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Soviet bloc

The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact.[1][2][3] The terms Communist Bloc and Soviet Bloc were also used to denote groupings of states aligned with the Soviet Union, although these terms might include states outside Central and Eastern Europe.

The USSR and World War II in Central and Eastern Europe

In 1922, the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR and the Transcaucasian SFSR, approved the Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Soviet Union.[4] Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who viewed the Soviet Union as a "socialist island", stated that the Soviet Union must see that "the present capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement."[5]

Expansion of the USSR in 1939–1940

In 1939, the USSR entered into the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany[6] that contained a secret protocol that divided Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland into German and Soviet spheres of influence.[6][7] Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Bessarabia in northern Romania were recognized as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence.[7] Lithuania was added in a second secret protocol in September 1939.[8]

The Soviet Union had invaded the portions of eastern Poland assigned to it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact two weeks after the German invasion of western Poland, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.[9][10] During the Occupation of East Poland by the Soviet Union, the Soviets liquidated the Polish state, and a German-Soviet meeting addressed the future structure of the "Polish region."[11] Soviet authorities immediately started a campaign of sovietization[12][13] of the newly Soviet-annexed areas.[14][15][16] Soviet authorities collectivized agriculture,[17] and nationalized and redistributed private and state-owned Polish property.[18][19][20]

Initial Soviet occupations of the Baltic countries had occurred in mid-June 1940, when Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia,[21][22] followed by the liquidation of state administrations and replacement by Soviet cadres.[21][23] Elections for parliament and other offices were held with single candidates listed and the official results fabricated, purporting pro-Soviet candidates' approval by 92.8 percent of the voters in Estonia, 97.6 percent in Latvia, and 99.2 percent in Lithuania.[24][25] The fraudulently installed peoples assemblies immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union, with the annexations resulting in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.[24] The international community condemned this initial annexation of the Baltic states and deemed it illegal.[26][27]

In 1939, the Soviet Union unsuccessfully attempted an invasion of Finland,[28] subsequent to which the parties entered into an interim peace treaty granting the Soviet Union the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory),[28] and the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic was established by merging the ceded territories with the KASSR. After a June 1940 Soviet Ultimatum demanding Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Hertza region from Romania,[29][30] the Soviets entered these areas, Romania caved to Soviet demands and the Soviets occupied the territories.[29][31]

Eastern Front and Allied Conferences

In June 1941, Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by invading the Soviet Union. From the time of this invasion to 1944, the areas annexed by the Soviet Union were part of Germany's Ostland (except for the Moldavian SSR). Thereafter, the Soviet Union began to push German forces westward through a series of battles on the Eastern Front.

In the aftermath of WWII on the Soviet-Finnish border, the parties signed another peace treaty ceding to the Soviet Union in 1944, followed by a Soviet annexation of roughly the same eastern Finnish territories as those of the prior interim peace treaty as part of the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic.

From 1943 to 1945, several conferences regarding Post-War Europe occurred that, in part, addressed the potential Soviet annexation and control of countries in Central Europe. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's Soviet policy regarding Central Europe differed vastly from that of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the former believing Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system.[32]

When warned of potential domination by a Stalin dictatorship over part of Europe, Roosevelt responded with a statement summarizing his rationale for relations with Stalin: "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man. . . . I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."[33] While meeting with Stalin and Roosevelt in Tehran in 1943, Churchill stated that Britain was vitally interested in restoring Poland as an independent country.[34] Britain did not press the matter for fear that it would become a source of inter-allied friction.[34]

In February 1945, at the conference at Yalta, Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Central Europe.[35] Stalin eventually was convinced by Churchill and Roosevelt not to dismember Germany.[35] Stalin stated that the Soviet Union would keep the territory of eastern Poland they had already taken via invasion in 1939, and wanted a pro-Soviet Polish government in power in what would remain of Poland.[35] After resistance by Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin promised a re-organization of the current pro-Soviet government on a broader democratic basis in Poland.[35] He stated that the new government's primary task would be to prepare elections.[36]

The parties at Yalta further agreed that the countries of liberated Europe and former Axis satellites would be allowed to "create democratic institutions of their own choice", pursuant to "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."[37] The parties also agreed to help those countries form interim governments "pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections" and "facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections."[37]

At the beginning of the July–August 1945 Potsdam Conference after Germany's unconditional surrender, Stalin repeated previous promises to Churchill that he would refrain from a "sovietization" of Central Europe.[38] In addition to reparations, Stalin pushed for "war booty", which would permit the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation.[39] A clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations.[39]

Formation of Eastern Bloc

When Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov expressed concern that the Yalta Agreement's wording might impede Stalin's plans in Central Europe, Stalin responded "Never mind. We'll do it our own way later."[40] After Soviet forces remained in Eastern and Central European countries, with the beginnings of communist puppet regimes installed in those countries, by falsified elections, Churchill referred to the region as being behind an "Iron Curtain" of control from Moscow.[41]

At first, many non-communist countries condemned the speech as warmongering, though many historians have now revised their opinions.[42] Members of the Eastern Bloc besides the Soviet Union are sometimes referred to as "satellite states" of the Soviet Union.[43][44][45][46][47][48][49]

Initial control process

Main article: Eastern Bloc politics

The initial problem in countries occupied by the Red Army in 1944–45 was how to transform occupation power into control of domestic development.[50] Because communists were small minorities in all countries but Czechoslovakia,[51] they were initially instructed to form coalitions in their respective countries.[52] At the war's end, concealment of the Kremlin's role was considered crucial to neutralize resistance and to make the regimes appear not only autonomous, but also to resemble "bourgeois democracies".[51]

Soviet takeover of control at the outset generally followed a process:

  • a general coalition of left-wing, antifascist forces;
  • a reorganized 'coalition' in which the communists would have the upper hand and neutralise those in other parties who were not willing to accept communist supremacy;
  • complete communist domination, frequently exercised in a new party formed by the fusion of communist and other leftist groups.[53]

What is sometimes overlooked in the context of how the Eastern Bloc was formed, however, is the political climate of the time in regards to the political orientation of many of those who fought and died to resist fascism on the local and regional levels, as well as the national ones. Quite a significant number of the citizen groupings known collectively as the antifascist 'partisan movement' that did much to defeat fascist forces during the war, were politically communist-oriented or otherwise radical left in political views, such as left communists and anarchists – continuing to a great extent the political spirit of the failed Republican forces that fought Franco during the Spanish Civil War and the anarchist forces who briefly established a social-anarchist society in Catalonia, among other similar precedents. The Soviets, therefore, were to an extent able to 'ride the wave' of respect and admiration these partisans had earned amongst the populations of these countries by the time the war had ended. Their drive to insist on "friendly governments" as the war drew to a close did not happen in an ideological vacuum: the Soviets did indeed impose these pro-Soviet regimes in Central Europe by what effectively wound up being unilateral decree – but the role of the partisans on all fronts of the war, as well as the estimated 20,000,000 Soviet soldiers who died to defeat fascism, cannot be dismissed, as it lent a certain amount of the appearance of 'licence' on the part of the Soviet administration to control Central Europe that they would not otherwise have had.

It was only in the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia that former partisans entered their new government independently of Soviet influence. It was the latter's publicly stubborn independent political stances, its insistence on specifically not being a puppet regime, that led to the Tito–Stalin split and the other moves towards an "independent socialism" that quickly made SR Yugoslavia unique within the context of overall Eastern Bloc politics.

Property relocation

By the end of World War Two, most of Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union in particular, suffered vast destruction.[54] The Soviet Union had suffered a staggering 27 million deaths, and the destruction of significant industry and infrastructure, both by the Nazi Wehrmacht and the Soviet Union itself in a "scorched earth" policy to keep it from falling in Nazi hands as they advanced over 1,000 miles to within 15 miles of Moscow.[54] Thereafter, the Soviet Union physically transported and relocated east European industrial assets to the Soviet Union.[54]

This was especially pronounced in eastern European Axis countries, such as Romania and Hungary, where such a policy was considered as punitive reparations (a principle accepted by Western powers).[55] In some cases, Red Army officers viewed cities, villages and farms as being open to looting.[56] Other Eastern Bloc states were required to provide coal, industrial equipment, technology, rolling stock and other resources to reconstruct the Soviet Union.[57] Between 1945 and 1953, the Soviets received a net transfer of resources from the rest of the Eastern Bloc under this policy roughly comparable to the net transfer from the United States to western Europe in the Marshall Plan.[57]

East Germany

Most of Germany east of the Oder–Neisse line, which contained much of Germany's fertile land, was transferred to what remained of unilaterally Soviet-controlled Poland.[58] At the end of World War II, political opposition immediately materialized after occupying Soviet army personnel conducted systematic pillaging and rapes in their zone of then divided Germany,[59] with total rape victim estimates ranging from tens of thousands to two million.[60][61][62]

In a June 1945 meeting, Stalin told German communist leaders in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany that he expected to slowly undermine the British position within the British occupation zone, that the United States would withdraw within a year or two and that nothing then would stand in the way of a united Germany under communist control within the Soviet orbit.[63] Stalin and other leaders told visiting Bulgarian and Yugoslav delegations in early 1946 that Germany must be both Soviet and communist.[63]

Factories, equipment, technicians, managers and skilled personnel were forcibly transferred to the Soviet Union.[59] In the non-annexed remaining portion of Soviet-controlled East Germany, like in the rest of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, the major task of the ruling communist party was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties pretending that these were initiatives of its own.[64] At the direction of Stalin, Soviet authorities forcibly unified the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party into the SED, claiming at the time that it would not have a Marxist-Leninist or Soviet orientation.[65]

The SED won a first narrow election victory in Soviet-zone elections in 1946, even though Soviet authorities oppressed political opponents and prevented many competing parties from participating in rural areas.[66] Property and industry were nationalized under their government.[65][67] If statements or decisions deviated from the prescribed line, reprimands and, for persons outside public attention, punishment would ensue, such as imprisonment, torture and even death.[64]

Indoctrination of Marxism-Leninism became a compulsory part of school curricula, sending professors and students fleeing to the west.[68] Applicants for positions in the government, the judiciary and school systems had to pass ideological scrutiny.[68] An elaborate political police apparatus kept the population under close surveillance,[68] including Soviet SMERSH secret police.[65] A tight system of censorship restricted access to print or the airwaves.[68]

What remained of non-communist SED opposition parties were also infiltrated to exploit their relations with their "bourgeois" counterparts in western zones to support Soviet unity along Soviet lines, while a "National Democratic" party (NDPD) was created to attract former Nazis and professional military personnel in order to rally them behind the SED.[69] In early 1948, during the Tito–Stalin split, the SED underwent a transformation into an authoritarian party dominated by functionaries subservient to Moscow.[70] Important decisions had to be cleared with the CPSU Central Committee apparatus or even with Stalin himself.[64]

By early 1949, the SED was capped by a Soviet-style Politburo that was effectively a small self-selecting inner circle.[70] The German Democratic Republic was declared on 7 October 1949, within which the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs accorded the East German state administrative authority, but not autonomy, with an unlimited Soviet exercise of the occupation regime and Soviet penetration of administrative, military and secret police structures.[71][72]


After the Soviet invasion of German-occupied Poland in July 1944, Polish government-in-exile prime minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk flew to Moscow with Churchill to argue against the annexation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact portion of eastern Poland by the Soviet Union.[36] Poland served as the first real test of the American President Roosevelt's Soviet policy of "giving" to Stalin assuming noblesse oblige,[73] with Roosevelt telling Mikołajczyk before the visit, "Don't worry. Stalin doesn't intend to take freedom from you" and after assuring U.S. backing, concluding "I shall see to it that your country does not come out of this war injured."[74]

Mikołajczyk offered a smaller section of land, but Stalin declined, telling him that he would allow the exiled government to participate in the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN and later "Lublin Committee"),[36] which consisted of communists and satellite parties set up under the direct control by the Soviet plenipotentiary Colonel-General Nikolai Bulganin.[75] An agreement was reached at the Yalta Conference permitting the annexation of most of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact portion of Eastern Poland, while granting Poland part of East Germany in return.[36][76] Thereafter, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic were expanded to include eastern Poland.[36][77][78]

The Soviet Union then compensated what remained of Poland by ceding to it the portion of Germany east of the Oder–Neisse line, which contained much of Germany's fertile land.[36][58] An agreement was reached at Yalta that the Soviets' Provisional Government made up of PKWN members would be reorganized "on a broad democratic basis" including the exiled government, and that the reorganized government's primary task would be to prepare for elections.[37][79]

Pretending that it was an indigenous body representing Polish society, the PKWN took the role of a governmental authority and challenged the pre–World War II Polish government-in-exile in London.[75] Doubts began to arise whether the "free and unfettered elections" promised at the Yalta Conference would occur.[80] Non-communists and partisans, including those that fought the Nazis, were systematically persecuted.[75] Hopes for a new free start were immediately dampened when the PKWN claimed they were entitled to choose who they wanted to take part in the government, and the Soviet NKVD seized sixteen Polish underground leaders who had wanted to participate in negotiations on the reorganization in March 1945 brought them to the Soviet Union for a show trial in June.[79][80]

While underground leaders were sentenced to long prison terms, assurances that political prisoners would be released and that Soviet forces and security would leave failed to be supported by concrete safeguards or implementation plans.[81] Polish government-in-exile figures, including Stanisław Mikołajczyk then returned to a popular reception, and were able to lure several parties to their cause, effectively undermining Bloc politics.[82]

Stalin then directed that Mikołajczyk's Polish People's Party (PSL) must accept just one fourth of parliamentary mandated seats, or else repressions and political isolation would ensue.[83] Polish Communists, led by Władysław Gomułka and Bolesław Bierut, were aware of the lack of support for their side, especially after the failure of a referendum for policies known as "3 times YES" (3 razy TAK; 3xTAK), where less than a third of Poland's population voted in favor of the proposed changes included massive communist land reforms and nationalizations of industry.[84]

When the Mikołajczyk's People's Party (PPP) continued to resist pressure to renounce a ticket of its own outside the communist party bloc, it was exposed to open terror,[80][83] including the disqualification of PPP candidates in one quarter of the districts and the arrest of over 1000,000 PPP activists,[85] followed by vote rigging that resulted in Gomułka's communists winning a majority in the carefully controlled poll.[86][87][88]

Mikołajczyk lost hope and left the country.[83] His followers were subjected to unlimited ruthless persecution.[83] Following the forged referendum, in October 1946, the new government nationalized all enterprises employing over 50 people and all but two banks.[80][89] Public opposition had been essentially crushed by 1946, but underground activity still existed.[90]

Fraudulent Polish elections held in January 1947 resulted in Poland's official transformation to a non-democratic communist state by 1949, the People's Republic of Poland. Resistance fighters continued to battle Communists in the Ukrainian annexed portions of eastern Poland, the Soviet response to which included the arrest of as many as 600,000 people between 1944 and 1952, with about one third executed and the rest imprisoned or exiled.[91]


After occupying Hungary, the Soviets imposed harsh conditions allowing it to seize important material assets and control internal affairs.[92] During those occupations, an estimated 50,000 women and girls were raped.[93][94] After the Red Army set up police organs to persecute class enemies, the Soviets assumed that the impoverished Hungarian populace would support communists in coming elections.[95]

The communists were trounced, receiving only 17% of the vote, resulting in a coalition government under Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy.[96] Soviet intervention, however, resulted in a government that disregarded Tildy, placed communists in important ministries, and imposed restrictive and repressive measures, including banning the victorious Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party.[95] The Communist Party repeatedly wrestled small concessions from opponents in a process named "salami tactics".[97] Battling the initial postwar political majority in Hungary ready to establish a democracy,[98] Communist leader Mátyás Rákosi invented the term, which described his tactic slicing up enemies like pieces of salami.[99] In 1945, Soviet Marshal Kliment Voroshilov forced the freely elected Hungarian government to yield the Interior Ministry to a nominee of the Hungarian Communist Party. Communist Interior Minister László Rajk established the ÁVH secret police, which suppressed political opposition through intimidation, false accusations, imprisonment, and torture.[100]

In early 1947, the Soviets pressed Rákosi to take a "line of more pronounced class struggle."[90] The People's Republic of Hungary was formed thereafter. At the height of his rule, Rákosi developed a strong cult of personality.[101] Dubbed the “bald murderer,” Rákosi imitated Stalinist political and economic programs, resulting in Hungary experiencing one of the harshest dictatorships in Europe.[98][102] He described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple"[101] and "Stalin's best pupil."[103] Repression was harsher in Hungary than in the other satellite countries in the 1940s and 1950s due to a more vehement Hungarian resistance.[98]

Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were purged from 1948 to 1956.[98] Thousands were arrested, tortured, tried, and imprisoned in concentration camps, deported to the east, or were executed, including ÁVH founder László Rajk.[104][105] Repeated collectivizations in Hungary occurred from the 1940s through the 1960s.[106] Nearly a decade after stricter state control following the Soviet invasion suppressing the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (including the execution of leader Imre Nagy), János Kádár introduced Goulash Communism which led to a less repressive era.


On 5 September 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria claiming that Bulgaria was to be prevented from assisting Germany and allowing the Wehrmacht to use its territory.[107] On 8 September 1944, the Red Army crossed the border and created the conditions for the coup d'état the following night.[107] The government was taken over by the "Fatherland Front" where the communists played a leading role and an armistice followed.[107] The Soviet military commander in Sofia assumed supreme authority, and the communists and their allies in the Fatherland Front whom he instructed, including Kimon Georgiev, took full control of domestic politics.[107] An armed resistance guerilla movement, known as the Goryani Movement, began immediately after Soviet occupation in 1944 and lasted until the late 1950s. It is known to be the longest as well as the first anti-communist armed resistance in the Eastern Bloc. The movement eventually subsided following the quelling of the 1956 uprising in Budapest, which lead to the realisation that no help would come from Western powers.

On 8 September 1946, a national plebiscite was organized in which 96% of all votes (91% of the population voted) for the abolition of the monarchy and the installation of a republic.[108] In October 1946 elections, persecution against opposition parties occurred, such as jailing members of the previous government, periodic newspaper publication bans and subjecting opposition followers to frequent attacks by communist armed groups.[95] Thereafter, the People's Republic of Bulgaria was formed and Georgi Dimitrov became the first leader of the newly formed republic.

On 6 June 1947, parliamentary leader Nikola Petkov, a critic of communist rule,[95] was arrested in the Parliament building, subjected to a show trial, found guilty of espionage, sentenced to death,[109] and hanged on 23 September 1947. The Bulgarian secret police arranged for the publication of a false Petkov confession.[110] The confession's false nature was so obvious that it became an embarrassment and the authorities ceased mentioning it.[110] Soon after that, all opposition parties had been banned, while the non-communist members of the Fatherland Front (with the exception of BZNS) either dissolved themselves or joined the Communist party.


Main articles: Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 and Czechoslovak Socialist Republic

In 1943, Czechoslovakian leader in exile Edvard Beneš agreed to Stalin's demands for unconditional agreement with Soviet foreign policy, including the expulsion of over one million Sudeten ethnic Germans identified as "rich people" and ethnic Hungarians, directed by the Beneš decrees.[111] Beneš promised Stalin a "close postwar collaboration" in military and economic affairs, including confiscation and nationalization of large landowners' property, factories, mines, steelworks and banks under a Czechoslovakian "national road to socialism".[111] While Beneš was not a Moscow cadre and several domestic reforms of other Eastern Bloc countries were not part Beneš' plan, Stalin did not object because the plan included property expropriation and he was satisfied with the relative strength of communists in Czechoslovakia compared to other Eastern Bloc countries.[111]

Beneš traveled to Moscow in March 1945.[112] After answering a list of questions by the Soviet NKVD, Beneš pleased Moscow with his plans to deport two million ethnic Sudeten Germans and 400,000 to 600,000 Hungarian, and to build a strong army that would closely coordinate with the Red Army.[112] In April 1945, the Third Republic, a national front coalition ruled by three socialist parties, was formed. Because of the Communist Party's strength (they held 114 of 300 seats) and Beneš' loyalty, unlike in other Eastern Bloc countries, the Kremlin did not require Bloc politics or "reliable" cadres in Czechoslovakian power positions, and the executive and legislative branches retained their traditional structures.[113]

However, the Soviet Union was, at first, disappointed that the communist party did not take advantage of their position after receiving the most votes in 1946 elections.[114] While they had deprived the traditional administration of major functions by transferring local and regional government to newly established committees in which they largely dominated, they failed to eliminate "bourgeois" influence in the army or to expropriate industrialists and large landowners.[115]

The existence of a somewhat independent political structure and Czechoslovakia's initial absence of stereotypical Eastern Bloc political and socioeconomic systems began to be seen as problematic by Soviet authorities.[116] While parties outside the "National Front" were excluded from the government, they were still allowed to exist.[115] In contrast to countries occupied by the Red Army, there were no Soviet occupation authorities in Czechoslovakia upon whom the communists could rely to assert a leading role.[115]

Hope in Moscow was waning for a communist victory in the upcoming 1948 elections.[90] A May 1947 Kremlin report concluded that "reactionary elements" praising western democracy had strengthened.[90] Following Czechoslovakia's brief consideration of taking Marshall Plan funds,[115] and the subsequent scolding of communist parties by the Cominform at Szklarska Poręba in September 1947, Rudolf Slánský returned to Prague with a plan for the final seizure of power, including the StB's elimination of party enemies and purging of dissidents.[117]

In early February 1948, Communist Interior minister Václav Nosek illegally extended his powers by attempting to purge remaining non-Communist elements in the National Police Force.[118] Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin arrived in Prague to arrange the Czechoslovak coup d'état, followed by the occupation of non-Communist ministers' ministries, while the army was confined to barracks.[119] Communist "Action Committees" and trade union militias were quickly set up, armed, preparing to carry through a purge of anti-Communists, with Zorin pledging the services of the Red Army.

On 25 February 1948, Beneš, fearful of civil war and Soviet intervention, capitulated and appointed a Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ)-dominated government under the leadership of Stalinist Klement Gottwald, who was sworn in two days later, ushering in a dictatorship.[120][121][122] The only non-Communist to hold an important office, Jan Masaryk, was found dead two weeks later.[123] The public brutality of the Soviet-backed coup[124] shocked Western powers more than any event before it, set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to United States President Truman's Marshall Plan in the United States Congress.[125]


As the Red Army battled the Wehrmacht and Romanian forces in August 1944, Soviet agent Emil Bodnăraș organized an underground coalition to stage a coup d'état that would put communists—who were then two tiny groups—into power.[81] However, King Michael had already organized a coup, in which Bodnăraş also had participated, putting Michael in power.[81] After Soviet invasions following two years of Romania fighting with the Axis, at the February 1945 Yalta Conference and the July 1945 Potsdam Conference, the western allies agreed to the Soviet absorption of the areas.[76]

Michael accepted the Soviets' armistice terms, which included military occupation along with the annexation of Northern Romania.[81] The Soviets' 1940 annexation of Bessarabia and part of Northern Bukovina to create the important agricultural region of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic[126] (while other Romanian territories were converted into the Chernivtsi Oblast and Izmail Oblast of the Ukrainian SSR) became a point of tension between Romania and the Soviet Union, especially after 1965.[127] The Yalta Conference also had granted the Soviet Union a predominant interest in what remained of Romania, which coincided with the Soviet occupation of Romania.

The Soviets organized the National Democratic Front, which was composed of several parties including the Ploughmen's Front.[81] It became increasingly communist dominated.[81] In February 1945, Soviet proponents provoked a crisis to exploit support by the Soviet occupation power for enforcement of unlimited control.[81] In March 1945, Stalin aide Andre Vyshinskii traveled to Bucharest and installed a government that included only members subservient to the National Front.[81]

This included Ploughmen's Front member Dr. Petru Groza, who became prime minister. Groza installed a government that included many parties, though communists held the key ministries. The potential of army resistance was neutralized by the removal of major troop leaders and the inclusion of two divisions staffed with ideologically trained prisoners of war.[81] Bodnăraş was appointed General Secretary and initiated reorganization of the general police and secret police.[81]

Over western allies' objections, traditional parties were excluded from government and subjected to intensifying persecution.[81] Political persecution of local leaders and strict radio and press control were designed to prepare for an eventual unlimited communist dictatorship, including the liquidation of opposition.[107] When King Michael attempted to force Groza's resignation by refusing to sign any legislation ("the royal strike"), Groza enacted laws without Michael's signature.

In the Romanian general election of November 1946 that the Soviets had promised the western allies, the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) was trounced, with U.S. embassy estimates of the bloc receiving only about 8% of the vote compared to 70% for the rival Peasant Party.[128] The shocked communists asked Moscow for advice, and were told to simply falsify the results.[128] Forty eight hours later, they announced that the PCR bloc received 70% of the vote, setting off sharp western protests.[128]

In early 1947, Bodnăraş reported that Romanian leaders Gheorghiu-Dej and Maurer were seeking to bolster the Romanian economy by developing relations with Britain and the United States and were complaining about Soviet occupying troops.[90] Thereafter, the PCR eliminated the role of the centrist parties, including a show trial of National Peasant Party leaders, and forced other parties to merge with the PCR.[128] By 1948, most non-Communist politicians were either executed, in exile or in prison. The Communists declared the Romanian People's Republic in 1948.

Following Gheorghiu-Dej's death in 1965, Nicolae Ceaușescu became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party. He changed the name of the country to the Socialist Republic of Romania, and ruled one of the most brutal states in the Eastern bloc for nearly 25 years.


On 29 December 1944, the National Liberation Movement drove the German occupiers out of Tirana. The LNC, as it was popularly called, was dominated by the two-year-old Albanian Communist Party, led by Enver Hoxha. From this day onward, unlike the other countries in what became the Eastern Bloc, Albania was an out-and-out Communist dictatorship. The LNC wasted little time eliminating almost all potential opposition and isolating the country from the non-Communist world. It swiftly took control of the police, the court system and the economy, while eliminating several hundred political opponents through a series of show trials conducted by judges without legal training.[129][130]

In December 1945, elections for the Albanian People's Assembly were held. However, voters only had the choice of approving or rejecting a single list from the Democratic Front (Albania), the successor to the LNC.[129] In 1946, Albania was declared the People's Republic of Albania and, thereafter, it broke relations with the United States and refused to participate in the 1947 Marshall Plan.[129]

Albania's close ties with Yugoslavia lasted only until the latter's rift with the Soviet Union in 1948.[129] Albania was a founding member of the Warsaw Pact and was heavily dependent upon Soviet aid.[129] Because of Hoxha's dogmatic Stalinist adherence, Albania broke with the Soviet Union in 1960 and formally left the Warsaw Pact in 1968 following the Soviet de-stalinization.[131] Albania began to establish closer contacts with Mao Zedong's People's Republic of China.[131] Following Mao's death, Albania also severed ties with China in 1978.[131]


Yugoslavia, the second-largest of the communist post-war countries, and the sole communist state with open access to the Mediterranean, was only aligned with the Soviet Union for 3 post-war years (1945-1948). Its leader, Josip Broz Tito, broke with the Soviets with the Tito–Stalin split of 1948. The country subsequently came under threat of invasion by the Warsaw Pact, with the Yugoslav People's Army planning defenses against both Eastern and Western Bloc attacks. Throughout the Cold War period, the country steered an independent course, founding the Non-Aligned Movement in collaboration with Egypt and India.

At the end of World War II, Yugoslavia was considered a victor power and had neither an occupation force nor an allied control commission.[132] Communism was considered a popular alternative to the west, in part because of the popularity of the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II and opposition to former royalist Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović and King Peter.[132] A cabinet for the new Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was formed, with twenty five of the twenty eight members being former Communist Yugoslav Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito.[132] The League of Communists of Yugoslavia formed the National Front of Yugoslavia coalition, with opposition members boycotting the first election because it presented only a single government list which could be accepted or rejected, without opponents.[132] Censorship, denial of publication allocations and open intimidation of opposition groups followed.[132] Three weeks after the election, the Front declared that a new Republic would be formed, with a new constitution put in place two months later in January 1946 initiating the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.[133] The Communists continued a campaign against enemies, including arresting Mihailović, conducting a controversial trial and then executing him, followed by several other opposition arrests and trials.[133] Thereafter, a pro-Soviet phase continued until the Tito–Stalin split of 1948 and the subsequent formation of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Concealed transformation dynamics

Main article: Eastern Bloc politics

At first, the Soviets concealed their role in other Eastern Bloc politics, with the transformation appearing as a modification of western "bourgeois democracy".[134] As a young communist was told in East Germany: "it's got to look democratic, but we must have everything in our control."[53] Stalin felt that socioeconomic transformation was indispensable to establish Soviet control, reflecting the Marxist-Leninist view that material bases, the distribution of the means of production, shaped social and political relations.[52]

Moscow-trained cadres were put into crucial power positions to fulfill orders regarding sociopolitical transformation.[52] Elimination of the bourgeoisie's social and financial power by expropriation of landed and industrial property was accorded absolute priority.[134] These measures were publicly billed as "reforms" rather than socioeconomic transformations.[134] Except for initially in Czechoslovakia, activities by political parties had to adhere to "Bloc politics", with parties eventually having to accept membership in an "antifascist" "bloc" obliging them to act only by mutual "consensus".[135] The bloc system permitted the Soviet Union to exercise domestic control indirectly.[51]

Crucial departments such as those responsible for personnel, general police, secret police and youth, were strictly communist run.[51] Moscow cadres distinguished "progressive forces" from "reactionary elements", and rendered both powerless through. Such procedures were repeated until communists had gained unlimited power, and only politicians who were unconditionally supportive of Soviet policy remained.[136]

Early events prompting stricter control

Marshall Plan rejection

Further information: Marshall Plan

In June 1947, after the Soviets had refused to negotiate a potential lightening of restrictions on German development, the United States announced the Marshall Plan, a comprehensive program of American assistance to all European countries wanting to participate, including the Soviet Union and those of Eastern Europe.[137] The Soviets rejected the Plan and took a hard line position against the United States and non-communist European nations.[138] However, of great concern to the Soviets was Czechoslovakia's eagerness to accept the aid and indications of a similar Polish attitude.[115]

In one of the clearest signs of Soviet control over the region up to that point, the Czechoslovakian foreign minister, Jan Masaryk, was summoned to Moscow and berated by Stalin for considering joining the Marshall Plan. Polish Prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz was rewarded for the Polish rejection of the Plan with a huge 5 year trade agreement, including $450 million in credit, 200,000 tons of grain, heavy machinery and factories.[139]

In July 1947, Stalin ordered these countries to pull out of the Paris Conference on the European Recovery Programme, which has been described as "the moment of truth" in the post–World War II division of Europe.[140] Thereafter, Stalin sought stronger control over other Eastern Bloc countries, abandoning the prior appearance of democratic institutions.[141] When it appeared that, in spite of heavy pressure, non-communist parties might receive in excess of 40% of the vote in the August 1947 Hungarian elections, repressions were instituted to liquidate any independent political forces.[141]

In that same month, annihilation of the opposition in Bulgaria began on the basis of continuing instructions by Soviet cadres.[141][142] At a late September 1947 meeting of all communist parties in Szklarska Poręba,[143] Eastern Bloc communist parties were blamed for permitting even minor influence by non-communists in their respective countries during the run up to the Marshall Plan.[141]

Berlin blockade and airlift

Main article: Berlin blockade

In former German capital Berlin, surrounded by Soviet-occupied Germany, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade, preventing food, materials and supplies from arriving in West Berlin.[144] The blockade was caused, in part, by early local elections of October 1946 in which the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was rejected in favor of the Social Democratic Party, which had gained two and a half times more votes than the SED.[145] The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began a massive "Berlin airlift", supplying West Berlin with food and other supplies.[146]

The Soviets mounted a public relations campaign against the western policy change and communists attempted to disrupt the elections of 1948 preceding large losses therein,[147] while 300,000 Berliners demonstrated urged the international airlift to continue.[148] In May 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade, permitting the resumption of Western shipments to Berlin.[149][150]

Tito-Stalin Split

Further information: Tito-Stalin split

After disagreements between Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and the Soviet Union regarding Greece and Albania, a Tito–Stalin split occurred, followed by Yugoslavia being expelled from the Cominform in June 1948 and a brief failed Soviet putsch in Belgrade.[151] The split created two separate communist forces in Europe.[151] A vehement campaign against Titoism was immediately started in the Eastern Bloc, describing agents of both the West and Tito in all places engaging in subversive activity.[151]

Stalin ordered the conversion of the Cominform into an instrument to monitor and control internal affairs of other Eastern Bloc parties.[151] He briefly considered also converting the Cominform into an instrument for sentencing high-ranking deviators, but dropped the idea as impractical.[151] Instead, a move to weaken communist party leaders through conflict was started.[151] Soviet cadres in communist party and state positions in the Bloc were instructed to foster intra-leadership conflict and to transmit information against each other.[151] This accompanied a continuous stream of accusations of "nationalistic deviations", "insufficient appreciation of the USSR's role", links with Tito and "espionage for Yugoslavia."[152] This resulted in the persecution of many major party cadres, including those in East Germany.[152]

The first country experiencing this approach was Albania, where leader Enver Hoxha immediately changed course from favoring Yugoslavia to opposing it.[152] In Poland, leader Władysław Gomułka, who had previously made pro-Yugoslav statements, was deposed as party secretary-general in early September 1948 and subsequently jailed.[152] In Bulgaria, when it appeared that Traicho Kostov, who was not a Moscow cadre, was next in line for leadership, in June 1949, Stalin ordered Kostov's arrest, followed soon thereafter by a death sentence and execution.[152] A number of other high ranking Bulgarian officials were also jailed.[152] Stalin and Hungarian leader Mátyás Rákosi met in Moscow to orchestrate a show trial of Rákosi opponent László Rajk, who was thereafter executed.[153]


Main article: Eastern Bloc politics

Despite the initial institutional design of communism implemented by Joseph Stalin in the Eastern Bloc, subsequent development varied across countries.[154] In satellite states, after peace treaties were initially concluded, opposition was essentially liquidated, fundamental steps towards socialism were enforced and Kremlin leaders sought to strengthen control therein.[116] Initially, Stalin directed systems that rejected Western institutional characteristics of market economies, democratic governance (dubbed "bourgeois democracy" in Soviet parlance) and the rule of law subduing discretional intervention by the state.[155] The resulting states aspired to total control of a political center backed by an extensive and active repressive apparatus, and a central role of Marxist-Leninist ideology.[155]

However, the vestiges of democratic institutions were never entirely destroyed, resulting in the façade of Western style institutions such as parliaments, which effectively just rubber-stamped decisions made by rulers, and constitutions, to which adherence by authorities was limited or non-existent.[155] Parliaments were still elected, but their meetings occurred only a few days per year, only to legitimize politburo decisions, and so little attention was paid to them that some of those serving were actually dead, and officials would openly state that they would seat members who had lost elections.[156]

The first or General Secretary of the central committee in each communist party was the most powerful figure in each regime.[157] The party over which the politburo held sway was not a mass party but, conforming with Leninist tradition, a smaller selective party of between three and fourteen percent of the country's population who had accepted total obedience.[158] Those who secured membership in this selective party received considerable rewards, such as access to special lower priced shops with a greater selection of goods, special schools, holiday facilities, homes, furniture, works of art and official cars with special white license plates so that police and others could identify these members from a distance.[158]

Political and civil restrictions

Main article: Eastern Bloc politics

In addition to emigration restrictions, civil society, defined as a domain of political action outside the party's state control, was not allowed to firmly take root, with the possible exception of Poland in the 1980s.[159] While the institutional design on the communist systems were based on the rejection of rule of law, the legal infrastructure was not immune to change reflecting decaying ideology and the substitution of autonomous law.[159] Initially, communist parties were small in all countries except Czechoslovakia, such that there existed an acute shortage of politically "trustworthy" persons for administration, police and other professions.[107] Thus, "politically unreliable" non-communists initially had to fill such roles.[107] Those not obedient to communist authorities were ousted, while Moscow cadres started a large-scale party programs to train personnel who would meet political requirements.[107]

Communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc viewed marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat because of the bases underlying Communist power therein.[160] The suppression of dissidence and opposition was considered a central prerequisite to retain power, though the enormous expense at which the population in certain countries were kept under secret surveillance may not have been rational.[160] Following a totalitarian initial phase, a post-totalitarian period followed the death of Stalin in which the primary method of Communist rule shifted from mass terror to selective repression, along with ideological and sociopolitical strategies of legitimation and the securing of loyalty.[161] Juries were replaced by a tribunal of a professional judges and two lay assessors that were dependable party actors.[162]

The police deterred and contained opposition to party directives.[162] The political police served as the core of the system, with their names becoming synonymous with raw power and the threat of violent retribution should an individual become active against the collective.[162] Several state police and secret police organizations enforced communist party rule, including:

Media and information restrictions

The press in the communist period was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party.[163] Before the late 1980s, Eastern Bloc radio and television organizations were state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly by the local communist party.[164] Youth newspapers and magazines were owned by youth organizations affiliated with communist parties.[164]

The control of the media was exercised directly by the communist party itself, and by state censorship, which was also controlled by the party.[164] Media served as an important form of control over information and society.[165] The dissemination and portrayal of knowledge were considered by authorities to be vital to communism's survival by stifling alternative concepts and critiques.[165] Several state Communist Party newspapers were published, including:

The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) served as the central agency for collection and distribution of internal and international news for all Soviet newspapers, radio and television stations. It was frequently infiltrated by Soviet intelligence and security agencies, such as the NKVD and GRU. TASS had affiliates in 14 Soviet republics, including the Lithuanian SSR, Latvian SSR, Estonian SSR, Moldavian SSR. Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR.

Western countries invested heavily in powerful transmitters which enabled services such as the BBC, VOA and Radio Free Europe (RFE) to be heard in the Eastern Bloc, despite attempts by authorities to jam the airways.


Main article: Treatment of Christians in Communist Bloc countries

Under the state atheism of many Eastern Bloc nations, religion was actively suppressed.[166]


Main articles: Cominform, Comecon and Warsaw Pact

In 1949, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania founded the Comecon in accordance with Stalin's desire to enforce Soviet domination of the lesser states of Central Europe and to mollify some states that had expressed interest in the Marshall Plan,[167][168] and which were now, increasingly, cut off from their traditional markets and suppliers in Western Europe.[140] The Comecon's role became ambiguous because Stalin preferred more direct links with other party chiefs than the Comecon's indirect sophistication; it played no significant role in the 1950s in economic planning.[169] Initially, the Comecon served as cover for the Soviet taking of materials and equipment from the rest of the Eastern Bloc, but the balance changed when the Soviets became net subsidizers of the rest of the Bloc by the 1970s via an exchange of low cost raw materials in return for shoddily manufactured finished goods.[170]

In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was formed partly in response to NATO's inclusion of West Germany and partly because the Soviets needed an excuse to retain Red Army units in Hungary.[168] For 35 years, the Pact perpetuated the Stalinist concept of Soviet national security based on imperial expansion and control over satellite regimes in Eastern Europe.[171] This Soviet formalization of their security relationships in the Eastern Bloc reflected Moscow's basic security policy principle that continued presence in East Central Europe was a foundation of its defense against the West.[171] Through its institutional structures, the Pact also compensated in part for the absence of Joseph Stalin's personal leadership since his death in 1953.[171] The Pact consolidated the other Bloc members' armies in which Soviet officers and security agents served under a unified Soviet command structure.[172]

Beginning in 1964, Romania took a more independent course.[173] While it did not repudiate either Comecon or the Warsaw Pact, it ceased to play a significant role in either.[173] Nicolae Ceaușescu's assumption of leadership one year later pushed Romania even further in the direction of separateness.[173] Albania, which had become increasingly isolated under Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha following de-Stalinization, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in 1968[174] following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.[175]

Emigration restrictions and defectors

In 1917, Russia restricted emigration by instituting passport controls and forbidding the exit of belligerent nationals.[176] In 1922, after the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, both the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR issued general rules for travel that foreclosed virtually all departures, making legal emigration impossible.[177] Border controls thereafter strengthened such that, by 1928, even illegal departure was effectively impossible.[177] This later included internal passport controls, which when combined with individual city Propiska ("place of residence") permits, and internal freedom of movement restrictions often called the 101st kilometre, greatly restricted mobility within even small areas of the Soviet Union.[178]

After the creation of the Eastern Bloc, emigration out of the newly occupied countries, except under limited circumstances, was effectively halted in the early 1950s, with the Soviet approach to controlling national movement emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc.[179] However, in East Germany, taking advantage of the Inner German border between occupied zones, hundreds of thousands fled to West Germany, with figures totaling 197,000 in 1950, 165,000 in 1951, 182,000 in 1952 and 331,000 in 1953.[180][181] One reason for the sharp 1953 increase was fear of potential further Sovietization with the increasingly paranoid actions of Joseph Stalin in late 1952 and early 1953.[182] 226,000 had fled in the just the first six months of 1953.[183]

With the closing of the Inner German border officially in 1952,[184] the Berlin city sector borders remained considerably more accessible than the rest of the border because of their administration by all four occupying powers.[185] Accordingly, it effectively comprised a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still move west.[184] The 3.5 million East Germans that had left by 1961, called Republikflucht, totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.[186] In August 1961, East Germany erected a barbed-wire barrier that would eventually be expanded through construction into the Berlin Wall, effectively closing the loophole.[187]

With virtually non-existent conventional emigration, more than 75% of those emigrating from Eastern Bloc countries between 1950 and 1990 did so under bilateral agreements for "ethnic migration."[188] About 10% were refugee migrants under the Geneva Convention of 1951.[188] Most Soviets allowed to leave during this time period were ethnic Jews permitted to emigrate to Israel after a series of embarrassing defections in 1970 caused the Soviets to open very limited ethnic emigrations.[189] The fall of the Iron Curtain was accompanied by a massive rise in European East-West migration.[188] Famous Eastern Bloc defectors included Joseph Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, who denounced Stalin after her 1967 defection.[190]


Further information: Economy of Communist Czechoslovakia, Economy of the German Democratic Republic and Economy of the Soviet Union

Because of the lack of market signals, Eastern Bloc economies experienced mis-development by central planners resulting in those countries following a path of extensive rather than intensive development.[191] Consumer goods were lacking in quantity in the shortage economies that resulted.[192] The Eastern Bloc also depended upon the Soviet Union for significant amounts of materials.[191] Economic activity was governed by Five Year Plans, divided into monthly segments with government planners frequently attempting to meet plan targets regardless of whether markets existed for the goods being produced.[193] Growth rates within the bloc began to decline.[194]

Meanwhile, Western Germany, Austria, France and other Western European nations experienced increased economic growth in the Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") Trente Glorieuses ("thirty glorious years") and the post–World War II boom. Overall, the inefficiency of systems without competition or market-clearing prices became costly and unsustainable, especially with the increasing complexity of world economics.[195] While most western European economies essentially caught up in large part with the United States levels of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Eastern Bloc countries did not.[194] They possessed per capita GDPs significantly below their comparable western European counterparts,[196] for example (Eastern bloc countries are in green):

Per Capita GDP (1990 $[197]) 1950 1973 1989[198] 1990
United States $9,561 $16,689 n/a $23,214
Finland $4,253 $11,085 $16,676 $16,868
Austria $3,706 $11,235 $16,305 $16,881
Italy $3,502 $10,643 $15,650 $16,320
Czechoslovakia $3,501 $7,041 $8,729 $8,895(Czech)/
Soviet Union $2,834 $6,058 n/a $6,871
Hungary $2,480 $5,596 $6,787 $6,471
Poland $2,447 $5,334 n/a $5,115
Spain $2,397 $8,739 $11,752 $12,210
Portugal $2,069 $7,343 $10,355 $10,852
Greece $1,915 $7,655 $10,262 $9,904
Bulgaria $1,651 $5,284 $6,217 $5,552
Yugoslavia $1,585 $4,350 $5,917 $5,695
Romania $1,182 $3,477 $3,890 $3,525
Albania $1,101 $2,252 n/a $2,482
Per Capita GDP 1989 Deutsche Marks[199] 1989
West Germany 35,877 DM
East Germany 15,318 DM

Their economic systems, which required party-state planning at all levels, ended up collapsing under the weight of accumulated economic inefficiencies, with various attempts at reform merely contributing to the acceleration of crisis-generating tendencies.[200]


1953 East Germany uprising

Three months after the death of Joseph Stalin, a dramatic increase of emigration (Republikflucht, brain drain) occurred from East Germany in the first half-year of 1953. Large numbers of East Germans traveled west through the only "loophole" left in the Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, the Berlin sector border.[201] The East German government then raised "norms" – the amount each worker was required to produce—by 10%.[201] Already disaffected East Germans, who could see the relative economic successes of West Germany within Berlin, became enraged.[201] Angry building workers initiated street protests, and were soon joined by others in a march to the Berlin trade union headquarters.[201]

While no official spoke to them at that location, by 2:00 pm, the East German government agreed to withdraw the "norm" increases.[202] However, the crisis had already escalated such that the demands were now political, including free elections, disbanding the army and resignation of the government.[202] By 17 June, strikes were recorded in 317 locations involving approximately 400,000 workers.[202] When strikers set ruling SED party buildings aflame and tore the flag from the Brandenburg Gate, SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht left Berlin.[202]

A major emergency was declared and the Soviet Red Army stormed some important buildings.[202] With hours, Soviet tanks arrived, but they did not immediately fire upon all workers.[202] Rather, a gradual pressure was applied.[202] Approximately 16 Soviet divisions with 20,000 soldiers from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany using tanks, as well as 8,000 Kasernierte Volkspolizei members, were employed. Bloodshed could not be entirely avoided, with the official death toll standing at 21, while the actual casualty toll may have been much higher.[202] Thereafter, 20,000 arrests took place along with 40 executions.[202]

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

After Stalin's 1953 death, a period of de-Stalinization followed, with reformist Imre Nagy replacing Hungarian Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi.[203] Responding to popular demand, in October 1956, the government appointed the recently rehabilitated reformist Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, with a mandate to negotiate trade concessions and troop reductions with the Soviet government. After a few tense days of negotiations, on 19 October, the Soviets finally gave in to Gomułka's reformist requests.[204]

The revolution began after students of the Technical University compiled a list of Demands of Hungarian Revolutionaries of 1956 and conducted protests in support of the demands on 22 October.[205] Protests of support swelled to 200,000 by 6 pm the following day,[206][207] The demands included free secret ballot elections, independent tribunals, inquiries into Stalin and Rákosi Hungarian activities and that "the statue of Stalin, symbol of Stalinist tyranny and political oppression, be removed as quickly as possible." By 9:30 pm the statue was toppled (see photo to the right) and jubilant crowds celebrated by placing Hungarian flags in Stalin's boots, which was all that remained the statue.[207] The ÁVH was called, Hungarian soldiers sided with the crowd over the ÁVH and shots were fired on the crowd.[208][209]

By 2 am on 24 October, under orders of Soviet defense minister Georgy Zhukov, Soviet tanks entered Budapest.[210] Protester attacks at the Parliament forced the dissolution of the government.[211] A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside.[212] Fighting had virtually ceased between 28 October and 4 November, while many Hungarians believed that Soviet military units were indeed withdrawing from Hungary.[213]

The new government that came to power during the revolution formally disbanded ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. The Soviet Politburo thereafter moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country.[214] The last pocket of resistance called for ceasefire on 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops were killed and thousands more were wounded.[215][216]

Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported to the Soviet Union, many without evidence.[217] Approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled Hungary,[218] some 26,000 Hungarians were put on trial by the new Soviet-installed János Kádár government, and of those, 13,000 were imprisoned.[219] Imre Nagy was executed, along with Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes, after secret trials in June 1958. Their bodies were placed in unmarked graves in the Municipal Cemetery outside Budapest.[220] By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition now.

Prague Spring and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia

A period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia called the Prague Spring took place in 1968. The event was spurred by several events, including economic reforms that addressed an early 1960s economic downturn.[221][222] The event began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power. In April, Dubček launched an "Action Program" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of movement, along with an economic emphasis on consumer goods, the possibility of a multiparty government and limiting the power of the secret police.[223][224]

Initial reaction within the Eastern Bloc was mixed, with Hungary's János Kádár expressing support, while Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and others grew concerned about Dubček's reforms, which they feared might weaken the Eastern Bloc's position during the Cold War.[225][226] On 3 August, representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration, which affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism–Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces.[227]

On the night of 20–21 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgariainvaded Czechoslovakia.[228][229] The invasion comported with the Brezhnev Doctrine, a policy of compelling Eastern Bloc states to subordinate national interests to those of the Bloc as a whole and the exercise of a Soviet right to intervene if an Eastern Bloc country appeared to shift towards capitalism .[230][231] The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, including an estimated 70,000 Czechs initially fleeing, with the total eventually reaching 300,000.[232]

In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "normalization" began.[233] Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of liberal members, dismissed opponents from public office, reinstated the power of the police authorities, sought to re-centralize the economy and re-instated the disallowance of political commentary in mainstream media and by persons not considered to have "full political trust".[234][235]


Further information: Revolutions of 1989, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, January 1991 events in Latvia, Singing Revolution, Soviet OMON assaults on Lithuanian border posts, Removal of Hungary's border fence and European integration

During the late 1980s, the weakened Soviet Union gradually stopped interfering in the internal affairs of Eastern Bloc nations and numerous independence movements took place.

Following the Brezhnev stagnation, the reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 signaled the trend towards greater liberalization. Gorbachev rejected the Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that Moscow would intervene if socialism were threatened in any state.[236] He announced what was jokingly called the "Sinatra Doctrine" after the singer's "My Way", to allow the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to determine their own internal affairs during this period.

Gorbachev initiated a policy of glasnost (openness) in the Soviet Union, and emphasized the need for perestroika (economic restructuring). The Soviet Union was struggling economically after the long war in Afghanistan and did not have the resources to control Central and Eastern Europe.

A wave of Revolutions of 1989, sometimes called the "Autumn of Nations",[237] swept across the Eastern Bloc.[238]

Major reforms occurred in Hungary following the replacement of János Kádár as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1988.[239] In Poland in April 1989, the Solidarity organization was legalized and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections. It captured 99% of available parliamentary seats.[240]

On 9 November 1989, following mass protests in East Germany and the relaxing of border restrictions in Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of Eastern Berliners flooded checkpoints along the Berlin Wall and crossed into West Berlin.[241] The wall was torn down and Germany was eventually reunified. In Bulgaria, the day after the mass crossings through the Berlin Wall, the leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted by his Politburo and replaced with Petar Mladenov.[242]

In Czechoslovakia, following protests of an estimated half-million Czechs and Slovaks demanding freedoms and a general strike, the authorities, which had allowed travel to the West, abolished provisions guaranteeing the ruling Communist party its leading role.[243] President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-Communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned, in what was called the Velvet Revolution.[243]

Romania had not had any de-Stalinization. Following growing public protests, president Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered a mass rally in his support outside Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest. But mass protests against Ceauşescu proceeded.[244] The Romanian military sided with protesters and turned on Ceauşescu. They executed him after a brief trial three days later.[245]

Even before the Bloc's last years, all of the countries in the Warsaw Pact did not always act as a unified bloc. For instance, the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia was condemned by Romania, which refused to take part in it.

Terminology and other countries

Use of the term "Eastern Bloc" generally refers to the "communist states of eastern Europe."[1] Sometimes, more generally, they are referred to as "the countries of Eastern Europe under communism".[246] Many sources consider Yugoslavia to be a member of the Eastern Bloc.[1][247][248][249][250][251][252][253] Others consider Yugoslavia not to be a member after it broke with Soviet policy in the 1948 Tito–Stalin split.[254]

"Eastern Bloc" was sometimes used interchangeably with the term Second World, and was opposed by the Western Bloc. The Soviet-aligned members of the Eastern Bloc besides the Soviet Union are often referred to as "satellite states" of the Soviet Union.[43][44][45][255][256][257][258][259][260][261] In the 1920s, "Eastern bloc" was used to refer to a loose alliance of eastern and central European countries.

Other countries that were not Soviet Socialist Republics, not Soviet Satellite States or not in Europe were sometimes referred to as being in the Eastern Bloc, Soviet Bloc or Communist Bloc, including:

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Candid photos of the Eastern Bloc September–December 1991, in the last months of the USSR
  • Photographic project "Eastern Bloc" “Eastern Bloc” examines the specificities and differences of living in totalitarian and post totalitarian countries. The project is divided into chapters, each dedicated to one of the Eastern European countries—Slovak Republic, Poland, ex-GDR, Hungary, Czech Republic and ex-Yugoslavia.
  • RFE/RL East German Subject Files Open Society Archives, Budapest
  • The Lives of Others official website
  • RFE Czechoslovak Unit Open Society Archives, Budapest
  • Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation
  • Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity
  • Gallery of events from Poznań 1956 protests
  • OSA Digital Archive Videos of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
  • RADIO FREE EUROPE Research, RAD Background Report/29: (Hungary) 20 October 1981, A CHRONOLOGY OF THE HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION, 23–4 October November 1956, compiled by RAD/Hungarian Section-Published accounts
  • Chronology Of Events Leading To The 1968 Czechoslovakia Invasion
  • Solidarity, Freedom and Economical Crisis in Poland, 1980–81
  • – A PBS site on the context and history of the Berlin Airlift.
  • The Lives of Others official website
  • The Lost Border: Photographs of the Iron Curtain
  • "Symbols in Transition" Documentary film regarding the post-89 handling of the political symbols and buildings of eastern Europe

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