Eastern bloc is a political catchphrase from the time of the East-West conflict for the Soviet Union (USSR) and its satellite states , which came under Soviet power and influence after the Second World War . The Eastern Bloc was antagonistic to the Western world . Alternatively, the states of the Eastern Bloc were also referred to as the states east of the “ Iron Curtain ” or the “Communist Camp” and - in the GDR , which itself was part of the Eastern Bloc - as the “socialist community of states”.
According to Wolfgang Leonhard , a distinction was made between two economic zones: those of the European Eastern Bloc states and those of the Asian allies. The group, which worked closely together politically, was formed through a system of bilateral friendship and assistance agreements between the Soviet Union and its allied states and between the latter among themselves. The Eastern Bloc fell apart from the fall of 1989 when the Iron Curtain opened, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union until the end of 1991.
The Eastern Bloc included the Union Republics united in the Soviet Union , the People's Republic of Poland , the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR), the Hungarian People's Republic , the People's Republic of Bulgaria and the People's Republic or Socialist Republic of Romania (SRR). Until the 1960s, the Socialist People's Republic of Albania was also considered an Eastern Bloc state. Other countries outside Central and Eastern Europe as well as North and Central Asia were included in the Eastern Bloc as long as they were under the dominant influence of the Soviet Union: the Republic of Cuba , North Vietnam (from 1976: Socialist Republic of Vietnam ), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , the Mongolian People's Republic and the early People's Republic of China .
The European states of the Eastern Bloc came together in 1949 in the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (Comecon) and in 1955 in the Warsaw Pact . In the same year the council decided on economic integration. The people 's democracies should form a unified economic area in which the production tasks were divided among the countries. The Eastern Bloc, which originally appeared monolithic until 1953 , especially during the late Stalinist era , gradually split up due to economic, political and ideological conflicts of interest. In particular, national interests still existed. The popular uprising of June 17 (in the GDR) as well as the popular uprising in Hungary in October / November 1956 made it clear that the socialist (value) system met with more or less strong rejection in many countries and that the regimes there only agreed could claim massive Soviet support. Some socialist countries began to pursue a policy that was independent of the Soviet Union, in particular China increasingly opposed the Soviet claim to leadership, so that there was an open rift in the 1960s (→ Sino-Soviet rift ). In the 1980s, only the members of the Warsaw Pact were collectively referred to under the term "Eastern Bloc countries". The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is sometimes generally classified as an "Eastern Bloc state", but was an independent socialist state. It was never part of the Warsaw Pact and was not a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance . Yugoslavia's President Josip Broz Tito was one of the founders of the movement of the non-aligned states ; in addition, with Titoism he pursued his own "path to socialism", independent of the USSR.
The term "Eastern Bloc" was coined in the West . It reflected his understanding of the group of states led by the Soviet Union as a compact formation during the Cold War. A uniform policy was pursued in all decisive areas, based on the pronounced dependence of the respective government of a people 's republic on the leadership of the Soviet Union. Not all governments of the Eastern bloc recognized the leadership role of the CPSU , but that of the Soviet government did.
The formation of the Eastern Bloc 1945–1968
At three conferences - the Tehran Conference (November 28 to December 1, 1943), the Yalta Conference (February 4 to 11, 1945) and the Potsdam Conference (July 17 to August 2, 1945) - the anti-Hitler Coalition of the Soviet Union and the Western Allies on the post-war order in Europe. The Soviet Union insisted on the state borders of 1939, which were based on the treaty with the German Reich of 1939 . This concerned the incorporation of the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania , which were independent between the world wars , as Soviet republics into the USSR and also the annexation of Bessarabia . This treaty provided for the expansion of the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine to the west at the expense of Polish territory (→ Kresy ). As a result of the Winter War , Finland had to give up East Karelia ( Karelo-Finnish Socialist Soviet Republic ).
From 1945 to 1949 the Soviet Union established socialist states in all countries under its influence, such as the GDR in eastern Germany. It promoted the takeover of local communist forces such as in Poland or Czechoslovakia . The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill already spoke in 1945/46 of the iron curtain (“Iron Curtain”) , which divides Europe “between the Baltic Sea and Trieste”. Basically, after the Second World War, the rifts between East and West deepened in 1947, when US President Harry Truman announced a new political course: The United States of America will stand by all states threatened by (Soviet) communism ( Truman Doctrine / containment policy ) and the battered European economy, he offered the Marshall Plan . Josef Stalin forbade the Eastern European countries to participate in this development program and after the introduction of the DM in the western sectors of Berlin , the Soviet Union blocked the energy and food supply in West Berlin, whereupon the Western Allies built the Berlin Airlift . Although this blockade was lifted in 1949, the division of the world into the western camp and the isolated Eastern bloc with its people's democracies continued.
The political climate of the people 's democracies in their development phase was characterized by collectivizations and expropriations of industrial plants, property and land, arrests and deportations. A rapidly established secret police and the conformist judiciary led purges with death sentences by and extrajudicial executions. Especially in the harsh climate of the early years and with the influence of Stalinism , there were repeated internal party purges. Stalinist regimes such as the Czechoslovak regime under Klement Gottwald wanted to protect themselves from infiltration, the danger of Titoist deviation and opportunist partisans. Its newly acquired state belt was of considerable importance for the leading class of the Soviet Union, the nomenklatura of the state party , as a cordon sanitaire and military glacis . It was politically closely intertwined and increasingly "hermetically" secured along the border with Western Europe . In the hitherto less industrialized and predominantly agrarian states such as Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, the Soviet Union promoted the development of heavy industry , not least in the interests of armaments and the creation of a working class . Advances in the education, social and health systems ultimately served the same purpose of enabling the new socialist states to assert themselves militarily through technical and industrial progress, or, if necessary, of being able to offer "brotherly help" to the workers oppressed by capitalism in the overthrow of the system facts of a just war in real socialist would be to rewrite perspective.
Under the sign of system antagonism , a clear dividing line was drawn to countries with a capitalist , market economy social system. The term “ non-socialist economic area ” (NSW) for “developing countries” (EL) and “capitalist industrialized countries” (KIL) was created, the latter being assumed to have consistently militarily aggressive intentions against the supposedly “socialist world system” (SW).
The Eastern Bloc was held together on four levels:
- politically and ideologically through the alliance of the Communist Parties , the Communist Information Office (Cominform), founded in 1947;
- economically by the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (RGW, Comecon), founded in 1949;
- militarily by the Warsaw Treaty Organization , founded in 1955;
- Strengthening hegemonic measures that should create a common awareness, such as B. teaching Russian as the first foreign language in school education or a coordinated sports policy.
The internal state or form of government was uniformly designed as a one-party dictatorship . As in the Soviet Union, democratic elements according to the western understanding, such as freedom of the press , freedom of expression , and freedom of travel , were only permitted in rudimentary form in order to limit an opposition and ensure cohesion. A (pseudo) multi-party system only existed in the form of block parties in some states. At all levels, the Soviet Union specifically demanded, in the person of the General Secretary of the CPSU, the absolute right to issue instructions. This right to issue instructions was not formally established, but was used forcibly when an Eastern Bloc state or its citizens tried to go their own way.
The first disputes and differing views on the Soviet leadership role took place as early as 1947 between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia under Tito's leadership. This led to the break between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in 1948. In 1961 Albania broke with the Soviet Union and from then on oriented itself towards Red China . Albania finally withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in September 1968, shortly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and other troops .
As far as possible, as in 1953 in the GDR and 1956 in Hungary , the Soviet army put down insurgency movements. In 1968 the emancipation of the Czechoslovakia towards a "socialism with a human face" , which had been suspected for years, was violently ended when troops from the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries marched into the country in a concerted action; Since the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) feared that reform communism would spread to the GDR, it defended the crackdown on the Prague Spring in August 1968. This was the first manifestation of the Brezhnev Doctrine . Something similar was threatened in 1981 because of the deposition movements in Poland , after the communist regime there had to suppress protest movements in 1956 and 1970 on its difficult terrain (in Poland the collectivization of agriculture had largely failed). In 1981 the Soviet Union was bound in Afghanistan ; In this case, warnings and threats from Moscow were enough to bring the state leadership back on the tough Soviet line for the time being in the form of a military dictatorship under Wojciech Jaruzelski . Under special conditions and in some areas, there was the possibility for individual states to take a special route: the consumption-oriented, but debt-financed economic policy of Poland, the so-called Hungarian goulash communism after 1970.
Romania could allow itself to pursue a completely headstrong policy. The Soviet occupation troops had withdrawn from the country since 1958 and the approval of the population for the Soviet Union, but also of the political class, was extremely low. On the one hand, Romania was historically and culturally based not on Russia, but on France and Germany; on the other hand, it had suffered territorial losses in Bessarabia, the Herza area , northern Bukovina and Snake Island. The armed anti-communist resistance in Romania lasted particularly long and it was not until 1976 that the last armed fighter could be arrested.
Another reason was the Soviet Union's refusal to return the Romanian state treasure. Romania has historically not had a significant communist movement: at the end of 1944 the Communist Party had fewer than 1,000 members. As a result, the political elite consisted either of people loyal to the Soviet Union who were sent to Romania from the Soviet Union (these were gradually marginalized after Stalin's death), or of local Romanians who joined the Communist Party for opportunistic reasons and had only limited sympathy for the Soviet Union. Romania repeatedly broke through the bloc solidarity, for which the applause of the West did not fail to fail. The country had condemned the military action against Czechoslovakia and refused to take part. It ignored the Olympic boycott of the Eastern Bloc in 1984. It lost sight of the fact that Romania's long-time head of state and party leader Nicolae Ceaușescu , who led a policy of opening up to the West in his early years, later developed into a bizarre despot around the one in the 1980s a personality cult that was unprecedented even in the Eastern Bloc .
The People's Republic of Bulgaria was considered the most loyal ally of the Soviet Union. This led to the nickname “16. Soviet Republic ”. As in Romania, there was no contingent of Soviet troops there. However, Bulgaria was historically and culturally close to Russia and it had a strong communist movement already in the interwar period . In Bulgaria the bad experiences with the Soviet Union, such as in Romania, were missing.
The cooperation between the members was not always free from tension. Relations between the GDR and Poland were strained in the 1980s because of the wealth gap. On the other hand, rivalries under the sign of “ brotherhood ” within the pact system were prevented, such as the relationship between Romania and Hungary, which was burdened by many old border disputes and disputes. Economically, the Soviet Union charged increased raw material and energy prices after 1980, which caused the allies considerable problems in industry and energy supply.
In the last years of its existence, the group of states was no longer a single bloc in every respect. The "satellite states" were dependent on the Soviet Union to varying degrees. This affected the establishment of power by the leadership cadre, the economy and the stationing of large contingents of troops of the Soviet Army in several states. Of the total of 600,000–700,000 men in the Soviet armed forces, around two thirds were in the GDR. Until the 1980s, no decisive measure by an Eastern Bloc country could be taken without consulting the Central Committee of the CPSU .
Containment and other anti-communist reactions
During the Cold War, after the Soviet Union had gained considerable territories, the West, under the leadership of the USA, tried to curb a further expansion of the communist sphere of influence, which seemed to be assuming threatening proportions , especially in Asia . In contrast, the United States set the Truman Doctrine and pursued a containment policy . On the economic level, the Marshall Plan in 1947 offered the western European countries generous financial aid for the reconstruction of the war-torn economy. The February revolution in Prague in 1948, the Berlin crisis in 1948/49 , the “loss of China” in 1949 and even more so in 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War, intensified the impression of a communist threat to the West. A wave of armaments began in the USA and Europe from the early 1950s . There was an arms race between the two superpowers .
The NATO was the Western military alliance against the threatened expansion of the Soviet Union to the West since the 1949th This was followed by the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955. At the political level, opposition movements in the Eastern bloc countries were supported from the west . Until it was finally broken up in the 1950s, the USA also strengthened armed separatist groups within the Soviet Union, for example in the Baltic States . At the same time, there were initially other concepts for breaking open the Eastern Bloc through confrontation.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, in many parts of Western Europe, such as in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1956, the communist parties were banned or their activities were hindered. However, this did not happen in some European countries. In France and Italy in particular , communist parties achieved a significant share of the vote in parliamentary elections well into the 1970s. The idea of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to push back communism through rollback policies is more of an election campaign phrase. A military operation seemed too dangerous for US policy in Europe. The clear strategic nuclear superiority of the USA, which was initially given , could not be converted into political capital and so remained meaningless.
During the thaw under Nikita Khrushchev in the mid-1950s, the Eastern Bloc broke away from the doctrine that the conflict between the systems must necessarily culminate in war. Maintaining Peaceful Coexistence now had priority. In 1954, Georgi Malenkov, a top Soviet official, expressed concern for the first time about the possibility of a nuclear war that could be better avoided. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Soviet Union achieved a number of successes that caused consternation and astonishment in the West about the efficiency of "the East": for example the Sputnik shock of 1957 and Yuri Gagarin's space flight of 1961. In 1958 there was a new Berlin- Crisis , and almost a year later - on September 15, 1959 - the Soviet head of state Khrushchev made a state visit to the USA.
However, the situation worsened again in the early 1960s. The bloc confrontation threatened to escalate into war. The most dangerous phase between the construction of the Wall in August 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in autumn 1962 was followed by a certain disillusionment on both sides with regard to possible confrontational solutions. For the first time there was a real awareness of the impending possible consequences of a military conflict between the pact systems involving nuclear weapons .
The real socialist countries achieved a certain degree of stabilization in the 1960s and 1970s. In the West, the considerable effort involved in rearmament and the increased military power of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact as a whole were noted, particularly with regard to strategic nuclear weapons . In this area the USSR was generally believed to have reached close parity with the United States ( balance of horror ). In the West, for example, the view prevailed that the policy of détente offered a more suitable means of gradually pushing back the Kremlin's sphere of power and influence . Mistrustful Orthodox forces in the GDR, for example, suspected early on and in a certain sense aptly an "aggression on felt slippers", but were unable to offer any effective resistance in the long term. The GDR - like other Eastern Bloc states - were dependent on intensified economic relations and Western support from the end of the 1970s because of the increasing economic difficulties. A logical expression of this development was the billion- euro loan brokered by Franz Josef Strauss in 1983 (a second followed in 1984).
Even at the time of the West German Hallstein Doctrine , the eastern alliance held together by the Soviet Union was ultimately the only guarantor of post-war borders. From this, especially in Czechoslovakia and even in Poland, it drew a not-to-be-underestimated part of its legitimation and an important remainder of acceptance. From the beginning of the 1970s this factor lost its importance with the changed position of the Federal Republic and the concluded Eastern Treaties .
In the early to mid-1970s, the Eastern Bloc seemed to have reached the peak of its international status. In 1975 this was shown by the final act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe , which was signed by the socialist states. It defined its important role in connection with the human and civil rights issue, which ultimately led to the collapse of the party-communist systems in Eastern Europe.
The zone boundary between the political east and west, the iron curtain, was in particular a limit of prosperity that can still be felt today. While the planned economy, command structures and the strong dominance of the USSR led to a slow economic decline in the Eastern bloc after the Second World War, democracy, a market economy, the establishment of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) and Marshall Plan funds led to constant reconstruction in the west . It was precisely this creation of prosperity and attractiveness in the West in connection with its media dissemination via TV and radio then led to increasing dissatisfaction among the population in the East and refugees to the West.
End of the Eastern Bloc 1985–1990
The independent trade union Solidarność , along with the Catholic Church, was the main force in the movement that marked the end of communism in Poland. With John Paul II , a Polish Pope has been in office since 1978 , who campaigned for Polish-Catholic issues through his visiting diplomacy . Mikhail Gorbachev declared in his memoirs in 1992: "Everything that has happened in Eastern Europe in recent years would not have been possible without this Pope."
In March 1985, Gorbachev became general secretary of the CPSU. He changed the course of the control and suppression of the Soviet satellite states. Already at the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko (he was general secretary for 13 months) Gorbachev called the leaders of the Eastern bloc together and informed them of what later became known as the " Sinatra Doctrine ". These confessed the fraternal socialist countries one 's own path to socialism to and was part of the program perestroika (restructuring). While some states increasingly broke away from the Eastern Bloc by 1989, the government of the GDR tried unsuccessfully to hold it together. In addition to the emerging domestic protest movements, in the spring and summer of 1989 the hitherto strict isolation of Eastern Europe by the Iron Curtain was partially loosened and subsequently lifted. From May 2, 1989, Hungary dismantled the border fortifications with Austria . The Hungarian wire fence system with its electrical reporting devices was already completely out of date or rusted and almost 99 percent of the alarms were false reports, with up to 400 soldiers having to move out for each alarm. However, the Hungarians wanted to prevent the formation of a green border by intensifying the guarding of the border or to secure their western border more cheaply and technically differently. After the border installations were dismantled, neither the borders were opened nor the strict controls that had been carried out until then. On June 4, 1989, the GDR leadership publicly welcomed the violent suppression of the student protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which was to be understood as a threat that such a thing would also be conceivable in the GDR; This later led to the PRC in turn offering its support by hiring out workers to prevent the country from bleeding out during the mass exodus. In the spring of 1989 there were army operations against demonstrations within the Soviet Union in Tbilisi and the Baltic States. At this point in time it was unclear whether the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc as a whole would intervene militarily in the event of an inopportune anti-communist and anti-Soviet development.
The opening of a border gate between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989, which was widely copied by the media, strengthened the trend and finally triggered the "Crisis of Autumn 1989" which was historic for the Eastern Bloc. The patrons of the picnic were the initiator Otto von Habsburg and the Hungarian Minister of State Imre Pozsgay . They saw the planned picnic as an opportunity to test Gorbachev's reaction to the opening of the border at the Iron Curtain. As early as July 10, 1989, it was noted in the files of the Hungarian State Security Service that an event was planned at the border on the basis of a proposal by Otto von Habsburg, and on July 31, 1989, the Hungarian defense against the internal reaction informed their superiors about the preparations for the Sopron Pan-European Picnics. The Pan-European Movement distributed thousands of leaflets inviting people to a picnic near the border near Sopron. The participants should be able to take part in the dismantling of the Iron Curtain under the motto “Dismantle and take with you!”. Leaflets stating the time and place of the picnic and directions were also circulated among GDR refugees in Budapest. Many of the GDR citizens understood the message and traveled there.
At the event on August 19, 1989, 661 East Germans came through the Iron Curtain across the border from Hungary to Austria. It was the largest ever escape movement by East Germans since the Berlin Wall was built. The USSR did not intervene in the process. The primary victim of the situation resulting from Soviet passivity was initially particularly the SED leadership in Berlin, which Moscow then asked for support (which was not granted) on August 21.
The information about the opening of the border spread through the mass media sparked further events. On August 22, 1989, another 240 people crossed the Austro-Hungarian border, but this time without any preliminary arrangements with the Hungarian security authorities. The attempt to repeat this action on August 23rd, supported by "workers' militias", prevented border guards with armed violence and injured several refugees. With the mass exodus without intervention by the Soviet Union, the dams broke. East Germans came by the tens of thousands to Hungary, which was no longer ready to keep its borders tight. The GDR leadership in East Berlin reacted indecisively and did not dare to lock the borders of their own country. The occupation of West German embassies by GDR refugees in August 1989, including the subsequent exit procedures and the Hungarian waiver of border controls from September 11, 1989, led to further uncontrolled mass exodus of GDR citizens. Without prior agreement with the GDR government, Hungary allowed all GDR citizens present who were willing to leave to the West to pass. By the end of September, 30,000 emigrants had come to Germany this way.
On September 30, 1989, after negotiations with the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and others, the then Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher managed to allow several thousand East Germans who had fled to the Prague embassy premises to travel to the West on special trains by detour through the GDR .
In the autumn and winter of 1989, the communist leaderships in all Eastern Bloc states (except the Soviet Union) lost their monopoly of power, so that the Eastern Bloc fell apart. The isolation was over and the possibility was given to leave the countries to the west over the now broken Iron Curtain. The chain reaction that started at the Pan-European Picnic eroded the power of the communists in the Eastern Bloc. Until December 1989 this resulted in a change in the system of government in the GDR, Poland , Hungary, the ČSSR ( Velvet Revolution ) as well as Bulgaria and Romania . The basic cause for the dissatisfaction of the population lay next to the lack of self-determination and freedom in the economic collapse of the uniformly built states. Essential system factors of the Eastern Bloc were responsible for this development:
- economic problems caused by the state economy ,
- Indebtedness to western lenders,
- internal problems caused by party dictatorship,
- foreign trade problems due to the foreclosure policy.
The USSR disintegrated in 1991 , with the first referendum in the history of the Soviet Union in the spring (in which, however, some Union republics no longer participated) still resulted in a majority for the existence of the Union.
Freedom of travel
Since the construction of the Wall in August 1961, trips for GDR citizens under 65 to non-socialist countries have only been possible on application and only on certain occasions. Usually only when a return to the GDR was likely, for example because children or spouses did not travel with them or there were no Western relatives. From 1964 onwards, all pensioners were allowed to visit relatives in the West once a year; later, further travel facilities were made easier.
This was regulated in a similar way in other Eastern Bloc countries. Citizens from the ČSSR , the Hungarian VR or the VR Bulgaria were able to leave the country to Western Europe on justified occasions such as study trips as early as the 1970s.
In Hungary it was already possible in the early 1980s to take private trips against payment in foreign currency. Hungary introduced universal freedom of travel for its citizens in early 1988 . There were also stricter travel restrictions, such as in Romania or the Soviet Union.
The citizens of the SFR Yugoslavia were more privileged as citizens of a socialist but non-aligned state, as it did not belong to a military bloc. After Yugoslavia to travel was not complicated for Western Europeans to Italy or France, in particular, benefited from the Yugoslavs currency-making western tourists who annually million to the Adriatic coast came. Yugoslavia was the only socialist country whose citizens could travel visa-free to Western Europe, North America and other parts of the world. As early as the 1960s, workers known as guest workers came from Yugoslavia to Germany, Austria and Switzerland as part of the freedom of movement regulations .
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