restricted access Stalin, Soviet Policy, and the Consolidation of a Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe, 1944–53
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Mark Kramer Stalin, Soviet Policy, and the Consolidation of a Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe, 1944–53 Soviet policy in Eastern Europe during the final year and immediate aftermath of World War II had a profound impact on global politics.1 The clash of Soviet and Western objectives in Eastern Europe was submerged for a while after the war, but by March 1946 the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill felt compelled to warn in his famous speech at Fulton, Missouri, that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent” of Europe. At the time of Churchill’s remarks, the Soviet Union had not yet decisively pushed for the imposition of Communist rule in most of the East European countries. Although Communist officials were already on the ascendance throughout Eastern Europe, non-Communist politicians were still on the scene. By the spring of 1948, however, Communist regimes had gained sway throughout the region. Those regimes aligned themselves with the Soviet Union on all foreign policy matters and embarked on Stalinist transformations 1 The term “Eastern Europe,” as used in this chapter, is partly geographic and partly political in its designation. It includes some countries in what is more properly called “Central Europe,” such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and what became known as the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany ). All four of these countries were under Communist rule from the 1940s until 1989. The other Communist states in Europe—Albania, Bulgaria, Romania , and Yugoslavia—are also encompassed by the term “Eastern Europe.” Countries that were never under Communist rule, such as Greece and Finland , are not regarded as part of “Eastern Europe,” even though they might be construed as such from a purely geographic standpoint. The Soviet Union provided some assistance to Communist guerrillas in Greece and considered trying to facilitate the establishment of Communist regimes in both Finland and Greece, but ultimately decided to refrain from moving directly against the non-Communist governments in the two countries. i3 Stalin book.indb 51 10/15/09 9:47:19 AM 52 Stalinism Revisited of their social, political, and economic systems. Even after a bitter rift emerged between Yugoslavia and the USSR, the other East European countries remained firmly within Moscow’s sphere. By reassessing Soviet aims and concrete actions in Eastern Europe from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s, this chapter touches on larger questions about the origins and intensity of the Cold War. The chapter shows that domestic politics and postwar exigencies in the USSR, along with Joseph Stalin’s external ambitions, decisively shaped Soviet ties with Eastern Europe. Stalin’s adoption of increasingly repressive and xenophobic policies at home, and his determination to quell armed insurgencies in areas annexed by the USSR at the end of the war, were matched by his embrace of a harder line vis-àvis Eastern Europe. This internal-external dynamic was not wholly divorced from the larger East–West context, but it was, to a certain degree, independent of it. At the same time, the shift in Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe was bound to have a detrimental impact on Soviet relations with the leading Western countries, which had tried to avert the imposition of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. The final breakdown of the USSR’s erstwhile alliance with the United States and Great Britain was, for Stalin, an unwelcome but acceptable price to pay. Although he initially had hoped to maintain a broadly cooperative relationship with the United States and Britain after World War II, he was willing to sacrifice that objective as he consolidated his hold over Eastern Europe. The chapter begins by describing the historical context of Soviet relations with the East European countries, particularly the events of World War II. The wartime years and the decades preceding them helped to shape Stalin’s policies and goals after the war. The chapter then discusses the way Communism was established in Eastern Europe in the mid- to late 1940s. Although the process varied from country to country, the discussion below highlights many of the similarities as well as the differences. The chapter then turns to an event that threatened to undermine the “monolithic unity” of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, namely, the acrimonious rift with Yugoslavia. The chapter discusses how Stalin attempted to cope with the split and to mitigate the adverse repercussions elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The final section offers conclusions about Stalin’s policy and the emergence and consolidation of the East European Communist regimes. i3...


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