My serious reading project needs a brief interlude because Anne Applebaum’s superb Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe contains so much detailed research, and so many accounts of tragic events that I do need a breather. You can only take so much evil and perhaps attempting to read Bloodlands and Iron Curtain back to back was not wise. I will return to Iron Curtain but felt I should say something about it now.
I spent an hour today watching Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons. Maria Miller, the Minister for Culture has resigned after repaying £5,800 of expenses claimed in error. What struck me was the way smug bank benchers from the government side sprang to their feet asking ludicrously sycophantic questions such as “Would the PM agree with me that we are all wonderful, and that the two apprenticeships created in my constituency are a sign that all the coalition’s policies are working, and we are entering a golden age of full employment?” Or some such nonsense.
It was all a bit reminiscent of the show trials of Stalin described in Iron Curtain, in which lifelong communists, recent ministers of the interior and general secretaries of the communist party stood up and suddenly admitted they were CIA agents, working for the Americans, Tito and the Zionists.
Iron Curtain is full of stories, some horrifying , some worrying and some amusing. Surprisingly during that period many in Britain’s elite supported Stalin’s regime, by actively spying for the Soviets like Kim Philby and the notorious Cambridge spy ring, or by being fellow travellers and apologists for the excesses of the regime.
Long after he had fled East Germany, Wolfgang Leonhard-by then Professor Leonhard- addressed the question [of the show trials of 1936-1938] in a famous annual lecture at Yale University, as part of his undergraduate course on Soviet History.
Among the possible explanations for the ‘Great Purge’, Leonhard listed Stalin’s insanity, Russia’s historic fear of foreign invasion-and an outbreak , in the 1930s, of highly active sunspots.
Anne Applebaum describes a post war Europe that was a terrible place to live with deportations and ethnic cleansing on a vast scale, even more terrible because the war was over, but the hatred remained.
The Czech people for instance were told to prepare for the final retribution of White Mountain for the return of the Czech lands to the Czech people. The Battle of White Mountain was fought in 1620 when Bohemia was defeated by the Holy Roman Empire and her German allies. This went on all over Eastern Europe.
Between 1945 and 1948, some 89,000 Hungarians were thus ‘persuaded’ to leave Slovakia for the Sudetenland, where they replaced the missing Germans, or else to cross the border into Hungary itself. Some 70,000 Slovaks arrived from Hungary in their place.
Not a word of protest was heard from outside the region. One Hungarian historian declared that this was because”the fate of the Hungarian minority did not interest anyone”.
But in truth, the fate of none of the minorities interested anyone……….By 1950, not much remained of multi-ethnic Eastern Europe.
Although of course there was one multi-ethnic state left after all the forced population movements, Yugoslavia.