THE DIVISION OF EUROPE AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
It took time before the western zones of Germany were amalgamated and gained autonomy, and the communists were defeated in the Greek Civil War. The Sovietization of eastern Europe was a steady process, completed with the Czech coup of 1948, and only effectively resisted by Tito, another communist. Austria did not join the ranks of the neutrals until the country was reunited in a 1955 treaty and promised not to confederate with either West or East Germany.
1. from Germany to Poland 1945
2. from Germany to USSR 1945
3. returned to Czechoslovakia from Hungary 1945
4. returned to Romania from Hungary 1945
5. from Hungary to USSR 1945
6. from Romania to USSR 1945
7. to USSR 1940, lost 1941, retaken 1944
8. to USSR 1940, lost 1941-44,
9. returned 1947 o to USSR 1947
10. Federal Republic of Germany formed Sept. 1949
As victory over Germany grew closer, tensions among the Allies grew. The ideological conflict between the Soviet Union and the West had been only temporarily eclipsed by the common effort against Hitler. Numerous contentious issues, including the slow development of a second front and the future political status of Poland and Germany signaled possible postwar conflicts. Stalin recognized that the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of the war against Germany and suspected that the British and the Americans would be happy to let that continue. After all, Harry Truman, then a Senator, had remarked in 1941, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible.” After the opening of the second front in June 1944, disputes over the future shape of Europe threatened to wreck relations. President Franklin Roosevelt put a high priority on staying on good terms with Stalin, well aware Soviet troops were doing most of the fighting. At a three-way summit in Tehran in November–December 1943, Winston Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to Stalin’s keeping the Polish territory he had seized as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
The fates of Germany and of Eastern Europe were still unsettled. Unable to reach a consensus on the German question, the three Allies, meeting at Yalta in February 1945, agreed as a stopgap measure to divide the country into occupation zones. At American insistence, France was included as an occupying power. The result was the division of Germany and of Berlin into four zones each, one for each power. This was not intended as a permanent solution, only a temporary expedient until a better solution was reached. Yalta also tried to reach some compromise on Eastern Europe. The war against Germany was clearly won, but Roosevelt’s priority had shifted to Soviet cooperation against Japan. Stalin’s actions made it clear that he intended to establish friendly governments in Eastern Europe. Needing Stalin’s assistance, and with the Red Army occupying Eastern Europe, Roosevelt had little choice but to acquiesce. Churchill and Roosevelt did obtain Stalin’s commitment to democratic governments in Eastern Europe. Both sides had, however, very different ideas about what democratic meant. So while there were very real conflicts about the future of Europe, Yalta had achieved at least a temporary solution.
In April 1945, though, Roosevelt died. He was replaced by Harry Truman, who had much less commitment to fostering Soviet-American relations. This coincided with growing evidence that Soviet policy in Eastern Europe was incompatible with Western interests. Given the history of Soviet-Polish relations, no democratic government in Poland could be pro-Soviet, defining democracy in Western terms of free expression and free elections. Stalin’s unshakable desire for a friendly and docile Poland thus required active Soviet intervention in Polish politics. Similar processes occurred in the Balkans, where pro-Soviet parties took power in Bulgaria and in Romania. The universal presence of the Red Army made Stalin’s task simpler. This Sovietization did not happen uniformly or immediately. Hungary, and especially Czechoslovakia, maintained open, multiparty systems for several years. By 1948, though, Eastern Europe had been thoroughly Sovietized. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria were all run by one-party systems, taking direction from Moscow. Yugoslavia was communist as well, but its large wartime resistance movement under Jozef Broz Tito meant communist rule was imposed without active Soviet involvement, and in 1948 Yugoslavia broke from the Soviet bloc while remaining communist. Overall, though, the Soviet Union replicated its own political system in the territories under its control, and the West was terrified by what it saw.
The West also saw evidence of Stalin’s potential hostility outside of the Soviet bloc. Stalin was reluctant to withdraw his troops from northern Iran after World War II. Britain had attempted to maintain its prewar influence in the Mediterranean by supporting Greece and Turkey. The pro-Western Greek government was under threat from a domestic communist insurgency, backed by Yugoslavia. Turkey, by contrast, was facing Soviet pressure for concessions at the Turkish Straits. By 1947, Britain was near bankruptcy and could no longer underwrite Greek and Turkish security. The result was a new commitment by the United States to European politics. Truman agreed to take over Britain’s role in the Mediterranean and committed the United States to containing communism more generally. In early 1947 he proclaimed the Truman Doctrine, pledging American support to peoples attempting to maintain their freedom against outside pressures: communism. Massive economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey followed.
Despite the growing tensions, the Cold War was not yet military. It involved a competition for political influence, but the threat of force remained muted. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had demobilized their armies rapidly after the war. Soviet manpower dropped to under 3 million by 1948 and was moreover counterbalanced by the American atomic monopoly.
In mid-1948, though, the Cold War’s military side began to become more important. The trigger was Germany. The occupying powers had all imposed their own social and political systems in their respective zones. The difference was that Germans found the Western systems much more pleasant. The Soviet zone saw the steady imposition of one-party dictatorship, while the Western zones enjoyed the slow return of normal social, economic, and political life. As time passed, it became more and more difficult to envisage a way in which the steadily diverging British, French, and American zones, on the one hand, and the Soviet zone, on the other, could be brought back together.
In response to the creation of a unified currency for the three Western zones, Stalin acted to halt the creation of a pro-Western Germany by exerting pressure on the West’s most vulnerable spot: the Western-occupied enclaves in Berlin, buried deep inside the Soviet zone. On 24 June 1948, he shut off road and railroad access to West Berlin. Stalin did not see this as a prelude to war, for the Soviet occupying force in Germany made no preparations for war. Indeed, the entire operation seems quite shortsighted; Stalin made no provisions for military complications and cut off Berlin while the United States still enjoyed an atomic monopoly. It was instead an effort either to liquidate the Western presence in Berlin or to force a better deal for Stalin in Germany as a whole. After considering and rejecting the option of testing the Berlin blockade with military force, the United States and Britain organized the Berlin airlift, supplying the city with food and fuel by air. The Soviet military harassed flights into Berlin, but did not halt them. When the blockade had clearly failed, Stalin canceled it on 12 May 1949.
Simultaneously with the Berlin blockade, Stalin remilitarized the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union itself. Eastern Europe had generally been demilitarized after the war. Hungary’s army, for example, bottomed out at a mere 5,000 soldiers (plus 8,000 border guards). In 1948, however, a major military buildup began throughout Eastern Europe. Soviet military advisors flooded Eastern Europe, and Soviet satellite governments were instructed to build mass armies. Domestic military traditions were obliterated and replaced by the wholesale Russianization and Sovietization of uniforms, doctrine, traditions, and training. Top military officials had Soviet minders. In the case of Poland, Stalin appointed Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovskii, a Soviet marshal of Polish ancestry, as Poland’s Minister of Defense. Levels of interference varied, depending on the particular country’s strategic importance and the level of anti-Soviet attitudes. Bulgaria was relatively free; Poland was tightly controlled. There was at this point no overarching structure; the Soviet Union managed its military ties to Eastern Europe through individual, bilateral arrangements.