Iron Curtain Descends on Europe - History

Iron Curtain Descends on Europe - History

Prime Minister Churchill, at an address in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5,1946 stated: "From Stettin in the Baltics, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." Thus, Churchill put forth the concept that Europe had been divided between East and West.

On March 5, 1946 Prime Minister Churchill and President Truman traveled to Fulton Missouri tp Westmnister College tp deliver a speech at the college. His speech had a profound impact on how people perceived the Soviet Union.

The Speech:

I am glad to come to Westminster College this afternoon, and am complimented that you should give me a degree. The name "Westminster" is somehow familiar to me. I seem to have heard of it before. Indeed, it was at Westminster that I received a very large part of my education in politics, dialectic, rhetoric, and one or two other things. In fact we have both been educated at the same, or similar, or, at any rate, kindred establishments.

It is also an honor, perhaps almost unique, for a private visitor to be introduced to an academic audience by the President of the United States. Amid his heavy burdens, duties, and responsibilities -- unsought but not recoiled from -- the President has traveled a thousand miles to dignify and magnify our meeting here to-day and to give me an opportunity of addressing this kindred nation, as well as my own countrymen across the ocean, and perhaps some other countries too. The President has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me, however, make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

I can therefore allow my mind, with the experience of a lifetime, to play over the problems which beset us on the morrow of our absolute victory in arms, and to try to make sure with what strength I have that what has been gained with so much sacrifice and suffering shall be preserved for the future glory and safety of mankind.

The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here now, clear and shining for both our countries. To reject it or ignore it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches of the after-time. It is necessary that constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall guide and rule the conduct of the English-speaking peoples in peace as they did in war. We must, and I believe we shall, prove ourselves equal to this severe requirement.

When American military men approach some serious situation they are wont to write at the head of their directive the words "over-all strategic concept." There is wisdom in this, as it leads to clarity of thought. What then is the over-all strategic concept which we should inscribe today? It is nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands. And here I speak particularly of the myriad cottage or apartment homes where the wage-earner strives amid the accidents and difficulties of life to guard his wife and children from privation and bring the family up in the fear of the Lord, or upon ethical conceptions which often play their potent part.

To give security to these countless homes, they must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny. We all know the frightful disturbances in which the ordinary family is plunged when the curse of war swoops down upon the bread-winner and those for whom he works and contrives. The awful ruin of Europe, with all its vanished glories, and of large parts of Asia glares us in the eyes. When the designs of wicked men or the aggressive urge of mighty States dissolve over large areas the frame of civilized society, humble folk are confronted with difficulties with which they cannot cope. For them all is distorted, all is broken, even ground to pulp.

When I stand here this quiet afternoon I shudder to visualize what is actually happening to millions now and what is going to happen in this period when famine stalks the earth. None can compute what has been called "the unestimated sum of human pain." Our supreme task and duty is to guard the homes of the common people from the horrors and miseries of another war. We are all agreed on that.

Our American military colleagues, after having proclaimed their "over-all strategic concept" and computed available resources, always proceed to the next step -- namely, the method. Here again there is widespread agreement. A world organization has already been erected for the prime purpose of preventing war, UNO, the successor of the League of Nations, with the decisive addition of the United States and all that means, is already at work. We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel. Before we cast away the solid assurances of national armaments for self-preservation we must be certain that our temple is built, not upon shifting sands or quagmires, but upon the rock. Anyone can see with his eyes open that our path will be difficult and also long, but if we persevere together as we did in the two world wars -- though not, alas, in the interval between them -- I cannot doubt that we shall achieve our common purpose in the end.

I have, however, a definite and practical proposal to make for action. Courts and magistrates may be set up but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organization must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step, but we must begin now. I propose that each of the Powers and States should be invited to delegate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organization. These squadrons would be trained and prepared in their own countries, but would move around in rotation from one country to another. They would wear the uniform of their own countries but with different badges. They would not be required to act against their own nation, but in other respects they would be directed by the world organization. This might be started on a modest scale and would grow as confidence grew. I wished to see this done after the first world war, and I devoutly trust it may be done forthwith.

It would nevertheless be wrong and imprudent to entrust the secret knowledge or experience of the atomic bomb, which the United States, Great Britain, and Canada now share, to the world organization, while it is still in its infancy. It would be criminal madness to cast it adrift in this still agitated and un-united world. No one in any country has slept less well in their beds because this knowledge and the method and the raw materials to apply it, are at present largely retained in American hands. I do not believe we should all have slept so soundly had the positions been reversed and if some Communist or neo-Fascist State monopolized for the time being these dread agencies. The fear of them alone might easily have been used to enforce totalitarian systems upon the free democratic world, with consequences appalling to human imagination. God has willed that this shall not be and we have at least a breathing space to set our house in order before this peril has to be encountered: and even then, if no effort is spared, we should still possess so formidable a superiority as to impose effective deterrents upon its employment, or threat of employment, by others. Ultimately, when the essential brotherhood of man is truly embodied and expressed in a world organization with all the necessary practical safeguards to make it effective, these powers would naturally be confided to that world organization.

Now I come to the second danger of these two marauders which threatens the cottage, the home, and the ordinary people -- namely, tyranny. We cannot be blind to the fact that the liberties enjoyed by individual citizens throughout the British Empire are not valid in a considerable number of countries, some of which are very powerful. In these States control is enforced upon the common people by various kinds of all-embracing police governments. The power of the State is exercised without restraint, either by dictators or by compact oligarchies operating through a privileged party and a political police. It is not our duty at this time when difficulties are so numerous to interfere forcibly in the internal affairs of countries which we have not conquered in war. But we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.

All this means that the people of any country have the right, and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell; that freedom of speech and thought should reign; that courts of justice, independent of the executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time and custom. Here are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home. Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practice -- let us practice -- what we preach.

I have now stated the two great dangers which menace the homes of the people: War and Tyranny. I have not yet spoken of poverty and privation which are in many cases the prevailing anxiety. But if the dangers of war and tyranny are removed, there is no doubt that science and co-operation can bring in the next few years to the world, certainly in the next few decades newly taught in the sharpening school of war, an expansion of material well-being beyond anything that has yet occurred in human experience. Now, at this sad and breathless moment, we are plunged in the hunger and distress which are the aftermath of our stupendous struggle; but this will pass and may pass quickly, and there is no reason except human folly or sub-human crime which should deny to all the nations the inauguration and enjoyment of an age of plenty. I have often used words which I learned fifty years ago from a great Irish-American orator, a friend of mine, Mr. Bourke Cockran. "There is enough for all. The earth is a generous mother; she will provide in plentiful abundance food for all her children if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace." So far I feel that we are in full agreement. Now, while still pursuing the method of realizing our overall strategic concept, I come to the crux of what I have traveled here to say. Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States. This is no time for generalities, and I will venture to be precise. Fraternal association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, the similarity of weapons and manuals of instructions, and to the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges. It should carry with it the continuance of the present facilities for mutual security by the joint use of all Naval and Air Force bases in the possession of either country all over the world. This would perhaps double the mobility of the American Navy and Air Force. It would greatly expand that of the British Empire Forces and it might well lead, if and as the world calms down, to important financial savings. Already we use together a large number of islands; more may well be entrusted to our joint care in the near future.

The United States has already a Permanent Defense Agreement with the Dominion of Canada, which is so devotedly attached to the British Commonwealth and Empire. This Agreement is more effective than many of those which have often been made under formal alliances. This principle should be extended to all British Commonwealths with full reciprocity. Thus, whatever happens, and thus only, shall we be secure ourselves and able to work together for the high and simple causes that are dear to us and bode no ill to any. Eventually there may come -- I feel eventually there will come -- the principle of common citizenship, but that we may be content to leave to destiny, whose outstretched arm many of us can already clearly see.

There is however an important question we must ask ourselves. Would a special relationship between the United States and the British Commonwealth be inconsistent with our over-riding loyalties to the World Organization? I reply that, on the contrary, it is probably the only means by which that organization will achieve its full stature and strength. There are already the special United States relations with Canada which I have just mentioned, and there are the special relations between the United States and the South American Republics. We British have our twenty years Treaty of Collaboration and Mutual Assistance with Soviet Russia. I agree with Mr. Bevin, the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, that it might well be a fifty years Treaty so far as we are concerned. We aim at nothing but mutual assistance and collaboration. The British have an alliance with Portugal unbroken since 1384, and which produced fruitful results at critical moments in the late war. None of these clash with the general interest of a world agreement, or a world organization; on the contrary they help it. "In my father's house are many mansions." Special associations between members of the United Nations which have no aggressive point against any other country, which harbor no design incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations, far from being harmful, are beneficial and, as I believe, indispensable.

I spoke earlier of the Temple of Peace. Workmen from all countries must build that temple. If two of the workmen know each other particularly well and are old friends, if their families are inter-mingled, and if they have "faith in each other's purpose, hope in each other's future and charity towards each other's shortcomings" -- to quote some good words I read here the other day -- why cannot they work together at the common task as friends and partners? Why cannot they share their tools and thus increase each other's working powers? Indeed they must do so or else the temple may not be built, or, being built, it may collapse, and we shall all be proved again unteachable and have to go and try to learn again for a third time in a school of war, incomparably more rigorous than that from which we have just been released. The dark ages may return, the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind, may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say; time may be short. Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late. If there is to be a fraternal association of the kind I have described, with all the extra strength and security which both our countries can derive from it, let us make sure that that great fact is known to the world, and that it plays its part in steadying and stabilizing the foundations of peace. There is the path of wisdom. Prevention is better than cure.

A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies. I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. There is deep sympathy and goodwill in Britain -- and I doubt not here also -- towards the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships. We understand the Russian need to be secure on her western frontiers by the removal of all possibility of German aggression. We welcome Russia to her rightful place among the leading nations of the world. We welcome her flag upon the seas. Above all, we welcome constant, frequent and growing contacts between the Russian people and our own people on both sides of the Atlantic. It is my duty however, for I am sure you would wish me to state the facts as I see them to you, to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone -- Greece with its immortal glories -- is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation. The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place. The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy. Turkey and Persia are both profoundly alarmed and disturbed at the claims which are being made upon them and at the pressure being exerted by the Moscow Government. An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-Communist party in their zone of Occupied Germany by showing special favors to groups of left-wing German leaders. At the end of the fighting last June, the American and British Armies withdrew westwards, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to a depth at some points of 150 miles upon a front of nearly four hundred miles, in order to allow our Russian allies to occupy this vast expanse of territory which the Western Democracies had conquered.

If now the Soviet Government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-Communist Germany in their areas, this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones, and will give the defeated Germans the power of putting themselves up to auction between the Soviets and the Western Democracies. Whatever conclusions may be drawn from these facts -- and facts they are -- this is certainly not the Liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace.

The safety of the world requires a new unity in Europe, from which no nation should be permanently outcast. It is from the quarrels of the strong parent races in Europe that the world wars we have witnessed, or which occurred in former times, have sprung. Twice in our own lifetime we have seen the United States, against their wishes and their traditions, against arguments, the force of which it is impossible not to comprehend, drawn by irresistible forces, into these wars in time to secure the victory of the good cause, but only after frightful slaughter and devastation had occurred. Twice the United States has had to send several millions of its young men across the Atlantic to find the war; but now war can find any nation, wherever it may dwell between dusk and dawn. Surely we should work with conscious purpose for a grand pacification of Europe, within the structure of the United Nations and in accordance with its Charter. That I feel is an open cause of policy of very great importance.

In front of the iron curtain which lies across Europe are other causes for anxiety. In Italy the Communist Party is seriously hampered by having to support the Communist-trained Marshal Tito's claims to former Italian territory at the head of the Adriatic. Nevertheless the future of Italy hangs in the balance. Again one cannot imagine a regenerated Europe without a strong France. All my public life I have worked for a strong France and I never lost faith in her destiny, even in the darkest hours. I will not lose faith now. However, in a great number of countries, far from the Russian frontiers and throughout the world, Communist fifth columns are established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist center. Except in the British Commonwealth and in the United States where Communism is in its infancy, the Communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization. These are somber facts for anyone to have to recite on the morrow of a victory gained by so much splendid comradeship in arms and in the cause of freedom and democracy; but we should be most unwise not to face them squarely while time remains.

The outlook is also anxious in the Far East and especially in Manchuria. The Agreement which was made at Yalta, to which I was a party, was extremely favorable to Soviet Russia, but it was made at a time when no one could say that the German war might not extend all through the summer and autumn of 1945 and when the Japanese war was expected to last for a further 18 months from the end of the German war. In this country you are all so well-informed about the Far East, and such devoted friends of China, that I do not need to expatiate on the situation there.

I have felt bound to portray the shadow which, alike in the west and in the east, falls upon the world. I was a high minister at the time of the Versailles Treaty and a close friend of Mr. Lloyd-George, who was the head of the British delegation at Versailles. I did not myself agree with many things that were done, but I have a very strong impression in my mind of that situation, and I find it painful to contrast it with that which prevails now. In those days there were high hopes and unbounded confidence that the wars were over, and that the League of Nations would become all-powerful. I do not see or feel that same confidence or even the same hopes in the haggard world at the present time.

On the other hand I repulse the idea that a new war is inevitable; still more that it is imminent. It is because I am sure that our fortunes are still in our own hands and that we hold the power to save the future, that I feel the duty to speak out now that I have the occasion and the opportunity to do so. I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here to-day while time remains, is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries. Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement. What is needed is a settlement, and the longer this is delayed, the more difficult it will be and the greater our dangers will become.

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength. If the Western Democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If however they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.

Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored to-day; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title "The Sinews of Peace."

Let no man underrate the abiding power of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Because you see the 46 millions in our island harassed about their food supply, of which they only grow one half, even in war-time, or because we have difficulty in restarting our industries and export trade after six years of passionate war effort, do not suppose that we shall not come through these dark years of privation as we have come through the glorious years of agony, or that half a century from now, you will not see 70 or 80 millions of Britons spread about the world and united in defense of our traditions, our way of life, and of the world causes which you and we espouse. If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealths be added to that of the United States with all that such co-operation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe and in science and in industry, and in moral force, there will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure. On the contrary, there will be an overwhelming assurance of security. If we adhere faithfully to the Charter of the United Nations and walk forward in sedate and sober strength seeking no one's land or treasure, seeking to lay no arbitrary control upon the thoughts of men; if all British moral and material forces and convictions are joined with your own in fraternal association, the high-roads of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.

Winston Churchill

The Europan countries which were considered to be “behind the Iron Curtain” included: Poland, Estearn Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and the Soviet Union. From North Korea to Cuba more countries were separated from the West in the same sense.

Iron Curtain, the political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its dependent eastern and central European allies from open contact with the West and other noncommunist areas.

Iron Curtain speech

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Iron Curtain speech, speech delivered by former British prime minister Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, in which he stressed the necessity for the United States and Britain to act as the guardians of peace and stability against the menace of Soviet communism, which had lowered an “ iron curtain” across Europe. The term “iron curtain” had been employed as a metaphor since the 19th century, but Churchill used it to refer specifically to the political, military, and ideological barrier created by the U.S.S.R. following World War II to prevent open contact between itself and its dependent eastern and central European allies on the one hand and the West and other noncommunist regions on the other.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, British and American leaders and political strategists were skeptical of the geopolitical ambitions of their recent ally the Soviet Union. As early as May 1945, when the war with Germany was hardly over, Churchill—whom the British electorate would soon replace as prime minister with Clement Attlee amid the Potsdam Conference—had foreseen that most of eastern Europe would be drawn into the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviets having indeed quickly exerted firm control over most of the countries of eastern Europe, there were two prevalent schools of thought in the West regarding how best to engage with the U.S.S.R. in the postwar world. According to the first, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was committed to limitless expansion and would only be encouraged by concessions. According to the second, Stalin was amenable to a structure of peace but could not be expected to loosen his hold on eastern Europe so long as the United States excluded him from, for instance, Japan. U.S. Pres. Harry S. Truman and the State Department drifted between these two poles, searching for a key to unlock the secrets of the Kremlin and hence the appropriate U.S. policy.

In Churchill’s view, Soviet policies offered little chance for a successful establishment of peace in the years ahead. American diplomat George Kennan came to a similar conclusion and became the architect of the “containment” policy. He argued that the Soviets were determined to spread communism throughout the world and were fundamentally opposed to coexistence with the West. While he doubted the potential efficacy of attempting to conciliate and appease the Soviets, Kennan was convinced that they understood the logic of military force and would temper their ambitions when confronted with determined counterpressure from the West.

In February 1946, at Truman’s invitation (and with his confidential encouragement), Churchill, no longer the prime minister, traveled to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where he delivered a speech in which he warned the Americans of Soviet expansion, saying that an “iron curtain” had descended across the European continent, “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”:

Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe….All these famous cities and the populations around them lie in…the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.

Churchill proposed the establishment of a special hyper-entwined relationship between the United States and the British Commonwealth as a counterforce to Soviet expansionist ambition in the nascent but intensifying Cold War:

Fraternal association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred systems of society but the continuance of the intimate relations between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, to similarity of weapons and manuals of instruction, and to theinterchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges.

At the same time, Churchill emphasized the paramount importance of increased European integration, thereby foreshadowing the cooperation that would eventually lead to the establishment of the European Union:

The safety of the world, ladies and gentlemen, requires a new unity in Europe from which no nation should be permanently outcast.

Westminster College commemorated the landmark speech by bringing from London and reconstructing on its campus the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury (designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century and damaged by German bombing during World War II).

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain: From Russia with Labour

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an “Iron Curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

It’s one of Winston Churchill’s most celebrated and epoch-defining speeches.

Certainly the greatest piece of oration from his post-World War II career, Churchill’s 1946 ‘Sinews of Peace’ address at Westminster College in Fulton, USA vocalised the uneasy mood that was spreading in the West as Eastern European states ‘liberated’ from the Axis powers remodelled themselves in the image of Stalin’s oppressive Soviet Union.

In his various government roles before becoming prime minister, Churchill had long been an opponent of the USSR in particular – interfering in the Russian Civil War in favour of the Nationalist ‘Whites’ in 1918 – and of anything that carried even the slightest whiff of socialism generally – infamously sending in the army to tackle striking miners in 1910 and 1911.

His hatred for the left was so all-consuming that while he captured the mood in warning against it in 1946, he got the mood so absolutely wrong just the year before when he pulled the same trick, claiming in the run up to the 1945 General Election that prospective Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee would be certain to fall back on “some sort of Gestapo” secret police to enforce his policies.

The ‘Iron Curtain’ is brought to life in this memorable cartoon from the Daily Mail on 6 March 1946.

But the irony is that his evocative “Iron Curtain” metaphor may have been absorbed from any number of sources, perhaps even from his political enemies in the left-wing Labour Party or his fiercest foes in Nazi Germany.

Though the phrase “Iron Curtain” in one form or another been used as early as 3-5 CE in the Babylonian Talmud to describe a particularly insurmountable divide, in Victorian Britain the phrase came to refer to the literal iron curtain that would lower in theatre to protect the audience from fire on stage. This convenient visual metaphor was used in rhetoric across the early 20th Century to describe events as traumatic and wide-ranging as the division of Europe by the First World War in 1915 to the controversial French occupation of Germany’s industrialised Ruhr Valley in 1924.

Legendary science fiction author – and friend of Churchill – HG Wells used it in his 1904 book The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth to describe enforced privacy. Wells, who shared many of Churchill’s more hardline views on eugenics and social Darwinism, may have even inspired The Gathering Storm, the title of Churchill’s first volume of World War II memoirs, as the phrase appears twice in Wells’ 1897 classic The War of the Worlds.

“I owe you a great debt,” Churchill once wrote in a letter to the SF pioneer. He was complementing him on his 1905 novel A Modern Utopia, which he echoed in a speech in Glasgow on 9 October 1906, promising a “utopia” in which, as in Wells’ tome, government pensions and welfare would act as a safety net for the working man. (Though, not at the expense of competition and hard work, mind – that sort of tommyrot reeks of socialism!)

HG Wells, author of The War of the Worlds

While HG Wells may have slipped the “Iron Curtain” into his subconscious via Churchill’s vice for tall tales, Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov (1856-1919) has full credit for using in the context that Churchill then popularised with his rousing oratory. Rozanov wrote in Apocalypse of our Times in 1918, mere months after Lenin’s 1917 seizure of power in the October Revolution, that “with a rumble and a roar, an Iron Curtain is descending on Russian history.”

The “Iron Curtain” dividing the Communist east from the Capitalist West arrived in the English language just two years later in 1920 when Ethel Snowden, suffragette, activist and wife of evangelical socialist and Labour MP Philip Snowden, penned Through Bolshevik Russia, a frequently inane travel memoir of her trip as part of the British Labour Delegation.

Largely critical of what she saw in the so-called worker’s paradise (though full of praise for Lenin himself), she described her arrival in the country by saying that “we were behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ at last!”

Churchill may not necessarily have troubled himself with Snowden’s account for its own sake, although its anti-Bolshevik tone (“Everyone I met in Russia outside the Communist Party goes in terror of his liberty or his life”) inspired furore from many outraged commentators on the British left that may have brought it to his attention.

After all, having one of Labour’s own slam Lenin’s blessed “dictatorship of the proletariat” might have made for a useful barb or two in the Commons.

One of Snowden’s fellow travellers (literally and figuratively) Charles Roden Buxton, meanwhile, made use of the “Iron Curtain” line seven years later. He had written his own account of the 1920 trip – In a Russian Village, a bucolic account of a week spent in the countryside away from the rest of the British Labour Delegation – but it wasn’t until the October 1927 issue of the political magazine New Leader, under the headline “Behind Russia’s Curtain”, that he shared his thoughts more frankly.

Confusingly, Buxton attributed the phrase to one of the earlier uses, that referred not to the barrier between East and West, but the battle lines of World War I. Nonetheless, the Curtain had been drawn and it was Britain’s Labour Party who were holding onto the fabric.

Philip Snowden speaking at Honley Labour Club in 1907

The Snowden couple were influential within the Labour movement and soon would be more influential in the political culture of Britain. When Ramsay McDonald was appointed Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister just four years after Ethel’s expose, in 1924, Philip Snowden joined him as Labour’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer and as his stock rose the phrase “Iron Curtain” was shared through the party’s inner circle.

Later that year, Snowden was replaced as Chancellor by one of the big beasts of the Conservative Party – Winston Churchill. A favour Snowden would then repay in 1929 when McDonald and the Labour Party formed their second minority government with Liberal support and Churchill was ousted from the Treasury.

It seems very unlikely that Churchill would be unfamiliar with his predecessor and successor, his worldview and the circles he travelled in, given the combative, adversarial nature of British politics and polar nature of their individual worldviews.

Indeed, the two did meet at least once as a handover to settle any outstanding Treasury business and Churchill later wrote wearily of his left-wing rival’s time at the purse: “The Treasury mind and the Snowden mind embraced each other with the fervour of two long-separated kindred lizards, and the reign of joy began.”

Labour’s 1929 cabinet with Philip Snowden fourth from the left

As the bells of World War II rang our their death knell, the phrase “Iron Curtain” returned.

With the tide turned against them, German propaganda began to bark about the threat poised by the Soviet Union, not just to the German people, but to the entire world. As 19th Century German theatre tradition apparently being very similar to its British counterpart, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels warned in the pages of Das Reich of “ein eisener Vorhang” which was reported and translated by The Times on 23 February 1945 as “an iron screen” that would follow the Soviet battle lines as they drove West toward Berlin.

With the phrase clearly capturing the mood of paranoia, injustice and encirclement in Hitler’s doomed dictatorship, German foreign minister Count Schwerin von Krosig was reported in The Times speaking of “an Iron Curtain, behind which, unseen by the eyes of the world, the work of destruction goes on.”

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1933

Churchill had made use of the term in a telegram to US President Henry Truman on 12 May, with another telegram to follow before “Iron Curtain” made its first airing in Parliament on 16 August 1945.

Now no longer just a political buzzword for Labour insiders, Nazi powerbrokers or Russian exiles, an article from the Sunday Empire News on 21 October 1945 described “an iron curtain of silence” that had “descended across the continent.”

Meanwhile, Churchill was already making the words his own and as he stepped up to the Westminster College podium in 1946, history would follow in its echoes.

Asked in 1951 if he had heard of any of these earlier uses of “Iron Curtain” before he added the words to his repertoire, the wartime PM replied, “No. I didn’t hear of the phrase before – though everyone has heard of the ‘iron curtain’ that descends in theatre.”

We can’t know exactly where Churchill did hear it, but given how prominently it had been used in his proximity – by rivals, arch-enemies and beloved authors – his claim is very unlikely to be true.

Whether through fiction, conversation, briefings or newspapers, the “Iron Curtain” may have permeated his consciousness as early half a century before the electrifying address that set the stage for a further half-century of frozen conflict.

For more on the role of Communism in the 20th Century, pick up the new issue of All About History or subscribe now and save 25% off the cover price.

  • The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor by Jonathan Rose
  • The Real History of the Cold War: A New Look at the Past by Alan Axelrod
  • Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech Fifty Years Later edited by James W Muller
  • Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age By John Ayto
  • Churchill and Company: Allies and Rivals in War and Peace by David Dilks
  • Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War by Patrick Wright

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52a. The Cold War Erupts

Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and Premier Stalin meet at Yalta to discuss post-war Europe. It was at both the Yalta and Dumbarton Oaks conferences that the framework for the United Nations was devised.

In 1945, one major war ended and another began.

The Cold War lasted about 45 years. There were no direct military campaigns between the two main antagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet billions of dollars and millions of lives were lost in the fight.

The United States became the leader of the free-market capitalist world. America and its allies struggled to keep the communist, totalitarian Soviet Union from expanding into Europe, Asia, and Africa. Theaters as remote as Korea and Vietnam, Cuba and Grenada, Afghanistan and Angola, became battlegrounds between the two ideologies. One postwar pattern quickly became clear. The United States would not retreat into its former isolationist stance as long as there was a Cold War to wage.

Winston Churchill's 1946 speech to Westminster University in Missouri contained the first reference to the communism of Eastern Europe as an "iron curtain."

The long-term causes of the Cold War are clear. Western democracies had always been hostile to the idea of a communist state. The United States had refused recognition to the USSR for 16 years after the Bolshevik takeover. Domestic fears of communism erupted in a Red Scare in America in the early Twenties. American business leaders had long feared the consequences of a politically driven workers' organization. World War II provided short-term causes as well.

There was hostility on the Soviet side as well. Twenty million Russian citizens perished during World War II. Stalin was enraged that the Americans and British had waited so long to open a front in France. This would have relieved pressure on the Soviet Union from the attacking Germans. Further, The United States terminated Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union before the war was complete. Finally, the Soviet Union believed in communism.

Stalin made promises during the war about the freedom of eastern Europe on which he blatantly reneged. At the Yalta Conference , the USSR pledged to enter the war against Japan no later than three months after the conclusion of the European war. In return, the United States awarded the Soviets territorial concessions from Japan and special rights in Chinese Manchuria.

When the Soviet Union entered the war between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States no longer needed their aid, but Stalin was there to collect on Western promises. All these factors contributed to a climate of mistrust that heightened tensions at the outbreak of the Cold War.

For most of the second half of the 20th century, the USSR and the United States were engaged in a Cold War of economic and diplomatic struggles. The communist bloc, as it appeared in 1950, included countries to the west and southeast of the Soviet Union.

At Potsdam, the Allies agreed on the postwar outcome for Nazi Germany. After territorial adjustments, Germany was divided into four occupation zones with the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union each administering one. Germany was to be democratized and de-Nazified. Once the Nazi leaders were arrested and war crimes trials began, a date would be agreed upon for the election of a new German government and the withdrawal of Allied troops.

This process was executed in the zones held by the western Allies. In the eastern Soviet occupation zone, a puppet communist regime was elected. There was no promise of repatriation with the west. Soon such governments, aided by the Soviet Red Army came to power all across eastern Europe. Stalin was determined to create a buffer zone to prevent any future invasion of the Russian heartland.

Winston Churchill remarked in 1946 that an "iron curtain had descended across the continent."

The Iron Curtain Descends

Rarely does an out-of-office politician have a major impact on public policy, especially outside his own country, but former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was no ordinary politician. As a personal favor to President Harry Truman, he traveled to the president’s home state in March 1946 to deliver a speech at Westminster College. While the two Western leaders traveled together by train, Truman read Churchill’s text, remarking that “it was admirable and would do nothing but good, although it would make quite a stir.” Indeed, it would. Churchill was about to make one of the most memorable speeches of the Cold War.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” Churchill began, “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.” All these cities and the populations around them, he said, lie in “what I might call the Soviet sphere, and are all subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in many cases an increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

To stop Soviet expansionism, Churchill called for a “fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples,” military as well as economic in nature. Such an alliance, he believed, would decrease the risk of war than the opposite. ”From what l have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” He warned that the bitter experience of Munich would be repeated unless firm action was taken.

It was a truly prophetic speech for the following year President Truman initiated the policy of containment which included both the economic Marshall Plan and the military alliance NATO and prevented the Soviets from carrying out their plans to communize all of Europe.

This blog is excerpted from A Brief History of the Cold War by Lee Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards Spalding (Regnery History, 2016).


Various usages of the term "iron curtain" (Russian: Железный занавес , romanized: Zheleznyj zanaves German: Eiserner Vorhang Georgian: რკინის ფარდა , romanized: rk'inis parda Czech and Slovak: Železná opona Hungarian: Vasfüggöny Romanian: Cortina de fier Polish: Żelazna kurtyna Italian: Cortina di ferro Serbian: Гвоздена завеса , romanized: Gvozdena zavesa Estonian: Raudne eesriie Bulgarian: Желязна завеса , romanized: Zhelyazna zavesä) pre-date Churchill's use of the phrase. The concept goes back to the Babylonian Talmud of the 3rd to 5th centuries CE, where Tractate Sota 38b refers to a "mechitza shel barzel", an iron barrier or divider: " אפילו מחיצה של ברזל אינה מפסקת בין ישראל לאביהם שבשמים ‎" (Even an iron barrier cannot separate [the people of] Israel from their heavenly father).

The term "iron curtain" has since been used metaphorically in two rather different senses – firstly to denote the end of an era and secondly to denote a closed geopolitical border. The source of these metaphors can refer to either the safety curtain deployed in theatres (the first one was installed by the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1794 [7] ) or to roller shutters used to secure commercial premises. [8]

The first metaphorical usage of "iron curtain", in the sense of an end of an era, perhaps should be attributed to British author Arthur Machen (1863–1947), who used the term in his 1895 novel The Three Impostors: ". the door clanged behind me with the noise of thunder, and I felt that an iron curtain had fallen on the brief passage of my life". [9] The English translation of a Russian text shown immediately below repeats the use of "clang" with reference to an "iron curtain", suggesting that the Russian writer, publishing 23 years after Machen, may have been familiar with the popular British author.

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians used the term "Iron Curtain" in the context of World War I to describe the political situation between Belgium and Germany in 1914. [10]

The first recorded application of the term to Soviet Russia, again in the sense of the end of an era, comes in Vasily Rozanov's 1918 polemic The Apocalypse of Our Times, and it is possible that Churchill read it there following the publication of the book's English translation in 1920. The passage runs:

With clanging, creaking, and squeaking, an iron curtain is lowering over Russian History. "The performance is over." The audience got up. "Time to put on your fur coats and go home." We looked around, but the fur coats and homes were missing. [11]

(Incidentally, this same passage provides a definition of nihilism adopted by Raoul Vaneigem, [12] Guy Debord and other Situationists as the intention of situationist intervention.)

The first English-language use of the term iron curtain applied to the border of Soviet Russia in the sense of "an impenetrable barrier" was used in 1920 by Ethel Snowden, in her book Through Bolshevik Russia. [13] [14]

G.K. Chesterton used the phrase in a 1924 essay in The Illustrated London News. Chesterton, while defending Distributism, refers to "that iron curtain of industrialism that has cut us off not only from our neighbours' condition, but even from our own past". [15]

The term also appears in England, Their England, a 1933 satirical novel by the Scottish writer A. G. Macdonell it was used there to describe the way an artillery barrage protected the infantry from an enemy assault: ". the western sky was a blaze of yellow flame. The iron curtain was down". Sebastian Haffner used the metaphor in his book Germany: Jekyll & Hyde, published in London in 1940, in introducing his discussion of the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933: "Back then to March 1933. How, a moment before the iron curtain was wrung down on it, did the German political stage appear?" [16]

All German theatres [ when? ] had to install an iron curtain (eiserner Vorhang) as an obligatory precaution to prevent the possibility of fire spreading from the stage to the rest of the theatre. Such fires were rather common because the decor often was flammable. In case of fire, a metal wall would separate the stage from the theatre, secluding the flames to be extinguished by firefighters. Douglas Reed used this metaphor in his book Disgrace Abounding: "The bitter strife [in Yugoslavia between Serb unionists and Croat federalists] had only been hidden by the iron safety-curtain of the King's dictatorship". [17]

A May 1943 article in Signal, a Nazi illustrated propaganda periodical published in many languages, bore the title "Behind the Iron Curtain". It discussed "the iron curtain that more than ever before separates the world from the Soviet Union". [6] The German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote in his weekly newspaper Das Reich that if the Nazis should lose the war a Soviet-formed "iron curtain" would arise. This was because of agreements made by Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference: "An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered". [5] [18] The first recorded oral intentional mention of an Iron Curtain in the Soviet context occurred in a broadcast by Lutz von Krosigk to the German people on 2 May 1945: "In the East the iron curtain behind which, unseen by the eyes of the world, the work of destruction goes on, is moving steadily forward". [19]

Churchill's first recorded use of the term "iron curtain" came in a 12 May 1945 telegram he sent to U.S. President Harry S. Truman regarding his concern about Soviet actions, stating "[a]n iron curtain is drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind". [20] He was further concerned about "another immense flight of the German population westward as this enormous Muscovite advance towards the centre of Europe". [20] Churchill concluded "then the curtain will descend again to a very large extent, if not entirely. Thus, a broad land of many hundreds of miles of Russian-occupied territory will isolate us from Poland". [20] [21]

Churchill repeated the words in a further telegram to President Truman on 4 June 1945, in which he protested against such a U.S. retreat to what was earlier designated as, and ultimately became, the U.S. occupation zone, saying the military withdrawal would bring "Soviet power into the heart of Western Europe and the descent of an iron curtain between us and everything to the eastward". [22] At the Potsdam Conference, Churchill complained to Stalin about an "iron fence" coming down upon the British Mission in Bucharest.

The first American print reference to the "Iron Curtain" occurred when C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times first used it in a dispatch published on 23 July 1945. He had heard the term used by Vladko Maček, a Croatian politician, a Yugoslav opposition leader who had fled his homeland for Paris in May 1945. Maček told Sulzberger, "During the four years while I was interned by the Germans in Croatia I saw how the Partisans were lowering an iron curtain over Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] so that nobody could know what went on behind it". [23]

The term was first used in the British House of Commons by Churchill on 16 August 1945 when he stated "it is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the iron curtain which at the moment divides Europe in twain". [24]

Allen Dulles used the term in a speech on 3 December 1945, referring to only Germany, following his conclusion that "in general the Russians are acting little better than thugs", had "wiped out all the liquid assets", and refused to issue food cards to emigrating Germans, leaving them "often more dead than alive". Dulles concluded that "[a]n iron curtain has descended over the fate of these people and very likely conditions are truly terrible. The promises at Yalta to the contrary, probably 8 to 10 million people are being enslaved". [ citation needed ]

Building antagonism Edit

The antagonism between the Soviet Union and the West that came to be described as the "iron curtain" had various origins.

During the summer of 1939, after conducting negotiations both with a British-French group and with Nazi Germany regarding potential military and political agreements, [25] the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the German–Soviet Commercial Agreement (which provided for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials) [26] [27] and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (signed in late August 1939), named after the foreign secretaries of the two countries (Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop), which included a secret agreement to split Poland and Eastern Europe between the two states. [28] [29]

The Soviets thereafter occupied Eastern Poland (September 1939), Latvia (June 1940), Lithuania (1940), northern Romania (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, late June 1940), Estonia (1940) and eastern Finland (March 1940). From August 1939, relations between the West and the Soviets deteriorated further when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany engaged in an extensive economic relationship by which the Soviet Union sent Germany vital oil, rubber, manganese and other materials in exchange for German weapons, manufacturing machinery and technology. [30] [31] Nazi–Soviet trade ended in June 1941 when Germany broke the Pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa.

In the course of World War II, Stalin determined to acquire a buffer area against Germany, with pro-Soviet states on its border in an Eastern bloc. Stalin's aims led to strained relations at the Yalta Conference (February 1945) and the subsequent Potsdam Conference (July–August 1945). [32] People in the West expressed opposition to Soviet domination over the buffer states, and the fear grew that the Soviets were building an empire that might be a threat to them and their interests.

Nonetheless, at the Potsdam Conference, the Allies assigned parts of Poland, Finland, Romania, Germany, and the Balkans to Soviet control or influence. In return, Stalin promised the Western Allies that he would allow those territories the right to national self-determination. Despite Soviet cooperation during the war, these concessions left many in the West uneasy. In particular, Churchill feared that the United States might return to its pre-war isolationism, leaving the exhausted European states unable to resist Soviet demands. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt had announced at Yalta that after the defeat of Germany, U.S. forces would withdraw from Europe within two years.) [33]

Iron Curtain speech Edit

Winston Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" address of 5 March 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, used the term "iron curtain" in the context of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow. [34]

Much of the Western public still regarded the Soviet Union as a close ally in the context of the recent defeat of Nazi Germany and of Imperial Japan. Although not well received at the time, the phrase iron curtain gained popularity as a shorthand reference to the division of Europe as the Cold War strengthened. The Iron Curtain served to keep people in, and information out. People throughout the West eventually came to accept and use the metaphor.

Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" address strongly criticised the Soviet Union's exclusive and secretive tension policies along with the Eastern Europe's state form, Police State (Polizeistaat). He expressed the Allied Nations' distrust of the Soviet Union after the World War II. In September 1946, US-Soviet cooperation collapsed due to the US disavowal of the Soviet Union's opinion on the German problem in the Stuttgart Council, and then followed the announcement by US President Harry S. Truman of a hard line anti-Soviet, anticommunist policy. After that the phrase became more widely used as an anti-Soviet term in the West. [35]

Additionally, Churchill mentioned in his speech that regions under the Soviet Union's control were expanding their leverage and power without any restriction. He asserted that in order to put a brake on this ongoing phenomenon, the commanding force and strong unity between the UK and the US was necessary. [36]

Stalin took note of Churchill's speech and responded in Pravda soon afterward. He accused Churchill of warmongering, and defended Soviet "friendship" with eastern European states as a necessary safeguard against another invasion. Stalin further accused Churchill of hoping to install right-wing governments in eastern Europe with the goal of agitating those states against the Soviet Union. [37] Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's chief propagandist, used the term against the West in an August 1946 speech: [38]

Hard as bourgeois politicians and writers may strive to conceal the truth of the achievements of the Soviet order and Soviet culture, hard as they may strive to erect an iron curtain to keep the truth about the Soviet Union from penetrating abroad, hard as they may strive to belittle the genuine growth and scope of Soviet culture, all their efforts are foredoomed to failure.

Political, economic, and military realities Edit

Eastern Bloc Edit

While the Iron Curtain remained in place, much of Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe (except West Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Austria) found themselves under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union annexed:

Germany effectively gave Moscow a free hand in much of these territories in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, signed before Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Other Soviet-annexed territories included:

    (incorporated into the Ukrainian and Byelorussian SSRs), [41]
  • Part of eastern Finland (became part of the Karelo-Finnish SSR) [42]
  • Northern Romania (part of which became the Moldavian SSR). [43][44] , the northern half of East Prussia, taken in 1945.
  • Part of eastern Czechoslovakia (Carpathian Ruthenia, incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR).

Between 1945 and 1949 the Soviets converted the following areas into satellite states:

  • The German Democratic Republic[45]
  • The People's Republic of Bulgaria
  • The People's Republic of Poland
  • The Hungarian People's Republic[46]
  • The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic[47]
  • The People's Republic of Romania
  • The People's Republic of Albania[48] (which re-aligned itself in the 1950s and early 1960s away from the Soviet Union towards the People's Republic of China and split from the PRC towards a strongly isolationist worldview in the late 1970s)

Soviet-installed governments ruled the Eastern Bloc countries, with the exception of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which changed its orientation away from the Soviet Union in the late 1940s to a progressively independent worldview.

The majority of European states to the east of the Iron Curtain developed their own international economic and military alliances, such as COMECON and the Warsaw Pact.

West of the Iron Curtain Edit

To the west of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Western Europe, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe – along with Austria, West Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – operated market economies. With the exception of a period of fascism in Spain (until 1975) and Portugal (until 1974) and a military dictatorship in Greece (1967–1974), democratic governments ruled these countries.

Most of the states of Europe to the west of the Iron Curtain – with the exception of neutral Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Malta and the Republic of Ireland – allied themselves with Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States within NATO. Economically, the European Community (EC) and the European Free Trade Association represented Western counterparts to COMECON. Most of the nominally neutral states were economically closer to the United States than they were to the Warsaw Pact. [ citation needed ]

Further division in the late 1940s Edit

In January 1947 Harry Truman appointed General George Marshall as Secretary of State, scrapped Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directive 1067 (which embodied the Morgenthau Plan), and supplanted it with JCS 1779, which decreed that an orderly and prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany." [49] Officials met with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and others to press for an economically self-sufficient Germany, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. [50]

After 80 years of negotiation, Molotov refused the demands and the talks were adjourned. [50] Marshall was particularly discouraged after personally meeting with Stalin, who expressed little interest in a solution to German economic problems. [50] The United States concluded that a solution could not wait any longer. [50] In a 5 June 1947 speech, [51] Marshall announced a comprehensive program of American assistance to all European countries wanting to participate, including the Soviet Union and those of Eastern Europe, called the Marshall Plan. [50]

Stalin opposed the Marshall Plan. He had built up the Eastern Bloc protective belt of Soviet-controlled nations on his Western border, [52] and wanted to maintain this buffer zone of states combined with a weakened Germany under Soviet control. [53] Fearing American political, cultural and economic penetration, Stalin eventually forbade Soviet Eastern bloc countries of the newly formed Cominform from accepting Marshall Plan aid. [50] In Czechoslovakia, that required a Soviet-backed Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, [54] the brutality of which shocked Western powers more than any event so far and set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to the Marshall Plan in the United States Congress. [55]

Relations further deteriorated when, in January 1948, the U.S. State Department also published a collection of documents titled Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939 – 1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, which contained documents recovered from the Foreign Office of Nazi Germany [56] [57] revealing Soviet conversations with Germany regarding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret protocol dividing eastern Europe, [58] [59] the 1939 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, [58] [60] and discussions of the Soviet Union potentially becoming the fourth Axis Power. [61] In response, one month later, the Soviet Union published Falsifiers of History, a Stalin-edited and partially re-written book attacking the West. [56] [62]

After the Marshall Plan, the introduction of a new currency to Western Germany to replace the debased Reichsmark and massive electoral losses for communist parties, in June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off surface road access to Berlin, initiating the Berlin Blockade, which cut off all non-Soviet food, water and other supplies for the citizens of the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin. [63] Because Berlin was located within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, the only available methods of supplying the city were three limited air corridors. [64] A massive aerial supply campaign was initiated by the United States, Britain, France, and other countries, the success of which caused the Soviets to lift their blockade in May 1949.

Emigration restrictions Edit

One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the western Allies would return all Soviet citizens who found themselves in their zones to the Soviet Union. [65] This affected the liberated Soviet prisoners of war (branded as traitors), forced laborers, anti-Soviet collaborators with the Germans, and anti-communist refugees. [66]

Migration from east to west of the Iron Curtain, except under limited circumstances, was effectively halted after 1950. Before 1950, over 15 million people (mainly ethnic Germans) emigrated from Soviet-occupied eastern European countries to the west in the five years immediately following World War II. [67] However, restrictions implemented during the Cold War stopped most east–west migration, with only 13.3 million migrations westward between 1950 and 1990. [68] More than 75% of those emigrating from Eastern Bloc countries between 1950 and 1990 did so under bilateral agreements for "ethnic migration." [68]

About 10% were refugees permitted to emigrate under the Geneva Convention of 1951. [68] 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. [69] The fall of the Iron Curtain was accompanied by a massive rise in European East-West migration. [68]

As a physical entity Edit

The Iron Curtain took physical shape in the form of border defences between the countries of western and eastern Europe. There were some of the most heavily militarised areas in the world, particularly the so-called "inner German border" – commonly known as die Grenze in German – between East and West Germany. The inner German border was marked in rural areas by double fences made of steel mesh (expanded metal) with sharp edges, while near urban areas a high concrete barrier similar to the Berlin Wall was built. The installation of the Wall in 1961 brought an end to a decade during which the divided capital of divided Germany was one of the easiest places to move west across the Iron Curtain. [70]

The barrier was always a short distance inside East German territory to avoid any intrusion into Western territory. The actual borderline was marked by posts and signs and was overlooked by numerous watchtowers set behind the barrier. The strip of land on the West German side of the barrier – between the actual borderline and the barrier – was readily accessible but only at considerable personal risk, because it was patrolled by both East and West German border guards.

Several villages, many historic, were destroyed as they lay too close to the border, for example Erlebach. Shooting incidents were not uncommon, and several hundred civilians and 28 East German border guards were killed between 1948 and 1981 (some may have been victims of "friendly fire" by their own side).

Elsewhere along the border between West and East, the defence works resembled those on the intra-German border. During the Cold War, the border zone in Hungary started 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the border. Citizens could only enter the area if they lived in the zone or had a passport valid for traveling out. Traffic control points and patrols enforced this regulation.

Those who lived within the 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) border-zone needed special permission to enter the area within 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) of the border. The area was very difficult to approach and heavily fortified. In the 1950s and 1960s, a double barbed-wire fence was installed 50 metres (160 ft) from the border. The space between the two fences was laden with land mines. The minefield was later replaced with an electric signal fence (about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the border) and a barbed wire fence, along with guard towers and a sand strip to track border violations.

Regular patrols sought to prevent escape attempts. They included cars and mounted units. Guards and dog patrol units watched the border 24/7 and were authorised to use their weapons to stop escapees. The wire fence nearest the actual border was irregularly displaced from the actual border, which was marked only by stones. Anyone attempting to escape would have to cross up to 400 metres (1,300 ft) before they could cross the actual border. Several escape attempts failed when the escapees were stopped after crossing the outer fence.

In parts of Czechoslovakia, the border strip became hundreds of meters wide, and an area of increasing restrictions was defined as the border was approached. Only people with the appropriate government permissions were allowed to get close to the border. [71]

The Soviet Union built a fence along the entire border between Norway and Finland. It is located one or a few kilometres from the border, and has automatic alarms detecting if someone climbs over it.

In Greece, a highly militarised area called the "Επιτηρούμενη Ζώνη" ("Surveillance Area") was created by the Greek Army along the Greek-Bulgarian border, subject to significant security-related regulations and restrictions. Inhabitants within this 25 kilometres (16 mi) wide strip of land were forbidden to drive cars, own land bigger than 60 square metres (650 sq ft), and had to travel within the area with a special passport issued by Greek military authorities. Additionally, the Greek state used this area to encapsulate and monitor a non-Greek ethnic minority, the Pomaks, a Muslim and Bulgarian-speaking minority which was regarded as hostile to the interests of the Greek state during the Cold War because of its familiarity with their fellow Pomaks living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. [72]

The Hungarian outer fence became the first part of the Iron Curtain to be dismantled. After the border fortifications were dismantled, a section was rebuilt for a formal ceremony. On 27 June 1989, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, ceremonially cut through the border defences separating their countries.

The creation of these highly militarised no-man's lands led to de facto nature reserves and created a wildlife corridor across Europe this helped the spread of several species to new territories. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, several initiatives are pursuing the creation of a European Green Belt nature preserve area along the Iron Curtain's former route. In fact, a long-distance cycling route along the length of the former border called the Iron Curtain Trail (ICT) exists as a project of the European Union and other associated nations. The trail is 6,800 km (4,200 mi) long and spans from Finland to Greece. [73]

The term "Iron Curtain" was only used for the fortified borders in Europe it was not used for similar borders in Asia between socialist and capitalist states (these were, for a time, dubbed the Bamboo Curtain). The border between North Korea and South Korea is very comparable to the former inner German border, particularly in its degree of militarisation, but it has never conventionally been considered part of any Iron Curtain.

Helmstedt-Marienborn crossing Edit

The Border checkpoint Helmstedt–Marienborn (German: Grenzübergang Helmstedt-Marienborn), named Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn (GÜSt) (border crossing Marienborn) by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was the largest and most important border crossing on the Inner German border during the division of Germany. Due to its geographical location, allowing for the shortest land route between West Germany and West Berlin, most transit traffic to and from West Berlin used the Helmstedt-Marienborn crossing. Most travel routes from West Germany to East Germany and Poland also used this crossing. The border crossing existed from 1945 to 1990 and was situated near the East German village of Marienborn at the edge of the Lappwald. The crossing interrupted the Bundesautobahn 2 (A 2) between the junctions Helmstedt-Ost and Ostingersleben.

Following a period of economic and political stagnation under Brezhnev and his immediate successors, the Soviet Union decreased its intervention in Eastern Bloc politics. Mikhail Gorbachev (General Secretary from 1985) decreased adherence to the Brezhnev Doctrine, [74] which held that if socialism were threatened in any state then other socialist governments had an obligation to intervene to preserve it, in favor of the "Sinatra Doctrine". He also initiated the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring). A wave of Revolutions occurred throughout the Eastern Bloc in 1989. [75]

Speaking at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to go further, saying "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

In February 1989, the Hungarian politburo recommended to the government led by Miklós Németh to dismantle the iron curtain. Nemeth first informed Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitzky. He then received an informal clearance from Gorbachev (who said "there will not be a new 1956") on 3 March 1989, on 2 May of the same year the Hungarian government announced and started in Rajka (in the locality known as the "city of three borders", on the border with Austria and Czechoslovakia) the destruction of the Iron Curtain. For public relation Hungary reconstructed 200m of the iron curtain so it could be cut during an official ceremony by Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn, and Austrian foreign minister Alois Mock, on 27 June 1989, which had the function of calling all European peoples still under the yoke of the national-communist regimes to freedom. [76] However, the dismantling of the old Hungarian border facilities did not open the borders, nor did the previous strict controls be removed, and the isolation by the Iron Curtain was still intact over its entire length. Despite dismantling the already technically obsolete fence, the Hungarians wanted to prevent the formation of a green border by increasing the security of the border or to technically solve the security of their western border in a different way. After the demolition of the border facilities, the stripes of the heavily armed Hungarian border guards were tightened and there was still a firing order. [77] [78]

In April 1989, the People's Republic of Poland legalised the Solidarity organisation, which captured 99% of available parliamentary seats in June. [79] These elections, in which anti-communist candidates won a striking victory, inaugurated a series of peaceful anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe [80] [81] [82] that eventually culminated in the fall of communism. [83] [84]

The opening of a border gate between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989 then set in motion a chain reaction, at the end of which there was no longer a GDR and the Eastern Bloc had disintegrated. The idea of opening the border at a ceremony came from Otto von Habsburg and was brought up by him to Miklós Németh, the then Hungarian Prime Minister, who promoted the idea. [85] The Paneuropa Picnic itself developed from a meeting between Ferenc Mészáros of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) and the President of the Paneuropean Union Otto von Habsburg in June 1989. The local organization in Sopron took over the Hungarian Democratic Forum, the other contacts were made via Habsburg and the Hungarian Minister of State Imre Pozsgay. Extensive advertising for the planned picnic was made by posters and flyers among the GDR holidaymakers in Hungary. The Austrian branch of the Paneuropean Union, which was then headed by Karl von Habsburg, distributed thousands of brochures inviting them to a picnic near the border at Sopron. [86] [87] The local Sopron organizers knew nothing of possible GDR refugees, but thought of a local party with Austrian and Hungarian participation. [88] More than 600 East Germans attending the "Pan-European Picnic" on the Hungarian border broke through the Iron Curtain and fled into Austria. The refugees went through the iron curtain in three big waves during the picnic under the direction of Walburga Habsburg. Hungarian border guards had threatened to shoot anyone crossing the border, but when the time came, they did not intervene and allowed the people to cross.

It was the largest escape movement from East Germany since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. The patrons of the picnic, Otto Habsburg and the Hungarian Minister of State Imre Pozsgay, who were not present at the event, saw the planned event as an opportunity to test Mikhail Gorbachev`s reaction to an opening of the border on the Iron Curtain. [89] In particular, it was examined whether Moscow would give the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary the command to intervene. [90] After the pan-European picnic, Erich Honecker dictated the Daily Mirror of August 19, 1989: “Habsburg distributed leaflets far into Poland, on which the East German holidaymakers were invited to a picnic. When they came to the picnic, they were given gifts, food and Deutsche Mark, and then they were persuaded to come to the West.” But with the mass exodus at the Pan-European Picnic, the subsequent hesitant behavior of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany and the non-intervention of the Soviet Union broke the dams. Thus the bracket of the Eastern Bloc was broken. Now tens of thousands of the media-informed East Germans made their way to Hungary, which was no longer ready to keep its borders completely closed or to oblige its border troops to use force of arms. The leadership of the GDR in East Berlin did not dare to completely lock the borders of their own country. [91] [92]

In a historic session from 16 to 20 October, the Hungarian parliament adopted legislation providing for multi-party parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. [93]

The legislation transformed Hungary from a People's Republic into the Republic, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensured separation of powers among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. In November 1989, following mass protests in East Germany and the relaxing of border restrictions in Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of East Berliners flooded checkpoints along the Berlin Wall, crossing into West Berlin. [93]

In the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the day after the mass crossings across the Berlin Wall, leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted. [94] In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, following protests of an estimated half-million Czechoslovaks, the government permitted travel to the west and abolished provisions guaranteeing the ruling Communist party its leading role, preceding the Velvet Revolution. [95]

In the Socialist Republic of Romania, on 22 December 1989, the Romanian military sided with protesters and turned on Communist ruler Nicolae Ceauşescu, who was executed after a brief trial three days later. [96] In the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, a new package of regulations went into effect on 3 July 1990 entitling all Albanians over the age of 16 to own a passport for foreign travel. Meanwhile, hundreds of Albanian citizens gathered around foreign embassies to seek political asylum and flee the country.

The Berlin Wall officially remained guarded after 9 November 1989, although the inter-German border had become effectively meaningless. The official dismantling of the Wall by the East German military did not begin until June 1990. On 1 July 1990, the day East Germany adopted the West German currency, all border-controls ceased and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl convinced Gorbachev to drop Soviet objections to a reunited Germany within NATO in return for substantial German economic aid to the Soviet Union.

The Digital ‘Iron Curtain’ Descends

What is a ‘digital Iron Curtain’? It is when Big Digital, as Professor Michael Rectenwald terms these western Tech Goliaths, become ‘governmentalities’, using a word originally coined by Michel Foucault to refer to the means by which the ‘governed’ (i.e. ‘we the people’) assimilate, and reflect outwardly, a mental attitude desired by the élites: “One might point to masking and social distancing as instances of what Foucault meant by his notion of governmentality”, Rectenwald suggests.

And what is that desired ‘mentality’? It is to embrace the transfiguration of American and European identity and way-of-life. The presumptive U.S. President Elect, the European élites, and top ‘woke’ élites moreover, are publicly committed to such “transformation”: “Now we take Georgia, then we change the world,” (Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, declared, celebrating Joe Biden’s ‘victory’) “Trump’s defeat can be the beginning of the end of the triumph of far-right populisms also in Europe”, claimed Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council.

In short, the ‘Iron Curtain’ descends when supposedly private enterprises (Big Digital) mutually inter-penetrate with – and then claim – the State: No longer the non-believer facing this coming metamorphosis is to be persuaded – he can be compelled. Regressive values held on identity, race and gender quickly slipped into a ‘heresy’ labelling. And as the BLM activists endlessly repeat: “Silence is no option: Silence is complicity”.

With the advent of Silicon Valley ideology’s ubiquitous ‘reach’, the diktat can be achieved through weaponising ‘Truth’ via AI, to achieve a ‘machine learning fairness’ that reflects only the values of the coming revolution – and through AI ‘learning’ mounting that version of binary ‘truth’, up and against an adversarial ‘non-truth’ (its polar opposite). How this inter-penetration came about is through a mix of early CIA start-up funding connections and contracts with state agencies, particularly relating to defence and in support for propaganda campaigns in service to ‘governmentalist’ narratives.

These U.S. Tech platforms have, for some time, become effectively fused into the ‘Blue State’ – particularly in the realms of intelligence and defence – to the extent that these CEOs no longer see themselves as state ‘partners’ or contractors, but rather, as some higher élite leadership, precisely shaping and directing the future of the U.S. Their objective however, is to advance beyond the American ‘sphere’, to a notion that such an élite oligarchy eventually would be directing a future ‘planetary governance’. One, in which their tech tools of AI, analytics, robotics and machine-learning, would become the mathematical and digital scaffold around whose structure, the globe in all its dimensions is administered. There would be no polity – only analytics.

The blatant attempt by Big Tech platforms and MSM to write the narrative of the 2020 Facebook and Twitter U.S. Election – coupled with their campaign to insist that dissent is either the intrusion of enemy disinformation, ‘lies’ coming from the U.S. President, or plain bullsh*t – is but the first step to re-defining ‘dissenters’ as security risks and enemies of the good.

The mention of ‘heresy and disinformation’ additionally plays the role of pushing attention away from the gulf of inequality between smug élites and skeptical swathes of ordinary citizenry. Party élites might be notoriously well-known for unfairly enriching themselves, but as fearless knights leading the faithful to battle, élites can become again objects of public and media veneration – heroes who can call believers ‘once more unto the breach!’.

The next step is already being prepared – as Whitney Webb notes:

A new cyber offensive was launched on Monday by the UK’s signal intelligence agency, GCHQ, which seeks to target websites that publish content deemed to be “propaganda”, [and that] raise concerns regarding state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccine development – and the multi-national pharmaceutical corporations involved.

Similar efforts are underway in the U.S., with the military recently funding a CIA-backed firm … to develop an AI algorithm aimed specifically at new websites promoting “suspected” disinformation related to the Covid-19 crisis, and the U.S. military–led Covid-19 vaccination effort known as Operation Warp Speed …

The Times reported that GCHQ “has begun an offensive cyber-operation to disrupt anti-vaccine propaganda being spread by hostile states” and “is using a toolkit developed to tackle disinformation and recruitment material peddled by Islamic State” to do so … The GCHQ cyber war will not only take down “anti-vaccine propaganda”, but will also seek to “disrupt the operations of the cyberactors responsible for it, including encrypting their data so they cannot access it and blocking their communications with each other.”

The Times stated that “the government regards tackling false information about inoculation as a rising priority as the prospect of a reliable vaccine against the coronavirus draws closer,” suggesting that efforts will continue to ramp up as a vaccine candidate gets closer to approval.

This larger pivot toward treating alleged “anti-vaxxers” as “national security threats” has been ongoing for much of this year, spearheaded in part by Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate, a member of the UK government’s Steering Committee on Countering Extremism Pilot Task Force, which is part of the UK government’s Commission for Countering Extremism.

Ahmed told the UK newspaper The Independent in July that “I would go beyond calling anti-vaxxers conspiracy theorists to say they are an extremist group that pose a national security risk.” He then stated that “once someone has been exposed to one type of conspiracy it’s easy to lead them down a path where they embrace more radical world views that can lead to violent extremism … Similarly, a think tank tied to U.S. intelligence argued in a research paper published just months before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis that “the U.S. ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement would pose a threat to national security in the event of a ‘pandemic with a novel organism.’”

Just to be clear, it is not just the ‘Five Eyes’ Intelligence Community at work – YouTube, the dominant video platform owned by Google, decided this week to remove a Ludwig von Mises Institute video, with more than 1.5 million views, for challenging aspects of U.S. policy on the Coronavirus.

What on earth is going on? The Mises Institute as ‘extremist’, or purveyor of enemy disinformation? (Of course, there are countless other examples.)

Well, in a word, it is ‘China’. Maybe it is about fears that China will surpass the U.S. economically and in Tech quite shortly. It is no secret that the U.S., the UK and Europe, more generally, have botched their handling of Covid, and may stand at the brink of recession and financial crisis.

China, and Asia more generally, has Covid under much better control. Indeed, China may prove to be the one state likely to grow economically over the year ahead.

Here’s the rub: The pandemic persists. Western governments largely have eschewed full lockdowns, whilst hoping to toggle between partial social-distancing, and keeping the economy open – oscillating between turning the dials up or down on both. But they are achieving neither the one (pandemic under control), nor the other (saving themselves from looming economic breakdown). The only exit from this conundrum that the élites can see is to vaccinate everyone as soon as possible, so that they can go full-steam on the economy – and thus stop China stealing a march on the West.

But 40%-50% of Americans say they would refuse vaccination. They are concerned about the long term safety for humans of the new mRNA technique – concerns, it seems, that are destined to be rigorously de-platformed to make way for the “required” saturation of pro-vaccine messaging across the English-speaking media landscape.

There is no evidence, yet, that either the Moderna or the Pfizer experimental vaccine prevented any hospitalizations or any deaths. If there were, the public has not been told. There is no information about how long any protective benefit from the vaccine would persist. There is no information about safety. Not surprisingly there is public caution, which GCHQ and Big Digital intend to squash.

The digital Iron Curtain is not just about America. U.S. algorithms, and social media, saturate Europe too. And Europe has its ‘populists’ and state ‘deplorables’ (currently Hungary and Poland), on which Brussels would like to see the digital ‘Curtain’ of denigration and political ostracism descend.

This month, Hungary and Poland vetoed the EU bloc’s €1.8 trillion budget and recovery package in retaliation for Brussel’s plan effectively to fine them for violating the EU’s ‘rule of law’ principles. As the Telegraph notes, “Many European businesses are depending on the cash and, given the ‘second wave’ of coronavirus hitting the continent, Brussels fears that the Visegrád Group allies” could hold a recovery hostage to their objections to the EU ‘rule-of-law’ ‘fines’).

What’s this all about? Well, Orbán’s justice minister has introduced a series of constitutional changes. Each of them triggering ‘rule-of-law’ disputes with the EU. The most contentious amendment is an anti-LGBT one, stating explicitly that the mother is a woman, the father is a man. It will add further restrictions for singles and gay couples adopting children, and it will confine gender transition to adults.

Orbán’s veto is yet more evidence of a new Iron Curtain descending down the spine of – this time – Europe. The ‘Curtain’ again is cultural, and has nothing to do with ‘law’. Brussels makes no secret of its displeasure that many Central and Eastern European member-states will not sign up to ‘progressive’ (i.e. woke) values. At its root lies the tension that “whilst Western Europe is de-Christianising, Europe’s central and eastern states are re-Christianising – the faith having been earlier a rallying point against communism”, and now serving as the well-spring to these states’ post-Cold War emerging identity. (It is not so dissimilar to some ‘Red’ American conservative constituencies that also are reaching back to their Christian roots, in the face of America’s political polarisation.)

These combined events point to a key point of inflection occurring in the western polity: A constellation of state and state-extended apparatuses has openly declared war on dissent (‘untruths’), foreign ‘disinformation’ and opinion unsupported by their own ‘fact-checking’.

It takes concrete form through Big Digital’s quiet sanctioning and punitive policing of online platforms, under the guise of tackling abuse through nation-wide mandatory re-education and training programmes in anti-racism and critical social theory in schools and places of work by embedding passive obedience and acquiescence amongst the public through casting anti-vaxxers as extremists, or as security risks and finally, by mounting a series of public spectacles and theatre by ‘calling out’ and shaming sovereigntists and cultural ‘regressives’, who merit being ‘cancelled’.

In turn, it advances an entire canon of progressivism rooted in critical social theory, anti-racism and gender studies. It has too its own revisionist history (narratives such as the 1619 Project) and progressive jurisprudence for translation into concrete law.

But what if half of America rejects the next President? What if Brussels persists with imposing its separate progressive cannon? Then the Iron Curtain will descend with the ring of metal falling onto stone. Why? Precisely because those adhering to their transformative mission see ‘calling out’ transgressors as their path to power – a state in which dissent and cultural heresy can be met with enforcement (euphemistically called the ‘rule of law’ in Brussels). Its’ intent is to permanently keep dissenters passive, and on the defensive, fearing being labelled ‘extremist’, and through panicking fence-sitters into acquiescence.

Maintaining a unified western polity may no longer be possible under such conditions. Should the losers in this struggle (whomsoever that may be), come to fear being culturally overwhelmed by forces that see their way-of-being as a heresy which must be purged, we may witness a powerful turn towards political self-determination.

When political differences become irreconcilable, the only (non-violent) alternative might come to be seen to lie with the fissuring of political union.

Europe 1946: The Iron Curtain Descends

By the time the Allies met at Potsdam in September 1945, it was clear that Stalin intended to retain tight control over the eastern European countries Soviet armies had occupied during the War. Western distrust grew with Soviet insistence on pushing Poland westward into lands containing millions of Germans not to mention increasing communist activity in Iran, Greece and on the Italo-Yugoslav border.

Main Events

17 Jul–2 Aug 1945 Potsdam Conference▲

In July 1945 the heads of government of the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union met to determine how postwar Germany would be administered. The Yalta agreement on occupation zones in German and Austria were confirmed, as well as the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and reestablishment of the Polish government. At the insistence of Poland and the Soviet Union, the provisional eastern boundary of occupied Germany was moved west to the Oder and Neisse rivers, with the Soviet Union annexing northern East Prussia and Poland annexing southern East Prussia, East Pomerania, Silesia, Danzig, and part of Brandenburg while ceding much of its eastern territory to the Soviets. The new border was ratified by Poland and East Germany in 1950. in wikipedia

15 Aug 1945 Jewel Voice Broadcast▲

Japanese Emperor Hirohito read out the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War in a radio broadcast, announcing to the people of Japan that their government had accepted the Potsdam Declaration and agreed to unconditional surrender. The speech was the first time the Emperor had spoken to the common people. in wikipedia

12 Dec 1945 Azerbaijan People’s Government▲

With the support of the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijan National Assembly declared the creation of the Azerbaijan People’s Government in Tabriz, in Soviet-occupied northwest Iran. in wikipedia

31 Dec 1945 Allied withdrawal from Italy▲

By the end of 1945, the Allies had withdrawn from Italy, except for the British Commonwealth forces in Udine and Venezia Giulia, and Yugoslav forces in the disputed territory of Istria. Shortly after the withdrawal, Italy voted by public referendum to become a Republic. in wikipedia

17 Apr 1946 Syrian Independence▲

Under pressure from Syrian nationalists, the United Kingdom, and the United States, France completed its military withdrawal from Syria on 15 April 1946. Two days later, Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli declared the independence of the Syrian Republic. in wikipedia

Iron Curtain Descends on Europe - History

In February 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed his belief that world peace was nearer the grasp of statesmen than at any time in history. "It would be a great tragedy," he said, "if they, through inertia or carelessness, let it slip from their grasp. History would never forgive them if it did."

Peace did slip through their grasp. World War II was followed by a Cold War that pitted the United States and its Allies against the Soviet Union and its supporters. It was called a Cold War, but it would flare into violence in Korea and Vietnam and in many smaller conflicts. The period from 1946 to 1991 was punctuated by a series of East-West confrontations over Germany, Poland, Greece, Czechoslovakia, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and many other hot spots.

The Origins of the Cold War

In March 1946, Winston Churchill announced that "an iron curtain has descended across" Europe. On one side was the Communist bloc on the other side were non-Communist nations.

One source of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was the fate of Eastern Europe. The United States was committed to free and democratic elections in Eastern Europe, while the Soviet Union wanted a buffer zone of friendly countries in Eastern Europe to protect it from future attacks from the West.

Even before World War II ended, the Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and parts of Czechoslovakia, Finland, Poland, and Romania. Albania established a Communist government in 1944, and Yugoslavia formed one in 1945. In 1946, the Soviet Union organized Communist governments in Bulgaria and Romania, and in Hungary and Poland in 1947. Communists took over Czechoslovakia in a coup d'etat in 1948.

Another source of East-West tension was control of nuclear weapons. In 1946, the Soviet Union rejected a U.S. proposal for an international agency to control nuclear energy production and research. The Soviets were convinced that the United States was trying to preserve its monopoly on nuclear weapons.

A third source of conflict was post-war economic development assistance. The United States refused a Soviet request for massive reconstruction loans. In response, the Soviets called for substantial reparations from Germany.

Iron Curtain Speech

Winston Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” address of March 5, 1946, at Westminster College, used the term “iron curtain” in the context of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe:

Churchill mentioned in his speech that regions under the Soviet Union’s control were expanding their leverage and power without any restriction. He asserted that to put a brake on this phenomenon, the commanding force of and strong unity between the UK and the U.S. was necessary.

Much of the Western public still regarded the Soviet Union as a close ally in the context of the recent defeat of Nazi Germany and of Japan. Although not well received at the time, the phrase iron curtain gained popularity as a shorthand reference to the division of Europe as the Cold War strengthened. The Iron Curtain served to keep people in and information out, and people throughout the West eventually came to accept the metaphor.

Stalin took note of Churchill’s speech and responded in Pravda (the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) soon afterward. He accused Churchill of warmongering, and defended Soviet “friendship” with eastern European states as a necessary safeguard against another invasion. He further accused Churchill of hoping to install right-wing governments in eastern Europe to agitate those states against the Soviet Union. Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s chief propagandist, used the term against the West in an August 1946 speech:

Iron Curtain: The Iron Curtain depicted as a black line. Warsaw Pact countries on one side of the Iron Curtain appear shaded red NATO members on the other shaded blue militarily neutral countries shaded gray. The black dot represents Berlin. Yugoslavia, although communist-ruled, remained largely independent of the two major blocs and is shaded green. Communist Albania broke off contacts with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, aligning itself with the People’s Republic of China after the Sino-Soviet split it appears stripe-hatched with grey.