re-stored to democratic states. Unfortunately, many of the countries that had been freed from the Nazi Germany Regime’s control, were soon controlled by another; the USSR swiftly took Germany’s place. There was a major divide between the East and the West and this was called the Iron Curtain. The Berlin Wall was built in between East and West Germany and the differences in the quality of life between the two was incredibly large. This time period was essentially a Cold War between Communism and Democracy and the countries that supported each (or rather the countries that supported Democracy and opposed communism versus the country that supported communism and had control over many other incapable of freeing themselves countries). There were large pacts made to ensure military power between the two sides, these being the beginning of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. These were large, unnerving steps, towards what could have been World War III.
One of the major events during this time was the Berlin Blockade. Berlin was occupied by the US, Britain, France, and the USSR, however, the USSR was in control of the outside regions in Germany, so the city was essentially landlocked in USSR territory. One of their attempts to gain more control without actually using physical arms was to shut off all roads and trains leading in and out of the city so that no food, water, and other supplies could get into the city. The USSR tried to cut off the supply to the citizens of Berlin and use it as leverage to re-negotiate the terms of the agreement of where the USSR had control of. Fortunately, this did not work. The Allies decided to fly in supplies to the city as much as they could and this would prove to work. They airlifted 5,000 tons of food and fuel a day. Volunteers offered to quickly unload the planes so that they could fly more supplies in and they unloaded a record 12 tons of coal in 5.5 minutes at one point. Eventually, the USSR lifted this closing of the roads and rails. The USSR finally fell after the death of the second leader and the new leader re-negotiated with the Allies and pulled out from several occupied areas. Eastern Europe was released of USSR control and son after applied for the European Union.
Once World War II was over and the fascist governments were mostly overthrown, Russia’s communism no longer seemed like the lesser of two evils and to a democratic nation, their behavior was unacceptable which produced tensions and a war which was never actually fought in face-to-face combat between the two participating nations. This stand off of political disagreement was known as the Cold War and was a high stress time between the United States and Russia from the 1940’s after World War II all the way until the 1990’s when the Soviet Union finally fell. While the United States was worried about the spread of communism, many Eastern European countries which were under the rule of the USSR were trying to combat the tyrannical rule of Joseph Stalin. The United States and other allies had signed on for the Marshall Plan which was to help rebuild Europe after World War II and to assist in the determent of any more rulers coming to power. With Germany and Russia fighting over rule of Berlin they had extracted a wall to barricade the two sides from one another. During the Cold War the Soviets began trying to starve out German residents in their side of Berlin which caused the US to get involved and airlift food and water into Berlin during this time. Poland, Ukraine, The Caucauses, The 5 ‘stans, and others succeeded from Russia as soon as they could once the Iron Curtain fell followed by the fall of the Soviet Union.
Good but brief
Following World War II, the Soviet Union rebuilt and expanded its economy, emerging from the war as a world super power. It aided in post war reconstruction of eastern European countries while simultaneously turning them into satellite states, binding them in military alliance, economic organization, and bolstering the further spread of communism. The Soviet Union’s allies during the war (United States and United Kingdom) quickly became enemies when the Soviets ambitions became concerning. A proxy war know as the “Cold War” ensued, which also gave birth to a plethora of revolutionary movements and uprisings in eastern Europe with the intent of fighting communism. These movements include the Romanian ant-communist resistance, Black Cats (Belarus), Goryani (Bulgaria), Cursed Soldiers (Poland), Forest Brothers (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Crusaders (Croatia), Latvian Partisans, Werwolf (East Germany), Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and Domobranci (Slovenia). Several of these movements were products of Nazi Germany created during WWII, but continued their resistance into the cold war era. Two major movements that may be more well known are NATO Operation Gladio (briefly covered this in class) and the Afghan Mujahedeen during the Soviet-Afghan war from 1979 to 1989. Operation Gladio was the codename for a NATO “stay behind” operation in Italy during the cold war era. Its goal was to create and armed resistance in case of a Warsaw Pact (Soviet/Eastern Europe equivalent of NATO) invasion. Although “Operation Gladio” refers specifically to the Italian stay-behind operations, it became a blanket term that referred to the stay-behind operations of several other NATO member states such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey. Non-NATO stay-behind operations were later discovered in Austria, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland before they became members.
Two well documented anti-Stalinist uprisings took place in 1956 shortly after the Khrushchev era began and would eventually warrant a Soviet military response to suppress them. The Poznan protests were the first of several large protests against the communist government of the People’s Republic of Poland. Workers were demanding better working conditions and were greeted with violent repression efforts from the military. A crown of around 100,000 people gathered near the city’s center as well as about 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers of the People’s army of Poland. Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky ordered the suppression of the demonstration which resulted violent action towards the protesters, killing an estimated 57-100 people. These protests were a foundational milestone of progress towards less soviet control in Poland. Another major uprising of 1956 was the Hungarian Revolution. This was a nationwide opposition of the Hungarian People’s Republic government and its largely soviet policies. The movement began with no true leader in October, and only lasted until mid-November, but it was the first major test of soviet control since Soviet forces Nazi Germany from Hungarian territory at the end of World War II. Like many revolts, it began as a student demonstration, but attracted many more as they marched through the heart of Budapest to the central Parliament building. They were fired upon by State Security Police, killing one student who was then wrapped in a flag and held by the crown. This sparked a nationwide revolution and the government would soon collapse. Militias were formed to battle State Security Police and Soviet forces, eventually leading to the installation of a new government which would attempt to withdraw from the Warsaw pact and install free elections.
Very nice discussion.