Between 1945 and 1950, Europe was the focal point for the Cold War, and in particular, the city of Berlin with the Berlin Airlift. What went on in Berlin seemed to confirm all the fears held by the west about Communism and the rule of Joseph Stalin.
By the end of the Second World War, Russia had put what was effectively a barrier around herself. To the west, the promises made in the war meetings by Stalin had been broken. There were no free elections and communist governments were imposed on all east European nations except Yugoslavia. To Stalin, his acts were justifiable as no nation in Europe had suffered the devastation that Russia had done as a result of the Nazi occupation - therefore he wanted a protective barrier around him so that any future war that might break out would lead to destruction in places other than Russia. To him there had been free elections in eastern Europe… as long as the communists won.
Poland: in this country, non-communist leaders had been killed. There was already great anger in Poland for the Russians as they had stayed outside of Warsaw during the uprising of 1944 and failed to help those in the city when they could easily have done so. In 1947, there was a sham of an election in which the communists won 400 out of 450 seats. These communists were hand-picked people loyal to Moscow.
Hungary: the most popular political party was the Small Farmers Party - a comment on the size of their farms! In the election held in this country, the communists got 17% of the votes while the SFP won with a large majority. The communists filled all the important political positions in Budapest while the SFP leaders left politics. Clearly, they felt that if they had stayed in politics, then their lives would have been at risk - or their families as well.
Rumania: there was an election in November 1946. The communists won.
Bulgaria: non-communist leaders were killed and in October 1946, the communists won a massive victory.
Yugoslavia : this country was to become a problem for Stalin. The people of Yugoslavia had no wish to replace the Nazis with the rule of Stalin. They were lead by Tito - a wartime guerilla leader who was idolised in his country. In the November 1946 election, Tito and his Peoples Party won 96% of the votes. With such support, not even Stalin felt confident enough to overthrow Tito. Yugoslavia also had an extensive coastline in the Mediterranean Sea and America would not have tolerated Russia having instant access to the Mediterranean. With Yugoslavia communist but independent of Moscow's domination, Stalin's southern naval fleet was still effectively trapped in the Black Sea and any movement to the Mediterranean could be easily detected in Turkey. In 1946, Stalin could not afford to provoke America as the latter still had atomic supremacy.
Greece : in this country, the majority of the people were pro-monarchy (70%) and an attempted takeover of Greece by the communists lasted for four years (1946 to 1949) but ultimately failed. This problem in Greece was to lead to Harry Truman's famous “Truman Doctrine”.
Stalin's grip on eastern Europe was all but total. His secret police was thorough in its search for opponents and the control Stalin had in this region lead to Winston Churchill's famous comment at a speech in Fulton:
|“From Stettin in the north to Trieste in the south, an iron curtain has descended over Europe.”|
However, eastern Europe's strategic value to the west was minimal and her help to these countries was small. Stalin could not afford to provoke America as she had the A-bomb. However, all this changed in 1949 when Russia exploded her first A-bomb. America had predicted that she had 10 years supremacy over the Russians - spies in the American atomic research centre in Los Alamos meant that their supremacy lasted but five years.
Further reading: The world between 1945 and 1950