Iron Curtain

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The Iron Curtain, in black
Warsaw Pact countries
NATO members
Militarily neutral countries
Yugoslavia, member country of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The black dot represents West Berlin. Communist Albania broke off contacts with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, aligning itself with the People's Republic of China after the Sino-Soviet split; it appears stripe-hatched with grey. Iron Curtain map.svg
The Iron Curtain, in black
   Warsaw Pact countries
   NATO members
  Militarily neutral countries
   Yugoslavia, member country of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The black dot represents West Berlin. Communist Albania broke off contacts with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, aligning itself with the People's Republic of China after the Sino-Soviet split; it appears stripe-hatched with grey.

The Iron Curtain was in the first place a non-physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The term symbolizes the efforts by the Soviet Union (USSR) to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the West and its allied states. On the east side of the Iron Curtain were the countries that were connected to or influenced by the Soviet Union, while on the west side were the countries that were NATO members or nominally neutral. Separate international economic and military alliances were developed on each side of the Iron Curtain.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe (Europa) is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. The historiography of the conflict began between 1946 and 1947. The Cold War began to de-escalate after the Revolutions of 1989. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was the end of the Cold War. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

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Secondly, it refers to the 7.000 km. long physical barrier of fences, walls, minefields and watchtowers (an "Iron Curtain") that divided the "east" and "west". The Berlin Wall also was part of this physical barrier.

Berlin Wall barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic, enclosing West Berlin

The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Construction of the Wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany.

The nations to the east of the Iron Curtain were Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and the USSR; however, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the USSR have since ceased to exist.

East Germany Former communist state, 1949-1990

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic, was a state that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Commonly described as a communist state in English usage, it described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state." It consisted of territory that was administered and occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet occupation zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.

Socialist Republic of Romania 1947–1989 republic in Southeastern Europe

The Socialist Republic of Romania refers to Romania under Marxist-Leninist one-party communist rule that existed officially from 1947 to 1989. From 1947 to 1965, the state was known as the Romanian People's Republic. The country was a Soviet-aligned Eastern Bloc state with a dominant role for the Romanian Communist Party enshrined in its constitutions.

Peoples Republic of Bulgaria Former communist country that existed 1946-1990 in Southeastern Europe

The People's Republic of Bulgaria was the official name of Bulgaria, when it was a socialist republic.

Countries that made up the USSR were Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, Estonia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Republic in the USSR (1922–1991) and sovereign state (1917–1922 and 1990–1991)

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, previously known as the Russian Soviet Republic and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, as well as being unofficially known as the Russian Federation, Soviet Russia, or simply Russia, was an independent state from 1917 to 1922, and afterwards the largest, most populous and most economically developed of the 15 Soviet socialist republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1922 to 1990, then a sovereign part of the Soviet Union with priority of Russian laws over Union-level legislation in 1990 and 1991, during the last two years of the existence of the USSR. The Russian Republic comprised sixteen smaller constituent units of autonomous republics, five autonomous oblasts, ten autonomous okrugs, six krais and forty oblasts. Russians formed the largest ethnic group. The capital of the Russian SFSR was Moscow and the other major urban centers included Leningrad, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara.

Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic union republic of the Soviet Union

The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, also known as Soviet Latvia or Latvia, was a republic of the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic one of fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1922 to 1991

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, also known as Soviet Ukraine, was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union from the Union's inception in 1922 to its breakup in 1991. The republic was governed by the Communist Party of Ukraine as a unitary one-party socialist soviet republic.

The events that demolished the Iron Curtain started with peaceful opposition in Poland, [1] [2] and continued into Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. Romania became the only communist state in Europe to overthrow its government with violence. [3] [4]

Revolutions of 1989 Series of 1989-protests overthrowing communist governments in Eastern Europe

The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The period is sometimes called the Fall of Nations or the Autumn of Nations, a play on the term Spring of Nations that is sometimes used to describe the Revolutions of 1848.

Peaceful Revolution 1989-1990 process disestablishing the GDR

The Peaceful Revolution or Die Wende was the process of sociopolitical change that led to the end of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in the German Democratic Republic and the transition to a parliamentary democracy, which enabled the reunification of Germany. This turning point was wholly created through the violence-free initiatives, protests, and successful demonstrations, which decisively occurred between the local elections held in May 1989 and the GDR's first free parliamentary election in March 1990.

Velvet Revolution democratization process in Czechoslovakia in 1989

The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia, occurring from 17 November to 29 December 1989. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia included students and older dissidents. The result was the end of 41 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent dismantling of the command economy and conversion to a parliamentary republic.

The use of the term Iron Curtain as a metaphor for strict separation goes back at least as far as the early 19th century. It originally referred to fireproof curtains in theaters. [5] Although its popularity as a Cold War symbol is attributed to its use in a speech Winston Churchill gave on the 5 March 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, [5] Nazi German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels had already used the term in reference to the Soviet Union. [6]

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during most of World War II

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was a member of the Liberal Party.

Fulton, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Fulton is the largest city in and the county seat of Callaway County, Missouri, United States. Approximately 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Jefferson City and the Missouri River and 20 miles (32 km) east of Columbia, the city is part of the Jefferson City, Missouri Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 12,790 in the 2010 census. The city is home to two universities, Westminster College and William Woods University, the Missouri School for the Deaf, the Fulton State Hospital, and Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center.

Missouri U.S. state in the United States

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. Missouri is bordered by eight states : Iowa to the north, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee to the east, Arkansas to the south and Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska to the west. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.

Pre–Cold War usage

Swedish book "Behind Russia's iron curtain" from 1923 Bakom Rysslands jarnrid.jpg
Swedish book "Behind Russia's iron curtain" from 1923

Various usages of the term "iron curtain" (Russian: Железный занавес Zheleznyj zanaves; German: Eiserner Vorhang; Georgian :რკინის ფარდა Rkinis pharda; Czech and Slovak: Železná opona; Hungarian : Vasfüggöny; Romanian : Cortina de fier; Italian : Cortina di ferro; Serbian : Гвоздена завеса Gvozdena zavesa; Estonian : Raudne eesriie; Bulgarian : Желязна завеса Zhelyazna zavesä) pre-date Churchill's use of the phrase. The concept goes back to the Babylonian Talmud of the 3rd to 5th centuries CE, where Tractate Sota 38b refers to a "mechitza shel barzel", an iron barrier or divider: "אפילו מחיצה של ברזל אינה מפסקת בין ישראל לאביהם שבשמים" (Even an iron barrier cannot separate [the people of] Israel from their heavenly father).

The term "iron curtain" has since been used metaphorically in two rather different senses – firstly to denote the end of an era and secondly to denote a closed geopolitical border. The source of these metaphors can refer to either the safety curtain deployed in theatres (the first one was installed by the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1794 [7] ) or to roller shutters used to secure commercial premises. [8]

The first metaphorical usage of "iron curtain", in the sense of an end of an era, perhaps should be attributed to British author Arthur Machen (1863–1947), who used the term in his 1895 novel The Three Impostors: "...the door clanged behind me with the noise of thunder, and I felt that an iron curtain had fallen on the brief passage of my life". [9] The English translation of a Russian text shown immediately below repeats the use of "clang" with reference to an "iron curtain", suggesting that the Russian writer, publishing 23 years after Machen, may have been familiar with the popular British author.

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians used the term "Iron Curtain" in the context of World War I to describe the political situation between Belgium and Germany in 1914. [10]

The first recorded application of the term to Soviet Russia, again in the sense of the end of an era, comes in Vasily Rozanov's 1918 polemic The Apocalypse of Our Times , and it is possible that Churchill read it there following the publication of the book's English translation in 1920. The passage runs:

With clanging, creaking, and squeaking, an iron curtain is lowering over Russian History. "The performance is over." The audience got up. "Time to put on your fur coats and go home." We looked around, but the fur coats and homes were missing. [11]

(Incidentally, this same passage provides a definition of nihilism adopted by Raoul Vaneigem, [12] Guy Debord and other Situationists as the intention of situationist intervention.)

The first English-language use of the term iron curtain applied to the border of Soviet Russia in the sense of "an impenetrable barrier" was used in 1920 by Ethel Snowden, in her book Through Bolshevik Russia. [13] [14]

G.K. Chesterton used the phrase in a 1924 essay in The Illustrated London News . Chesterton, while defending Distributism, refers to "that iron curtain of industrialism that has cut us off not only from our neighbours' condition, but even from our own past". [15]

The term also appears in England, Their England , an 1933 satirical novel by the Scottish writer A. G. Macdonell; it was used there to describe the way an artillery barrage protected the infantry from an enemy assault: "...the western sky was a blaze of yellow flame. The iron curtain was down". Sebastian Haffner used the metaphor in his book Germany: Jekyll & Hyde, published in London in 1940, in introducing his discussion of the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933: "Back then to March 1933. How, a moment before the iron curtain was wrung down on it, did the German political stage appear?" [16]

All German theatres[ when? ] had to install an iron curtain (eiserner Vorhang) as an obligatory precaution to prevent the possibility of fire spreading from the stage to the rest of the theatre. Such fires were rather common because the decor often was flammable. In case of fire, a metal wall would separate the stage from the theatre, secluding the flames to be extinguished by firefighters. Douglas Reed used this metaphor in his book Disgrace Abounding: "The bitter strife [in Yugoslavia between Serb unionists and Croat federalists] had only been hidden by the iron safety-curtain of the King's dictatorship". [17]

A May 1943 article in Signal , a Nazi illustrated propaganda periodical published in many languages, bore the title "Behind the Iron Curtain". It discussed "the iron curtain that more than ever before separates the world from the Soviet Union". [6] The German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote in his weekly newspaper Das Reich that if the Nazis should lose the war a Soviet-formed "iron curtain" would arise because of agreements made by Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference: "An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered". [5] [18] The first recorded oral intentional mention of an Iron Curtain in the Soviet context occurred in a broadcast by Lutz von Krosigk to the German people on 2 May 1945: "In the East the iron curtain behind which, unseen by the eyes of the world, the work of destruction goes on, is moving steadily forward". [19]

Churchill's first recorded use of the term "iron curtain" came in a 12 May 1945 telegram he sent to U.S. President Harry S. Truman regarding his concern about Soviet actions, stating "[a]n iron curtain is drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind". [20] He was further concerned about "another immense flight of the German population westward as this enormous Muscovite advance towards the centre of Europe". [20] Churchill concluded "then the curtain will descend again to a very large extent, if not entirely. Thus a broad land of many hundreds of miles of Russian-occupied territory will isolate us from Poland". [20] [21]

Churchill repeated the words in a further telegram to President Truman on 4 June 1945, in which he protested against such a U.S. retreat to what was earlier designated as, and ultimately became, the U.S. occupation zone, saying the military withdrawal would bring "Soviet power into the heart of Western Europe and the descent of an iron curtain between us and everything to the eastward". [22] At the Potsdam Conference, Churchill complained to Stalin about an "iron fence" coming down upon the British Mission in Bucharest.

The first American print reference to the "Iron Curtain" occurred when C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times first used it in a dispatch published on 23 July 1945. He had heard the term used by Vladko Maček, a Croatian politician, a Yugoslav opposition leader who had fled his homeland for Paris in May 1945. Maček told Sulzberger, "During the four years while I was interned by the Germans in Croatia I saw how the Partisans were lowering an iron curtain over Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] so that nobody could know what went on behind it". [23]

The term was first used in the British House of Commons by Churchill on 16 August 1945 when he stated "it is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the iron curtain which at the moment divides Europe in twain". [24]

Allen Dulles used the term in a speech on 3 December 1945, referring to only Germany, following his conclusion that "in general the Russians are acting little better than thugs", had "wiped out all the liquid assets", and refused to issue food cards to emigrating Germans, leaving them "often more dead than alive". Dulles concluded that "[a]n iron curtain has descended over the fate of these people and very likely conditions are truly terrible. The promises at Yalta to the contrary, probably 8 to 10 million people are being enslaved".[ citation needed ] Lewkowicz argues that "the Soviet leadership wanted to avoid a situation in which the Intermarium countries would establish a bloc of nations capable of establishing an independent stance vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and the Western powers." This is the main reason behind the establishment of the Iron Curtain. [25]

During the Cold War

Building antagonism

Remains of the "iron curtain" in Devinska Nova Ves, Bratislava (Slovakia) DNV opona.jpg
Remains of the "iron curtain" in Devínska Nová Ves, Bratislava (Slovakia)
Preserved part of "iron curtain" in the Czech Republic. A watchtower, dragon's teeth and electric security fence are visible. Cizov (Zaisa) - preserved part of Iron curtain.JPG
Preserved part of "iron curtain" in the Czech Republic. A watchtower, dragon's teeth and electric security fence are visible.

The antagonism between the Soviet Union and the West that came to be described as the "iron curtain" had various origins.

During the summer of 1939, after conducting negotiations both with a British-French group and with Nazi Germany regarding potential military and political agreements, [26] the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the German–Soviet Commercial Agreement (which provided for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials) [27] [28] and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (signed in late August 1939), named after the foreign secretaries of the two countries (Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop), which included a secret agreement to split Poland and Eastern Europe between the two states. [29] [30]

The Soviets thereafter occupied Eastern Poland (September 1939), Latvia (June 1940), Lithuania (1940), northern Romania (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, late June 1940), Estonia (1940) and eastern Finland (March 1940). From August 1939, relations between the West and the Soviets deteriorated further when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany engaged in an extensive economic relationship by which the Soviet Union sent Germany vital oil, rubber, manganese and other materials in exchange for German weapons, manufacturing machinery and technology. [31] [32] Nazi–Soviet trade ended in June 1941 when Germany broke the Pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa.

In the course of World War II, Stalin determined[ citation needed ] to acquire a buffer area against Germany, with pro-Soviet states on its border in an Eastern bloc. Stalin's aims led to strained relations at the Yalta Conference (February 1945) and the subsequent Potsdam Conference (August 1945). [33] People in the West expressed opposition to Soviet domination over the buffer states, and the fear grew that the Soviets were building an empire that might be a threat to them and their interests.

Nonetheless, at the Potsdam Conference, the Allies assigned parts of Poland, Finland, Romania, Germany, and the Balkans to Soviet control or influence. In return, Stalin promised the Western Allies that he would allow those territories the right to national self-determination. Despite Soviet cooperation during the war, these concessions left many in the West uneasy. In particular, Churchill feared that the United States might return to its pre-war isolationism, leaving the exhausted European states unable to resist Soviet demands. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt had announced at Yalta that after the defeat of Germany, U.S. forces would withdraw from Europe within two years.) [34]

Iron Curtain speech

Winston Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" address of 5 March 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, used the term "iron curtain" in the context of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe:

The Iron Curtain as described by Churchill at Westminster College. Note that Vienna (center red regions, 3rd down) is indeed behind the Curtain, as it was in the Austrian Soviet-occupied zone. Iron Curtain as described by Churchill.PNG
The Iron Curtain as described by Churchill at Westminster College. Note that Vienna (center red regions, 3rd down) is indeed behind the Curtain, as it was in the Austrian Soviet-occupied zone.

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 some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow. [35]

Much of the Western public still regarded the Soviet Union as a close ally in the context of the recent defeat of Nazi Germany and of Imperial Japan. Although not well received at the time, the phrase iron curtain gained popularity as a shorthand reference to the division of Europe as the Cold War strengthened. The Iron Curtain served to keep people in and information out, and people throughout the West eventually came to accept and use the metaphor. [36]

Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" address was to strongly criticise the Soviet Union's exclusive and secretive tension policies along with the Eastern Europe's state form, Police State (Polizeistaat). He expressed the Allied Nations' distrust of the Soviet Union after the World War II. In September that year, US-Soviet cooperation collapsed due to the US disavowal of the Soviet Union's opinion on the German problem in the Stuttgart Council, and then followed the announcement by US President, Harry S. Truman, of a hard line anti-Soviet, anticommunist policy. After that the phrase became more widely used as an anti-Soviet term in the West. [37]

In addition, Churchill mentioned in his speech that regions under the Soviet Union's control were expanding their leverage and power without any restriction. He asserted that in order to put a brake on this ongoing phenomenon, the commanding force of and strong unity between the UK and the US was necessary. [38]

Stalin took note of Churchill's speech and responded in Pravda soon afterward. He accused Churchill of warmongering, and defended Soviet "friendship" with eastern European states as a necessary safeguard against another invasion. He further accused Churchill of hoping to install right-wing governments in eastern Europe with the goal of agitating those states against the Soviet Union. [39] Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's chief propagandist, used the term against the West in an August 1946 speech: [40]

Hard as bourgeois politicians and writers may strive to conceal the truth of the achievements of the Soviet order and Soviet culture, hard as they may strive to erect an iron curtain to keep the truth about the Soviet Union from penetrating abroad, hard as they may strive to belittle the genuine growth and scope of Soviet culture, all their efforts are foredoomed to failure.

Political, economic and military realities

Eastern Bloc

A map of the Eastern Bloc EasternBloc BasicMembersOnly.svg
A map of the Eastern Bloc

While the Iron Curtain remained in place, much of Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe (except West Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria) found themselves under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union annexed:

as Soviet Socialist Republics within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Germany effectively gave Moscow a free hand in much of these territories in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, signed before Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Other Soviet-annexed territories included:

Between 1945 and 1949 the Soviets converted the following areas into Soviet satellite states:

Soviet-installed governments ruled the Eastern Bloc countries, with the exception of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which retained its full independence.

The majority of European states to the east of the Iron Curtain developed their own international economic and military alliances, such as COMECON and the Warsaw Pact.

West of the Iron Curtain

Fence along the East/West border in Germany (near Witzenhausen-Heiligenstadt) Curtain germany.jpg
Fence along the East/West border in Germany (near Witzenhausen-Heiligenstadt)
Sign warning of approach to within one kilometer of the inter-zonal German border, 1986 1 K zone.png
Sign warning of approach to within one kilometer of the inter-zonal German border, 1986

To the west of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Western Europe, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe – along with Austria, West Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – operated market economies. With the exception of a period of fascism in Spain (until 1975) and Portugal (until 1974) and a military dictatorship in Greece (1967–1974), democratic governments ruled these countries.

Most of the states of Europe to the west of the Iron Curtain – with the exception of neutral Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Malta and Republic of Ireland – allied themselves with the United States and Canada within NATO. Economically, the European Community and the European Free Trade Association represented Western counterparts to COMECON. Most of the nominally neutral states were economically closer to the United States than they were to the Warsaw Pact.[ citation needed ]

Further division in the late 1940s

In January 1947 Harry Truman appointed General George Marshall as Secretary of State, scrapped Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directive 1067 (which embodied the Morgenthau Plan) and supplanted it with JCS 1779, which decreed that an orderly and prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany." [51] Administration officials met with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and others to press for an economically self-sufficient Germany, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. [52]

After five and a half weeks of negotiations, Molotov refused the demands and the talks were adjourned. [52] Marshall was particularly discouraged after personally meeting with Stalin, who expressed little interest in a solution to German economic problems. [52] The United States concluded that a solution could not wait any longer. [52] In a 5 June 1947 speech, [53] Marshall announced a comprehensive program of American assistance to all European countries wanting to participate, including the Soviet Union and those of Eastern Europe, called the Marshall Plan. [52]

Stalin opposed the Marshall Plan. He had built up the Eastern Bloc protective belt of Soviet-controlled nations on his Western border, [54] and wanted to maintain this buffer zone of states combined with a weakened Germany under Soviet control. [55] Fearing American political, cultural and economic penetration, Stalin eventually forbade Soviet Eastern bloc countries of the newly formed Cominform from accepting Marshall Plan aid. [52] In Czechoslovakia, that required a Soviet-backed Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, [56] the brutality of which shocked Western powers more than any event so far and set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to the Marshall Plan in the United States Congress. [57]

Relations further deteriorated when, in January 1948, the U.S. State Department also published a collection of documents titled Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939 – 1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, which contained documents recovered from the Foreign Office of Nazi Germany [58] [59] revealing Soviet conversations with Germany regarding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret protocol dividing eastern Europe, [60] [61] the 1939 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, [60] [62] and discussions of the Soviet Union potentially becoming the fourth Axis Power. [63] In response, one month later, the Soviet Union published Falsifiers of History , a Stalin-edited and partially re-written book attacking the West. [58] [64]

After the Marshall Plan, the introduction of a new currency to Western Germany to replace the debased Reichsmark and massive electoral losses for communist parties, in June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off surface road access to Berlin, initiating the Berlin Blockade, which cut off all non-Soviet food, water and other supplies for the citizens of the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin. [65] Because Berlin was located within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, the only available methods of supplying the city were three limited air corridors. [66] A massive aerial supply campaign was initiated by the United States, Britain, France, and other countries, the success of which caused the Soviets to lift their blockade in May 1949.

Emigration restrictions

Remains of Iron Curtain in former Czechoslovakia at the Czech-German border Iron curtain in Czech Republic 2007.jpg
Remains of Iron Curtain in former Czechoslovakia at the Czech-German border

One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the western Allies would return all Soviet citizens who found themselves in their zones to the Soviet Union. [67] This affected the liberated Soviet prisoners of war (branded as traitors), forced laborers, anti-Soviet collaborators with the Germans, and anti-communist refugees. [68]

Migration from east to west of the Iron Curtain, except under limited circumstances, was effectively halted after 1950. Before 1950, over 15 million people (mainly ethnic Germans) emigrated from Soviet-occupied eastern European countries to the west in the five years immediately following World War II. [69] However, restrictions implemented during the Cold War stopped most East-West migration, with only 13.3 million migrations westward between 1950 and 1990. [70] More than 75% of those emigrating from Eastern Bloc countries between 1950 and 1990 did so under bilateral agreements for "ethnic migration." [70]

About 10% were refugees permitted to emigrate under the Geneva Convention of 1951. [70] Most Soviets allowed to leave during this time period were ethnic Jews permitted to emigrate to Israel after a series of embarrassing defections in 1970 caused the Soviets to open very limited ethnic emigrations. [71] The fall of the Iron Curtain was accompanied by a massive rise in European East-West migration. [70]

As a physical entity

Preserved section of the border between East Germany and West Germany called the "Little Berlin Wall" at Modlareuth Moedlareuth Museum 2002b.jpg
Preserved section of the border between East Germany and West Germany called the "Little Berlin Wall" at Mödlareuth

The Iron Curtain took physical shape in the form of border defences between the countries of western and eastern Europe. There were some of the most heavily militarised areas in the world, particularly the so-called "inner German border" – commonly known as die Grenze in German – between East and West Germany. The inner German border was marked in rural areas by double fences made of steel mesh (expanded metal) with sharp edges, while near urban areas a high concrete barrier similar to the Berlin Wall was built. The installation of the Wall in 1961 brought an end to a decade during which the divided capital of divided Germany was one of the easiest places to move west across the Iron Curtain. [72]

The barrier was always a short distance inside East German territory to avoid any intrusion into Western territory. The actual borderline was marked by posts and signs and was overlooked by numerous watchtowers set behind the barrier. The strip of land on the West German side of the barrier – between the actual borderline and the barrier – was readily accessible but only at considerable personal risk, because it was patrolled by both East and West German border guards.

Fence along the former East-West border in Germany Point Alpha Ostseite.jpg
Fence along the former East-West border in Germany

Several villages, many historic, were destroyed as they lay too close to the border, for example Erlebach. Shooting incidents were not uncommon, and several hundred civilians and 28 East German border guards were killed between 1948 – 1981 (some may have been victims of "friendly fire" by their own side).

Elsewhere along the border between West and East, the defence works resembled those on the intra-German border. During the Cold War, the border zone in Hungary started 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the border. Citizens could only enter the area if they lived in the zone or had a passport valid for traveling out. Traffic control points and patrols enforced this regulation.

Those who lived within the 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) border-zone needed special permission to enter the area within 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) of the border. The area was very difficult to approach and heavily fortified. In the 1950s and 1960s, a double barbed-wire fence was installed 50 metres (160 ft) from the border. The space between the two fences was laden with land mines. The minefield was later replaced with an electric signal fence (about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the border) and a barbed wire fence, along with guard towers and a sand strip to track border violations.

Regular patrols sought to prevent escape attempts. They included cars and mounted units. Guards and dog patrol units watched the border 24/7 and were authorised to use their weapons to stop escapees. The wire fence nearest the actual border was irregularly displaced from the actual border, which was marked only by stones. Anyone attempting to escape would have to cross up to 400 metres (1,300 ft) before they could cross the actual border. Several escape attempts failed when the escapees were stopped after crossing the outer fence.

In parts of Czechoslovakia, the border strip became hundreds of meters wide, and an area of increasing restrictions was defined as the border was approached. Only people with the appropriate government permissions were allowed to get close to the border. (Cold River - https://www.amazon.com/Cold-River-Truth-Freedom/dp/1554043115 )

The Soviet Union built a fence along the entire border between Norway and Finland. It is located one or a few kilometres from the border, and has automatic alarms detecting if someone climbs over it.

In Greece, a highly militarised area called the "Επιτηρούμενη Ζώνη" ("Surveillance Area") was created by the Greek Army along the Greek-Bulgarian border, subject to significant security-related regulations and restrictions. Inhabitants within this 25 kilometres (16 mi) wide strip of land were forbidden to drive cars, own land bigger than 60 square metres (650 sq ft), and had to travel within the area with a special passport issued by Greek military authorities. Additionally, the Greek state used this area to encapsulate and monitor a non-Greek ethnic minority, the Pomaks, a Muslim and Bulgarian-speaking minority which was regarded as hostile to the interests of the Greek state during the Cold War because of its familiarity with their fellow Pomaks living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. [73]

The Hungarian outer fence became the first part of the Iron Curtain to be dismantled. After the border fortifications were dismantled, a section was rebuilt for a formal ceremony. On 27 June 1989, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, ceremonially cut through the border defences separating their countries.

The creation of these highly militarised no-man's lands led to de facto nature reserves and created a wildlife corridor across Europe; this helped the spread of several species to new territories. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, several initiatives are pursuing the creation of a European Green Belt nature preserve area along the Iron Curtain's former route. In fact, a long-distance cycling route along the length of the former border called the Iron Curtain Trail (ICT) exists as a project of the European Union and other associated nations. The trail is 6,800 km (4,200 mi) long and spans from Finland to Greece. [74]

The term "Iron Curtain" was only used for the fortified borders in Europe; it was not used for similar borders in Asia between communist and capitalist states (these were, for a time, dubbed the Bamboo Curtain). The border between North Korea and South Korea is very comparable to the former inner German border, particularly in its degree of militarisation, but it has never conventionally been considered part of any Iron Curtain.

Helmstedt-Marienborn crossing

The Border checkpoint Helmstedt–Marienborn (German : Grenzübergang Helmstedt-Marienborn), named Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn (GÜSt) (border crossing Marienborn) by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was the largest and most important border crossing on the Inner German border during the division of Germany. Due to its geographical location, allowing for the shortest land route between West Germany and West Berlin, most transit traffic to and from West Berlin used the Helmstedt-Marienborn crossing. Most travel routes from West Germany to East Germany and Poland also used this crossing. The border crossing existed from 1945 to 1990 and was situated near the East German village of Marienborn at the edge of the Lappwald. The crossing interrupted the Bundesautobahn 2 (A 2) between the junctions Helmstedt-Ost and Ostingersleben .

Fall of the Iron Curtain

East German border-guards look through a hole in the Berlin Wall in 1990 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0419-014, Berlin, Loch in Mauer, Grenzsoldaten, Wachturm.jpg
East German border-guards look through a hole in the Berlin Wall in 1990
The dissolution of the Eastern Bloc EasternBloc PostDissolution2008.svg
The dissolution of the Eastern Bloc

Following a period of economic and political stagnation under Brezhnev and his immediate successors, the Soviet Union decreased its intervention in Eastern Bloc politics. Mikhail Gorbachev (General Secretary from 1985) decreased adherence to the Brezhnev Doctrine, [75] which held that if socialism were threatened in any state then other socialist governments had an obligation to intervene to preserve it, in favor of the "Sinatra Doctrine". He also initiated the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring). A wave of Revolutions occurred throughout the Eastern Bloc in 1989. [76]

In February 1989 the Hungarian politburo recommended to the government led by Miklós Németh to dismantle the iron curtain. Nemeth first informed Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitzky. He then received an informal clearance from Gorbachev (who said "there will not be a new 1956") on 3 March 1989, on 2 May of the same year the Hungarian government announced and started in Rajka (in the locality known as the "city of three borders", on the border with Austria and Czechoslovakia) the destruction of the Iron Curtain. For public relation Hungary reconstructed 200m of the iron curtain so it could be cut during an official ceremony by Hungarian forein minister Gyula Horn, and Austrian foreign minister Alois Mock, on 27 June 1989, which had the function of calling all European peoples still under the yoke of the national-communist regimes to freedom. [77]

In April 1989 the People's Republic of Poland legalised the Solidarity organisation, which captured 99% of available parliamentary seats in June. [78] These elections, in which anti-communist candidates won a striking victory, inaugurated a series of peaceful anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe [79] [80] [81] that eventually culminated in the fall of communism. [82] [83]

On 19 August 1989, more than 600 East Germans attending the "Pan-European Picnic" on the Hungarian border broke through the Iron Curtain and fled into Austria. Hungarian border guards had threatened to shoot anyone crossing the border, but when the time came, they did not intervene and allowed the people to cross. In a historic session from 16 to 20 October, the Hungarian parliament adopted legislation providing for multi-party parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. [84]

The legislation transformed Hungary from a People's Republic into the Republic, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensured separation of powers among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. In November 1989, following mass protests in East Germany and the relaxing of border restrictions in Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of East Berliners flooded checkpoints along the Berlin Wall, crossing into West Berlin. [84]

In the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the day after the mass crossings across the Berlin Wall, leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted. [85] In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, following protests of an estimated half-million Czechoslovaks, the government permitted travel to the west and abolished provisions guaranteeing the ruling Communist party its leading role, preceding the Velvet Revolution. [86]

In the Socialist Republic of Romania, on 22 December 1989, the Romanian military sided with protesters and turned on Communist ruler Nicolae Ceauşescu, who was executed after a brief trial three days later. [87] In the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, a new package of regulations went into effect on 3 July 1990 entitling all Albanians over the age of 16 to own a passport for foreign travel. Meanwhile, hundreds of Albanian citizens gathered around foreign embassies to seek political asylum and flee the country.

The Berlin Wall officially remained guarded after 9 November 1989, although the inter-German border had become effectively meaningless. The official dismantling of the Wall by the East German military did not begin until June 1990. On 1 July 1990, the day East Germany adopted the West German currency, all border-controls ceased and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl convinced Gorbachev to drop Soviet objections to a reunited Germany within NATO in return for substantial German economic aid to the Soviet Union.

Monuments

Memorial in Budapest reads: "Iron Curtain 1949-1989" Iron Curtain - Hungary.jpg
Memorial in Budapest reads: "Iron Curtain 1949-1989"

There is an Iron Curtain monument in the southern part of the Czech Republic at approximately 48°52′32″N15°52′29″E / 48.8755°N 15.87477°E / 48.8755; 15.87477 (Iron Curtain monument) . A few hundred meters of the original fence, and one of the guard towers, has remained installed. There are interpretive signs in Czech and English that explain the history and significance of the Iron Curtain. This is the only surviving part of the fence in the Czech Republic, though several guard towers and bunkers can still be seen. Some of these are part of the Communist Era defences, some are from the never-used Czechoslovak border fortifications in defence against Adolf Hitler, and some towers were, or have become, hunting platforms.

Another monument is located in Fertőrákos, Hungary, at the site of the Pan-European Picnic. On the eastern hill of the stone quarry stands a metal sculpture by Gabriela von Habsburg. It is a column made of metal and barbed wire with the date of the Pan-European Picnic and the names of participants. On the ribbon under the board is the Latin text: In necessariis unitas – in dubiis libertas – in omnibus caritas ("Unity in unavoidable matters – freedom in doubtful matters – love in all things"). The memorial symbolises the Iron Curtain and recalls forever the memories of the border breakthrough in 1989.

Another monument is located in the village of Devín, now part of Bratislava, Slovakia, at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers.

There are several open-air museums in parts of the former inner German border, as for example in Berlin and in Mödlareuth, a village that has been divided for several hundred years. The memory of the division is being kept alive in many places along the Grenze.

Analogous terms

Throughout the Cold War the term "curtain" would become a common euphemism for boundaries – physical or ideological – between communist and capitalist states.

See also

Post Cold War:

Related Research Articles

Cold War (1947–1953) first phase of the Cold War

The Cold War (1947–1953) is the period within the Cold War from the Truman Doctrine in 1947 to the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953. The Cold War emerged in Europe a few years after the successful US–USSR–UK coalition won World War II in Europe, and extended to 1989–91. In 1947, Bernard Baruch, the multimillionaire financier and adviser to presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry S. Truman, coined the term “Cold War” to describe the increasingly chilly relations between two World War II Allies: the United States and the Soviet Union.

Potsdam Conference

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 17 July to 2 August 1945. The participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented respectively by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and President Harry S. Truman.

Western Europe region comprising the westerly countries of Europe

Western Europe is the region comprising the western part of Europe. Though the term Western Europe is commonly used, there is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the countries that it encompasses.

Eastern Europe Eastern part of the European continent

Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations. There are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region". A related United Nations paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct". One definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural entity: the region lying in Europe with the main characteristics consisting of Greek, Byzantine, Eastern Orthodox, Russian, and some Ottoman culture influences. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc. A similar definition names the formerly communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe. The majority of historians and social scientists view such definitions as outdated or relegated, but they are still sometimes used for statistical purposes.

A satellite state is a country that is formally independent in the world, but under heavy political, economic and military influence or control from another country. The term was coined by analogy to planetary objects orbiting a larger object, such as smaller moons revolving around larger planets, and is used mainly to refer to Central and Eastern European countries of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War or to Mongolia or Tannu Tuva between 1924 and 1990, for example. As used for Central and Eastern European countries it implies that the countries in question were "satellites" under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. In some contexts it also refers to other countries in the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War—such as North Korea and Cuba. In Western usage, the term has seldom been applied to states other than those in the Soviet orbit. In Soviet usage, the term applied to the states in the orbit of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.

Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin, respectively. The conference was held near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces.

Eastern Bloc 20th-century group of socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe

The Eastern Bloc was the group of communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Southeast Asia under the hegemony of the Soviet Union (USSR) during the Cold War (1947–1991) in opposition to the capitalist Western Bloc. Generally, in Western Europe the term Eastern Bloc referred to the USSR and its East European satellite states in the Comecon ; in Asia, the Soviet Bloc comprised the Mongolian People's Republic, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the People's Republic of Kampuchea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the People's Republic of China. In the Americas, the Communist Bloc included the Caribbean Republic of Cuba, since 1961.

Origins of the Cold War

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Territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II

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Western betrayal Concept in international relations among European countries

The concept of Western betrayal refers to the view that the United Kingdom and France failed to meet their legal, diplomatic, military, and moral obligations with respect to the Czechoslovak and Polish nations during the prelude to and aftermath of World War II. It also sometimes refers to the treatment of other Central and Eastern European nations at the time.

<i>Republikflucht</i> defection from East Germany

Republikflucht was the official term in the German Democratic Republic for emigration to West Germany, West Berlin, and non-Warsaw Pact countries. Republikflucht applied to both the millions of Germans who migrated legally from the Soviet occupation zone and East Germany before the Berlin Wall was built on 13 August 1961, and the thousands who migrated illegally across the Iron Curtain until 23 December 1989.

Military occupations by the Soviet Union

During World War II, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed several countries effectively handed over by Nazi Germany in the secret protocol Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. These included Eastern Poland, as well as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, part of eastern Finland and eastern Romania. Apart from Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and post-war division of Germany, USSR also occupied and annexed Carpathian Ruthenia from Czechoslovakia in 1945.

Percentages agreement

The Percentages agreement was a secret informal agreement between British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during the Fourth Moscow Conference in October 1944. It gave the percentage division of control over Eastern European countries, dividing them into spheres of influence. Franklin Roosevelt was consulted tentatively and conceded to the agreement. The content of the agreement was first made public by Churchill in 1953 in the final volume of his memoir. The US ambassador Averell Harriman, who was supposed to represent Roosevelt in these meetings, was excluded from this discussion.

Removal of Hungarys border fence with Austria Removal of Iron Curtain from the border of Austria and Hungary

The removal of Hungary's border fence with Austria occurred in 1989 during the collapse of communism in Hungary, which was part of a broad wave of revolutions in various communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The dismantling of the electric fence along Hungary's 240 kilometres (149 mi) long border with Austria was the first fissure in the "Iron Curtain" that had divided Europe for more than 40 years, since the end of World War II, and caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Berlin Wall.

Eastern Bloc emigration and defection point of controversy during the Cold War

Eastern Bloc emigration and defection was a point of controversy during the Cold War. After World War II, emigration restrictions were imposed by countries in the Eastern Bloc, which consisted of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Legal emigration was in most cases only possible in order to reunite families or to allow members of minority ethnic groups to return to their homelands.

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda was controlled directly by each country's Communist party, which controlled the state media, censorship and propaganda organs. State and party ownership of print, television and radio media served as an important manner in which to control information and society in light of Eastern Bloc leaderships viewing even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat to the bases underlying Communist power therein.

Oder–Neisse line German-Polish border since World War II

The Oder–Neisse line is the basis of the international border between Germany and Poland. It runs mainly along the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers and meets the Baltic Sea in the north, just west of the ports of Szczecin and Świnoujście.

The Eastern Bloc is a collective term for the former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. This generally encompasses the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact.

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