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Interview: Anne Applebaum Discusses 'The Crushing Of Eastern Europe'

After the war, Germans were moved out of many ethnically mixed areas in Eastern Europe.
After the war, Germans were moved out of many ethnically mixed areas in Eastern Europe.
In a long-awaited history due to be published this week, American journalist and author Anne Applebaum draws on firsthand accounts and previously unpublished archival material to describe how the Kremlin established its hegemony over Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.

The book, titled "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56" explores the gutting of local institutions and the murders, terror campaigns, and tactical maneuvering that allowed Moscow to establish a system of control that would last for decades to come.

Applebaum, whose previous book, a history of the Soviet Gulag, won the Pulitzer Prize, discussed her latest work with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Vladimir Dubinsky.

RFE/RL: Your book concentrates on three countries -- East Germany, Hungary, and Poland. What made you choose them in particular?

Anne Applebaum:
I chose those three precisely because they are so different and they just had extremely different experiences of war. Germany obviously was Nazi Germany, Hungary had been a country somewhat in-between, a sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy ally of Hitler, and of course Poland was an ally and very actively [involved in the fight against Hitler.]

So therefore there were three countries with different recent histories and what interested me was the fact that despite those cultural differences, despite the linguistic differences, despite the recent political history, by about the year 1950 if you'd looked in at this region from the outside, they would have all appeared very similar.

RFE/RL: In the preface, you state that one of the purposes of the book it is to study the history of totalitarian countries and the methods employed by dictators to suppress populations. What can be learned from the history of the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe?

Applebaum:
What you learn from studying the period is several things. One is how well prepared Stalin was before he got there. He had for example prepared police forces, secret police forces for each of the countries before he arrived in those countries. Most notably in Poland he begins recruiting policemen from the year 1939. Of course we've always known that he prepared and recruited, and organized communist parties from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution onwards.

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You also see which kind of institutions the Soviet Union was most interested in. For example, everywhere that the Red Army went, one of the first things they did was take over the radio station. They believed very much in propaganda, in the power of propaganda and they believed that if they just could reach the masses by what was then the most efficient means possible, namely the radio, then they would be able to convince them and then they would be able to take and hold power.

You also learn about some of their obsessions, some of the things they were concerned about. From the earliest days of the Soviet Union, Soviet representatives in the region were very interested in what we now call civil society. So they were very interested in self-organized groups. That means both political parties, it means soccer clubs, it means chess clubs. Self-organized groups of all kinds were a target of Soviet interest and in some cases repressed from the very beginning.

RFE/RL: Despite the Soviet Union's elaborate preparations to expand its influence in Eastern Europe, you write that there was a great variety of political parties, private ownership, and free media left to thrive at the beginning. So was the Soviet Union's initial occupation plan far from ideal?

Applebaum:
They didn't plan perfectly. They planned strategically. And they didn't know how long it would take to occupy these countries or to change their political systems, and in fact we have some evidence that they thought it might take a very long time -- 20 years or 30 years before Europe is communist.

They also thought from the beginning that it was only a matter of time before they and their ideas were popular. So one of the reasons they held elections -- and there were some free elections in the region, particularly in Hungary and in East Germany, also in Czechoslovakia very early -- is because they thought they would win. They thought, you know, Marx told us that first there will be a bourgeois revolution, then there will be a communist revolution, and sooner or later the workers will have the consciousness, they will come to consciousness themselves as the moving forces of history and they will understand that communism is the way to go and they'll vote us into power.

And they indeed were very stunned in some cases when it didn't happen. I mean, one of the reasons for the big reversal when they cut off this early evidence of democracy was that they were losing. They lost those early elections and they realized they were going to lose them even more in the next round and they decided to stop holding them.

Not A Buffer Zone

RFE/RL: According to your book, Stalin was pursuing more than ideology in Eastern Europe. He also had a geopolitical and even a mercantile agenda.

Applebaum:
There were many mercantile interests on Stalin's part. I mean, essentially it is the deportation of German factories. The Soviet Union literally occupied, packed up, and shipped out of Eastern Germany, out of much of Hungary and indeed much of Poland, which was not well known at the time, factories, train tracks, horses, and cattle. All kinds of material goods were taken out of those countries and sent to the Soviet Union.

There is one argument I don't really go into in my book that one of the reasons for the postwar success of the Soviet Union was that it occupied and took over the industrial production of these countries. It itself was very weak after the war and there were even famines in the Soviet Union after the war, as we know.

RFE/RL: Did Stalin intend to create some sort of a buffer zone between the U.S.S.R. and the West by occupying Eastern Europe out of fear that the West might eventually attack the Soviet Union?

Applebaum:
The Soviet Union really didn't think like that. The people who occupied Eastern Europe and the people who collaborated with the Soviet Union weren't thinking in those terms. The generals and the NKVD officers who came into the region were thinking they were pushing the boundaries of the socialist revolution and that it was only a matter of time before they moved from Eastern Europe to Western Europe.

The Human Factor

RFE/RL: You write that the Soviet Union started ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe soon after its occupation. Who was the primary victim and what were the motives behind the picking of particular ethnic groups for cleansing?

Applebaum:
What the Soviet Union was interested in after the war was ethnic cleansing in the purest sense, that is, they were creating homogenous states. The primary victims and the first victims of this process were the Germans. It had been agreed at Potsdam that the Germans would be removed from these territories, as many were mixed ethnic territories for hundreds of years. That meant that many millions of Germans physically had to be removed and replaced by Poles or [in] the Sudetenland replaced by Czechs and Slovaks.

Anne Applebaum (file photo)Anne Applebaum (file photo)
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Anne Applebaum (file photo)
Anne Applebaum (file photo)
The process of ethnic cleansing was much more elaborate than we often now remember. Many millions of people had to be put on trains and shipped out of the country and I should stress two things about it: one is that the communist parties themselves in many of these countries ran this process and the second is that it was extremely popular. The deportation of the Germans was considered a great achievement of the communist parties and was thought as such at the time, even though it was of course brutal and cruel and in many cases unfair. Germans who had worked on behalf of the Polish resistance were deported alongside Germans who had been Nazis.

The other great deportation -- one of the other great deportations of the region -- was essentially the swap of Poles and Ukrainians. When the Polish border was moved West, that left quite a number of Poles in the Soviet Union, it also left a number of Ukrainians in what had been Poland and there was a decision to swap them, to send one for the other. And this was also not an easy process, because many of those people had lived in their villages for centuries and they were uninclined to go. And so at certain points force was used, threats were used, at one point there was in effect an open war between Poles and Ukrainians in those eastern regions, something that's not known very well in the rest of the world.

RFE/RL: Despite the repressions, the Soviet Union found allies in Eastern Europe who were eager to collaborate and actively took part in the violence themselves. Who were these people? Did they harbor political convictions or were they simple opportunists who just strove to gain power through cooperation with Moscow?

Applebaum:
I think they were people who were both. They were both opportunists and they were people who had convictions. I mean, remember that because people had convictions.... Having convictions doesn't make you a moral person or a good person, I mean, the Nazis also had convictions, they were convinced that their system was right. So there were many people who were convinced that this way of thinking was correct and had been scientifically proven by Marx. So many of them were ideologues and at the same time they were opportunists, they saw that if they hewed to the party line and if they remained close to Moscow they would remain in power.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
October 22, 2012 15:31
Aaah,the bad old soviets and the errible things they did-shame on them.One thing the Annie fanny schiksa will not tell about is the role of the demockratic west-How good old Uncle Joe Koba became overnite a bad old communist-and how did the west helped him realize his aims.The soviet bastards were very good allies and friends of the demockratic west for a long time after the war while the soviets-worse than the nazis-occupied ,plundered,deported millions in accordance with the Stalin-Churnchill division of eastern europe into zones of Influences.I bet Annie Applepie wont say a word about that in her book which will be just as shallow BW as her previous one.History is not the basest coinage of politicians said the poet.Unfortunately most journalists cant do better than politicians these days.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 23, 2012 08:40
It's interesting to see how the RFE/RL is getting more and more interested in publishing historical material - only today they have three historical articles: (a) the interview on the fate of Eastern Europe in the 1940s and 1950s; (b) a nice photo on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962; (c) a friendly reminder that it has already been 10 years since that theatre in Moscow was taken over by the disarmed and peaceful US- and Saudi-financed activists who - however - ended up the same way their friends are constantly ending up in today's Syria.
It is just such a pity that you, guys, are so much less interested in ECONOMICS and FINANCE than in history. Newspapers in this "Free Europe" that you pretend to represent publish so much interesting material on the consequences of the process of European integration for such EU member states as Greece, Spain, Italy or Portugal on a daily basis! One can only regret that you prefer to spare your readership all this useful information on the current state of affairs, while preferring to focus on what was happening 10, 50 or 60 years ago.
But well, ok, it's understandable: Hillary Clinton is paying you specifically to divert the attention of the public from what is happening in this "Free Europe" today, so you are just doing what you payd for...
In Response

by: eu-genio
October 23, 2012 14:25
Um, because it's a U.S.-funded service broadcasting mostly to formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe and the former USSR?
http://www.rferl.org/info/faq/777.html

But you probably knew that, frustrated old communist that you are. Go away, little troll.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 24, 2012 08:12
You are saying: "Go away". Why don't you make me go away, frustrated old Washington ...-kisser :-))? If there is anyone going away these days, it's your friends in Syria and Afghanistan, and once they're gone for good - you know already whose turn will come :-))).

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 23, 2012 10:05
Anne Applebaum, it would be better for you be Applebee,
To make from flowers honey, rather than never read,
But write all things you so immodestly turn to "fee".
You green, not unlike you left it for us to smell it.

1.
You start with Ideological nonsense from Marks:
"First bourgeois... than... ...communist revolution,
(than) workers... ...vote us into power...(comis)"
Absolute ignorant funkelbluher, Mrs. Applebaum.

Marks was against a revolution, even Manifesto.
He said young capitalism was creative but cost
To many sacrifices because of low productivity,
Thus, when productivity will satisfy populations,
Social security would fill people basic necessity.

USA already was reaching such level in 1930th,
It is why Germans and Brits, all over the World,
Including USA, started race war for USA wealth
To starve to death most of Americans - but lost.
Lost buying power killed finance, new deal came.

In the East, also because of race war of Russia
Against neighbors - including their own creators,
With lower productivity, Russia lost to "Prussia",
Lost occupied by them nations, asked their help.
Marks predicted it to, suffering nations will rebel.

2.
You pinning all on Stalin - another immodest "fee".
Stalin since childhood fought against "race wars"
Of Varangas from Europe through Japanese Sea.
Lenin, Varag-Prussak, expanded imperial outdoor.

Stalin was against all of dictator's, Lenin's, vetoed,
Hold under guns by dictator's Bolsheviks - omitted.
Lenin failed - low productivity and Red terror failed.
He confessed but went to mental institution, bailed.

Illiterate Russians, scared and unable, asked Stalin
To be dictator, he refused and offered the liberation
Of non-Russian nations and nationalities, elections
And democracy, but Russia retaliated - periodically,
By pogroms and, as did Brits, rising nazi Germany.

You continue the ideological nonsense using Stalin:
(will continue)
In Response

by: Data Tutashkhia from: Gori
October 23, 2012 11:36
You are only right,Con stained teen,what we need today is another Koba,and since Aakashvili and Bidzinadze wont do,its high time you and Vakhtang take over - we guess you will be a grand Koba and Vakhtang-an even better Berya.So,Say good bye to the city of angels and Moss cow,forget Bechtel and the Rashkas and come home to start da Revolution.We will be waiting for you at the Central public lavatory in Gori,so please hurry!!!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 24, 2012 06:33
"Con stained teen" is your wishfull thinking,
Lavrushas worked on it at least since 1946 sanking
Of CIS restoration in ethnic Russia treachery and mutney.
They both, with help of Lazar, satrapian of plagiarist "Russkiys"
Put Stalin under home arrest and since "stain" us all by kinkies.

I am not a "teen" and "stain" of your race of Rashka-treasonous
Falling back on them and you. As (S)Akashvili and (Bidzina)dze
Are leaders in Georgia, no nation among Humans currageous
To defend my priorities and royalties, word playing pointless.
I do not think Vahtang is Vahtang-ian, I can't be Ko-ba-dze.

I never belonged to, like "Ko"(part of group)-"ba"(naturaly)
To any nation, not withstanding Georgian hospitality mode
And just friendship - I baicotted since birth - have no allies.
Beria might be better for you - if you an old Lavrusha-plott,
1940-50th Russia assassins attempted - as you watched.

It is why you know staff about me. Are you his son, Data?
Are you product of recroutment - pro-Russia "Lavrushkia",
Using pro-Russian separatist movie on "Abrek Tatushkia"?
I respect all ethno-groups of Georgia, including "Ozurgeta"
And understand why you provoking like a Russian "gazeta".

Are you expecting me to take a bait, as did madman Lenin
And go to Russia's Treblinkas and Anaverdes, checking in?
I did change the World, I was betrayed, my mother is killed.
Age of revolutions turning "oboroten's" pseudo-revolushkins.
CIS need not empire, or Koba being in gang of Beria - willed.

by: parvenu from: US
October 23, 2012 13:42
Why was "Hungary in between"? Hungary was an axis power. Contributing the majority of soldiers to Stalingrad battle on the German side. Together with Romania.
Also, why bother to write a book about stuff that is known and subject of textbooks? I learned nothing new.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 24, 2012 06:58
Everything new and total lies! Textbooks were burned in 1950th.
Read you advised by Queen and ordered by Khrutchev scheez?
You right about Hungary and Romania in part. By Applebaum,
Post-war level of occupation of each was probably spoon
That illeterate but determined girl offer us eat like piza.

Actual difference was difficulties for depopulated USSR
Be used by Russia to annex Eastern Ortodox Romania
With Moldova, so they swallowed Moldova. Since Czars
Russia, Germany and Austria hate too brilliand Hungaria,
Like Bollyaly - creator of "New Geometry", they plagiarize.

Thus, at the end of WW2, ethnic Russia denied to Stalin
Separatly negotiate with Hungary, withdraw from the war,
As they allowed to Romania - Hungary to fall to Russians,
Be repopulated by ethnic Russia expansion, closing door.
Hungary fought to the end, up to million Soviets died there.
In Response

by: parvenu from: US
October 25, 2012 12:40
You mean Bolyai? But Riemann was German.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 28, 2012 07:51
Yes, I meant Bolyai (Russian texbooks offered different prononcuation).

I didn't mentioned Riemann, yes he also lived in Hungary,
I thought he was of Hungarian, maybe mixed, blood, If you
like to consider him German, look it up for yourself.

If you are saying that Germans were also brilliant,
many were - but not the Prashkas, mixed with "Germanica Inferrior" and even pre-Alpines, but thouse they and Hitler called "shame of Germany", the Caucasian Germans with "Caucasian noses" , descandents of:
Saxony (Scifians and Sarmatians from Ukraine, Utes from Baltics and Finland));
Franks (Wite Tatars from Volga);
Alaric's tribe (South-Western Caucasus, like Hetia and Lidia, mixed with Galics in Europe, known later as Celts);
Even more so Alans (Border of Georgia and Osetia);
Even more that all of the above Avars and Ings (Border of Georgia with Dagestan Avar and Ingushetia)...

By the way, Guns came from Northern-Eastern Caucasus,
being mixed with pre-Georgians, like pre-Georgians in Avar, Ingushetia and Osetia.

I don't know your original intention, but Riemann is not far off...

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