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A History of Europe


1945 to 1990

This chapter covers the following topics:

Due to Lack of Interest, World War III was Canceled
Postwar Territorial Changes
The Nuremberg Trials
The Iron Curtain Descends
The Marshall Plan
Occupied Germany and the Berlin Airlift
Yugoslavia Breaks With Moscow
The Postwar Leaders of Western Europe
Unrest in the Soviet Empire
Fascism's Last Stand
The Nations That Tried to Buy Happiness
Northern Ireland's Troubles
The Common Market
The End of the Cold War
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Due to Lack of Interest, World War III was Canceled

The wartime partnership between the USSR and the other Allied nations had always been an uneasy one. Britain and the United States remembered Joseph Stalin's prewar behavior, and were suspicious of Soviet secrecy; they gave detailed data on strategy and weapons to Moscow, but got little information in return. Stalin didn't trust the West either, and expected the USSR to become the target of a capitalist invasion once the Axis was out of the way. Thus, when an Allied victory became a certainty, East-West relations started unraveling. As early as the Tehran conference (September 1943), Winston Churchill confided to one of his staff that he considered Germany already finished; "the real problem now is Russia." At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, Stalin promised to allow free governments in the nations Soviet troops entered, but afterwards did not do so. On April 1, 1945, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegram to Stalin protesting the violation of Yalta pledges.

That was all Roosevelt could do, because of his death eleven days later. In London, Churchill was growing alarmed because as the war wound down, the USSR was much stronger, and the British Empire was weaker, than he had expected. The Red Army had already occupied seven East European countries and part of Austria, so Churchill thought the American decision to leave all of Germany east of the Elbe River to the Red Army was a mistake. Indeed, a skirmish was reported at Wismar, the German Baltic port where British and Canadian troops met the Red Army. Churchill could also see what was happening in Poland, where all of the current Polish leaders and partisans were communists; the rest had just disappeared. Obviously, Stalin had his own view on what the postwar world should look like, and it was a different view from that of Roosevelt and Churchill. This prompted Churchill to send a long message of protest to Stalin in May, which concluded with this comment:

"There is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate . . . are all on one side, and those who rally to the English-speaking nations . . . are on the other . . . their quarrel would tear the world to pieces."(1)

Meanwhile, Churchill ordered Britain's generals to prepare for the next war, immediately after World War II; they should now consider ways to "impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire" to secure "a square deal for Poland." This meant at a minimum, preemptive strikes on Red Army units in Germany and Poland, and a possible grand offensive to drive the Russians back to the USSR. July 1, 1945 was picked as the earliest date for the operation to begin.

The plan was called "Operation Unthinkable," and that turned out to be an appropriate name, for only Churchill thought it had any chance of succeeding. This was because the Soviet Union had a tremendous military advantage in Europe. In 1945 the Red Army numbered 11 million men, a 4:1 advantage over the troops of the Western Allies (the United States, Britain, France and Canada); Russian tanks also outnumbered Western tanks by 2 to 1, and to top it off, the Russians had more warplanes. To help even the odds, Churchill proposed re-arming 100,000 captured German soldiers, and enlisting them in a new pro-Western army; four Polish divisions were also available. In addition, Churchill knew the United States was researching nuclear weapons, and he figured that using them against the Soviet Union would give the Western Allies the firepower they needed to win.

Reality killed the plan before it got off the ground. To start with, Soviet spies informed Stalin that Churchill was up to something, and Stalin alerted his top general, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, so there was no way the attack could take the Soviets by surprise, like Hitler's attack from four years earlier. Second, the British Chiefs of Staff told Churchill that they thought the numbers against them were too great to overcome, and they didn't think the Germans, full of memories of eastern front battles like Stalingrad, would be willing to fight the Russians again. Third, on the other side of the world the United States was fighting the battle of Okinawa, and with a possible invasion of Japan coming up, the Americans didn't want to keep their troops in Europe. As for the nukes, the Americans ended up building three atomic bombs; one was used for the July 16 test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the other two were dropped on Japan to make the Japanese surrender without invading their home islands. If any of those bombs had been used against the USSR instead, the Pacific War would not have ended in 1945.

Fourth, the Western generals had their doubts that even atomic bombs dropped on cities like Moscow would stop the Soviets. After all, the Red Army had taken everything the Germans had thrown at it, and like the Incredible Hulk, it came back stronger and more enraged than before. And if the Allies had to invade the USSR to teach the Russians a lesson, they would be up against Russia's formidable natural defenses: winter, wide rivers that are only easy to cross when frozen over, and almost endless tracts of land, much of it mud. Nobody could guarantee that the Allies would fare better against those defenses than Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler had done.

In all likelihood, if Operation Unthinkable had been launched, the Soviets would have taken their blows until they got a chance to inflict a crushing defeat on the Allies, and then they would charge across the European Continent, at least as far as France. The English Channel would stop them from invading the British Isles, but they could still hit Britain's cities with fearsome bomber and rocket attacks. When the new US president, Harry Truman, heard about the plan, he made it clear that he would not allow American forces to take part in a new war against the Soviet Union. Without the Yanks on his side, even Churchill realized the plan was doomed to fail, and not long after that, he was voted out of office and replaced with a less hawkish prime minister, Clement Atlee. Operation Unthinkable was declared a military secret and filed away; it did not become common knowledge until it was declassified in 1998.

Throughout the period covered by this chapter, people feared that a politician or general would do something that would cause a devastating war between the world's capitalist and communist nations, and that would be the end of Western civilization. Especially if nuclear weapons were used. Well, now we know there was a plan for World War III at the start, but it was immediately rejected as unwinnable, leaving bad East-West feelings that would last throughout the Cold War era.

Back in 1898, when Churchill was a young army officer and a colleague of his was fatally wounded, he said, "War, disguise it as you may, is but a dirty, shoddy business which only a fool would undertake." Nearly half a century later, those same words would apply to himself. He was one of the first to see that nothing good would come from the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, but now it would be the job of others to do something about it.

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Postwar Territorial Changes

The last message received by Berlin's telegraph office before the Red Army captured it was a brief one: "Good luck to you all." It came from Tokyo. Less than four months later, the Japanese also surrendered, and the task of rebuilding a shattered planet began.

Before 1914 there had been nine major powers: the United States, Great Britain, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. World War I knocked out the last four nations on the list, but the Germans and Russians managed to recover in the 1930s, bringing the total number back up to seven. Now Germany, Italy and Japan were in ruins. Britain and France were not much better off; both of them had nearly bled to death in the two world wars. France had lost half its livestock, and Britain, which had been the world's banker before the war, now owed more money than any nation. Neither one could have won without US help, and they had spent too much, in men and resources, to lord over the world the way they had done in the age of imperialism. The land that had once hosted the world's most advanced society saw little beyond starvation and poverty in its future. Winston Churchill put it this way in a 1947 speech: "What is Europe now? A rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground for pestilence and hate."

In the adjustment of frontiers in Europe, the result of the war was obvious: Germany lost and the Soviet Union won. The Germans paid for their defeat twice. First, they lost all of Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia; the Soviets took half of East Prussia, while everything else went to Poland. Second, Germany would be divided for the next 45 years, into a communist East and a capitalist West. Because the Soviets insisted on keeping most of the Polish land they took in 1939, it was as if somebody had picked up Poland, carried it more than a hundred miles west, and put it back down again. Warsaw, for example, was in western Poland before the war, and in the east afterwards. This prompted Churchill to mutter "It would be a pity to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that it died of indigestion." A wave of name changes followed in the ex-German areas: e.g., Danzig became Gdansk, Konigsberg became Kaliningrad, and Breslau became Wroclaw. Then Stalin changed the ethnic makeup of eastern Europe to fit his new boundaries; in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the USSR, those Germans and Poles caught on the wrong side of the line were deported. He also kept all three Baltic republics, held onto the frontier areas taken from Finland and Romania in 1940, and took Petsamo, Finland's only Arctic port, as punishment for Finland's wartime support of the Germans. On top of that he moved the USSR's border up to Hungary by adding Ruthenia, the tail end of Czechoslovakia. The Western Allies conceded most of these annexations without protesting much, because there were Eastern Slavs like Ukrainians and Belarusians in the areas taken, and because the Soviet Union had suffered so much; two thirds of the European war's casualties, both military and civilian, were Russian.

Poland's changing borders.

Poland in the twentieth century. At the end of World War I, the Polish state was given the white territory west of the "Curzon Line." By winning the Russo-Polish War of 1920, the Poles added the grey area to their country. After World War II, the Soviets took back the grey area, and gave Poland the pink areas (Pomerania, Silesia, Danzig and half of East Prussia), which used to belong to Germany. Thus, the white and the pink areas make up Poland today.

Despite all this, the Soviet frontier was usually farther east than the old frontier of the Russian Empire; Stalin didn't hold Finland and central Poland, while the tsars did. In fact, Stalin could claim that what he took was modest, in view of the USSR's past sufferings and present strength. What made a mockery of that statement was the way he made bigger gains by satellite. Eight eastern European countries unfortunate enough to be "liberated" by communists had communist governments imposed on them; their people were blocked from political, economic, and cultural contact with the West. For Stalin this became a four-hundred-mile-deep buffer zone, to protect against any future wars and to provide the USSR with the resources for rebuilding. Only Finland escaped Soviet domination, and Stalin made sure it would be neutral, rather than a pro-Western state. This was the first step in the creation of the Soviet Bloc, a coalition of client states that were treated like Russian colonies.(2)

Because Italy was a minor participant in the destruction (compared to Germany), its losses were less. The Allies assigned the Dodecanese islands to Greece, while Yugoslavia got the port of Zara and all of Istria except Trieste.

The Western Allies took almost nothing for themselves. The United States and Britain realized that the world had changed too much to expect any return to a more innocent, imperialist age. They dismantled the Italian colonial empire in Africa, and the Japanese one in the Pacific, but this time, unlike with the "mandates" set up by the League of Nations, they took their duties seriously; these territories would receive independence as soon as they were ready for it, and they wouldn't be treated like colonies in the meantime. As a result, they let go of most of the ex-Italian and ex-Japanese holdings within a few years. At the time of this writing, only the Northern Marianas are still under foreign rule, and that is because they voted to remain with the United States. France and the Netherlands tried to go back to exploiting their colonies as if it was business as usual; instead they got sharp criticism from the United States, and the natives, now motivated by nationalism, launched armed uprisings that eventually got rid of their overlords (e.g., Indonesia, Vietnam, and Algeria).

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The Nuremberg Trials

In a crowded Nuremberg courtroom, twenty-two surviving Nazi leaders went on trial in November 1945, charged with "waging aggressive war" and "crimes against humanity." Presiding over the trial was a panel of judges from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France; they listened as massive documentation was presented, showing that the defendants had plotted both war and the murder of millions. Below is a list of the defendants and the sentences they got:

Hermann Göring, Luftwaffe commander Hanging
Adm. Karl Doenitz, chief naval commander and Hitler's heir 10 years
Rudolf Hess, deputy to Hitler Life (committed suicide in 1987)
Adm. Erich Raeder, former naval commander Life (released in 1953)
Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister Hanging
Baldur von Schirach, youth leader 20 years
Gen. Wilhelm Keitel, chief of High Command Hanging
S. S. Gen. Fritz Saukel Hanging
Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi theoretician Hanging
Gen. Alfred Jodl, last army chief Hanging
Hans Frank, governor general of Poland Hanging
Franz von Papen, ambassador to Turkey and former vice chancellor Acquitted
Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior Hanging
Artur von Seyss-Inquart, Commissar for Holland and former governor of Austria Hanging
Julius Streicher, Nazi propagandist Hanging
Albert Speer, chairman of armaments council 20 years
Walther Funk, minister of economics Life
Konstantin von Neurath, protector of Bohemia and Moravia 15 years
Hjalmar Schacht, Reichsbank president Acquitted
Hans Fritzsche, Nazi radio chief Acquitted
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of security police Hanging
Martin Bormann, S. A. chief (tried in absentia) Hanging

Those defendants who were not acquitted went to Berlin's Spandau prison. Ten Nazis were hanged in October 1946; Göring, however, cheated the hangman by taking a smuggled dose of poison, just hours before his trip to the gallows. Among those locked up, all but Rudolf Hess were dead or released by 1967. Since the trial, some have questioned whether it is right to try the leaders of a defeated country for war atrocities--because war itself is an atrocity--but in this case most agreed that the defendants got what they deserved. For better or for worse, the Nuremberg trials set a precedent on how to treat those who plan and wage war against others.

Meanwhile, lesser officials were brought to justice. Besides German officers, the Allies went after those citizens who collaborated with the Nazis after their countries had fallen under Hitler's tyranny. In France alone, 100,000 were convicted of collaborating, and 800 were sentenced to death. Marshal Petain got a death sentence at first, but because of his extreme age (he was eighty-nine when the war ended) and his record of heroism in World War I, General de Gaulle changed it to life imprisonment. The real leader of Vichy France, Pierre Laval, went before a firing squad, and so did his Norwegian and Dutch counterparts, Vidkun Quisling and Anton Adrian Mussert. Those French women who fraternized with the enemy got the humiliation of being paraded through the streets with shaven heads. Only after the Europeans put the wartime treachery, shame and executions behind them could they begin to rehabilitate their continent.

There was also the question of what to do with eight million surviving Nazi slaves, who had been put to work in Germany's factories and prison camps. By the end of 1945, five million of them had been sent home, including many Soviet citizens who were forced to return against their wishes ("Operation Keelhaul"). Some of the latter chose suicide rather than return to Stalin's rule.

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The Iron Curtain Descends

If you have seen the photos and newsreels from World War II that show civilians welcoming the Allies as liberators, remember that they only did this for the Western Allies. The rejoicing from those "liberated" by the Red Army was subdued, by comparison. Indeed, the Ukrainians probably celebrated more in 1941, when they thought the Germans were freeing them from Stalin, without realizing what could take his place. I put quotation marks around "liberated" because for eastern Europeans, the Soviets were at least as bad as the Nazis. And because the USSR had fought the hardest of any Allied nation, its soldiers thought they could have anything they wanted in eastern Europe, from easily carried objects like watches to whole farms and factories. The first years after the war saw largescale looting wherever Red Army troops were in control; even Europeans who belonged to local Communist Parties could not prevent having their belongings taken away.

Even before the war ended, communists were ruling Albania and Bulgaria, and had driven away all opposition. In 1946 Josip Broz Tito crushed Yugoslavia's monarchists by executing his main rival, Drago Mihailovich. Romania, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia briefly had coalition governments, but with Soviet troops still garrisoned in all of them, it was clear who was in charge. In June 1947 they helped Romania's communists suppress their coalition partner, the National Peasant Party; King Michael was forced to abdicate and flee the country before the year was over. The process was even quicker in Poland; rigged elections in February 1947 gave 85 percent of the vote to the communists and socialists. Hungary had four parties in its coalition, so the communists used a step-by-step approach to take over the Magyar state. In January 1947 some of the leaders of the Smallholders' Party were charged with conspiring to overthrow the republic and were arrested by the communists; officers suspected of disloyalty to the communists were purged from the army. Elections for a new parliament were held in August. Although the communists won only 22 percent of the votes, they dominated the coalition government, by pressuring the Social Democratic Party to join the Communist Party. A purge of the party in early 1949 made sure that only true communists were in charge, and the next parliamentary elections (May 1949) presented voters a single list of candidates, all communists and their supporters. In August the assembly adopted a constitution, establishing the Hungarian People's Republic.

Czechoslovakia's prewar president, Eduard Beneš, had resigned and left the country in 1938. The Allies recognized him as the head of a Czech government in exile, but he was disgusted with how the Western nations had failed to help Czechoslovakia in its hour of need, so in 1943 he signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship with the Soviets. After the war he returned to Prague and agreed to share power with the communists. In May 1946 national elections were held, and these ones, unlike those in Poland and Hungary, were genuinely fair; Beneš retained the presidency, while the communists gained some key cabinet posts and more than a third of the parliamentary seats. The honeymoon didn't last long after that; communists began assassinating their opponents and packing the police force with their followers. President Beneš, now dying and afraid of a civil war, was blackmailed into resigning by a general strike and the threat of a Soviet invasion (February 1948). In his place came a government that only had one non-Communist member, Jan Masaryk, the son of Czechoslovakia's founder, Thomas Masaryk. Shortly after that, Masaryk fell out of a window, and his death was officially declared a suicide. Now that the communists had all of eastern Europe, they introduced the same tools of repression that Stalin had perfected in the Soviet Union: political purges, massive economic planning, the jailing of political and cultural opponents, etc.

The expansion of communism beyond the USSR was a departure from Stalin's old policy, which called for "socialism in one country." Now the missionary zeal of the Marxists alarmed the West. Churchill gave a name to the new barrier between East and West in 1946. Making a speech at a college in Fulton, Missouri, the former prime minister declared that "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." To Churchill only the combined strength of the democracies could stop communism, for the Russians respected might, "and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness." This speech shocked those who didn't want to offend the Soviet Union, but soon various events, from Berlin to Korea, would prove Churchill had been right again. The West had trouble understanding the new war of nerves, soon to be called the Cold War, as well as the unconventional weapons of the other side; the communists preferred to use guerrillas and political chaos to advance their goals, since both are so much harder to watch and control than tanks, planes and soldiers. Nevertheless, the democracies would have to fight this conflict, or they would lose the whole world to communism.

An American diplomat, George F. Kennan, formulated the policy the West adopted in dealing with the Soviet Union, "containment." In an article entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," written under the byline of "Mr. X" in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, Kennan proposed a "realistic understanding of the profound and deep-rooted difference between the United States and the Soviet Union" and the exercise of "a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."(3) Rather than denounce the USSR for its behavior, as so many others had done, Kennan called for making the current situation a stalemate; the US could and should prevent the spread of communism to any more countries, but it must not try to remove the communist regimes that already existed. The Soviets would see an anticommunist counteroffensive as a threat to them, and that would be enough to trigger the big war which Kennan wanted to avoid most of all. On the surface, containment resembles the policy of appeasement that failed to prevent World War II; this time it worked because both the US and the USSR had nuclear weapons by 1949, and they believed that using these arms would destroy the human race. When the Soviet empire finally fell, it collapsed on its own, without a push from outside.

Cold War Europe.

Europe during the Cold War years, divided by the Iron Curtain (black line) into a capitalist West (blue) and a communist East (pink). Yugoslavia (green) and Albania (striped) were also communist, but for most of this period they were not part of the Soviet Bloc; read on to find out what happened to them.

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The Marshall Plan

Before Churchill made his warning, communists began exploiting western European weaknesses. Because communist guerrillas had been very successful in the wartime Underground, they were now as strong as the official governments of France, Italy and Greece. Their political leaders, Jacques Duclos of France and Palmiro Togliatti of Italy, stood a good chance of getting elected to public office. In Greece, more than 25,000 guerrillas roamed the country at will, waging a war against what they called the "monarcho-fascists." Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (though not the USSR) supported the guerrillas, while Britain tried to help the restored Greek monarchy. However, the effort was too much for the cash-strapped British, and in February 1947 Britain informed the United States that it would be withdrawing all financial and military support from Greece by April 1. The Americans stepped in by announcing the Truman Doctrine in March; to contain communism, President Truman pledged $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey (Turkey was also under strong communist pressure).

Before long Truman had also authorized massive assistance for the rest of western Europe. Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a plan of economic aid to help Europe to solve its postwar financial problems. Congress authorized the plan, officially called the European Recovery Program but better known as the Marshall Plan. Sixteen nations, with a combined population of 270 million people, eagerly accepted the aid, and $23 billion poured across the Atlantic between 1947 and 1952, compared with $15 billion before 1947. The Marshall Plan also offered aid to eastern Europe, but Stalin rejected it, because each country that received aid had to open up its economy to American financial planners, and he wasn't going to allow anything that would make him dependent on the United States. In the end Czechoslovakia was the only satellite to ask for Marshall Plan funding, and the 1948 coup in Prague made sure that the Czechs wouldn't get any money. In western Europe, the plan was a complete success; the risk of starvation was gone by the end of 1948, and by the mid-1950s every nation west of the Iron Curtain was fully recovered. Equally important, the danger of communism began to fade. Only in Portugal during the mid-1970s did the communists come close to taking over any western European nation. Some communists tried extreme measures; the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany resorted to terrorism. Incidents they caused, like the assassination of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro (1978), got them worldwide attention, but they failed to win popular support; by the late 1980s both groups had lost so many members that they were no longer relevant.

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Occupied Germany and the Berlin Airlift

Few nations have been destroyed as thoroughly as Nazi Germany. Every city had been bombed out, and whereas Kaiser Wilhelm's German Empire surrendered before any Allied soldiers set foot on German soil, most of the Third Reich, true to Hitler's last wishes, had fought to the end. Much of the population was homeless, and the infrastructure no longer existed. In some areas, adults could only find enough food for a diet of 700 calories per day, one sixth the ration of American soldiers. Many felt that the end of civilization had arrived, and spoke of stunde null, the zero hour.

To rebuild central Europe and prevent the establishment of a new government bent on revenge, the Allies divided both Germany and Austria into four zones of occupation. Since Austria was no longer important, the "Big Four" agreed to a treaty that made Austria a neutral nation, and they withdrew from that country in 1955. It was not so easy in Germany, though. There the Americans got Bavaria and Hesse, the French took Baden-Württemberg and most of the Rhineland, the British administered the northwest (Westphalia, Hanover and Schleswig-Holstein), and the east (old Brandenburg and Saxony) went to the Soviets. Berlin was deep in the Soviet zone, but because it was the capital, it was also split into British, American, French and Soviet sectors.

Postwar Germany and Austria
Occupied Germany and Austria.

The last conference between the American, British and Soviet leaders (held at Potsdam, July 1945) failed to reach an agreement on what form postwar Germany should take; the USSR demanded $10 billion in reparations, while the West wanted to rebuild Germany as a Western-style democracy, so each side developed its own version of Germany. The Western Allies went ahead with their own plan, merging their zones first economically, and then politically. Stalin responded in June 1948 by blocking all access by land and water to the part of Berlin he did not control, now called West Berlin. He thought this would starve the 2,250,000 residents of West Berlin, many of them refugees from Soviet-ruled districts. Instead of giving in, the West launched a massive airlift called "Operation Vittles," which brought food, fuel, and all other supplies. Since the main cargo plane available, the American C-47, carried just three tons, they had to fly in and out of West Berlin's Templehof Airfield constantly. At the peak of the Berlin Airlift, a plane landed almost every minute, and together they brought in 13,000 tons of supplies a day. The pilots became heroes to the Berliners, especially the "candy bombers" who dropped treats to the children. More than 70 Allied pilots died in crashes; Stalin kept up the blockade for eleven months because he remembered how a German airlift during the war had failed to save the army trapped in Stalingrad. This time he was wrong; on May 12, 1949, the Russians conceded defeat and reopened the roads to Berlin to Western traffic.

In the spring of 1949 Washington established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a permanent military alliance. The first members were the United States, Canada, Iceland, and nine nations of western Europe. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955. The purpose of NATO, as its first secretary-general put it, was to keep "the Soviets out, the Americans in and the Germans down." It succeeded marvelously in all three, and became the model for other alliances that the United States formed during the next few years: SEATO and ANZUS in the Pacific, CENTO in the Middle East, and the OAS in Latin America. In response the Soviets created the Warsaw Pact in 1955, which formalized the stationing of Red Army units in eastern Europe. This alliance, which included every satellite state of the USSR, lasted until 1991.

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Yugoslavia Breaks With Moscow

While Stalin suffered a setback with the Berlin Airlift, Yugoslavia handed him a much more embarrassing defeat. As we noted before, Yugoslavia had liberated itself from the Nazis with only a little help from the USSR. In the immediate postwar years, Tito ran Yugoslavia his own way, not Stalin's way, and he went so far as to open up negotiations with his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Dimitrov, to talk about uniting Yugoslavia and Bulgaria into a single nation for all Slavs in the Balkans. Stalin could not trust a foreign leader as self-reliant as Marshal Tito, so he tried to gain control over the Yugoslav economy, armed forces, and party apparatus with Soviet agents. Tito, who had been a devoted Stalinist to this point, resisted by canceling ruinous economic contracts and by deporting the Soviet agents, knowing he was fighting for his career, and probably his life. At the beginning of 1948, Stalin "invited" both Dimitrov and Tito to meet with him in Moscow. As Stalin's most loyal follower in Europe, Dimitrov went, but Tito (probably suspecting that he would not come back if he went) sent a representative in his place. Furious, Stalin condemned the Yugoslav communists as "deviationists" and "traitors," expelled Yugoslavia from his international communist organization (the Cominform), and called upon the armies of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania to prepare for an invasion. But Tito used Stalin's own tactics against him; his totalitarian controls, combined with patriotic and anti-Russian feelings, quickly brought the whole country behind him. The United States promptly forgave Tito of his pre-1948 political sins and gave him the economic aid he needed to get his country through the hardest days.

Josip Broz Tito, before 1948.
Before their falling out, Tito kept a portrait of Stalin on the wall behind his deak.

Stalin had expected Tito to quickly crumble without Soviet support, bragging that: "I only need to wag my little finger and Tito and his clique will vanish!" And he did wag; between 1948 and his death in 1953, Stalin tried no less than twenty-two times to assassinate Tito. But Tito was a veteran of two World Wars, so people trying to kill him were nothing new. Eventually, Tito responded by writing a letter to Stalin that said:

"Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle . . . If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second."
--Josip Broz Tito

Stalin kept the letter on his desk for the rest of his life, leading to a theory that he was still plotting to kill Tito, but Tito got him first (well maybe, there is also this theory). Very few people ever defied Stalin and survived; Tito was one of them (the other was Harry Truman, and Truman had the atomic bomb). In fact, Tito outlived Stalin by twenty-seven years, now a respectable Third World statesman and living proof that one could be a communist and not a Stalinist at the same time.

Incidentally, the break between Tito and Stalin also brought an end to the Greek communist guerrillas, because the three countries that backed them were now too busy watching each other to advance the cause of revolution anywhere else.

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The Postwar Leaders of Western Europe

By 1949 every country of western Europe had a parliamentary system, and only Spain and Portugal remained under fascist rule; the rest were democracies. Because the United States paid most of the defense bill for its allies, Europe's postwar politicians could be conservative in their foreign policy, but liberal in spending at home. The chief political party in Italy and Germany was called the Christian Democrat Party, and France's equivalent, the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), was also influenced by the Catholic Church.

Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III abdicated in May 1946, and when a plebiscite abolished the monarchy, his son Humbert soon followed him into exile. The prime minister who replaced both king and dictator was Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954), a veteran nationalist. Born in the south Tyrol when Austria ruled it, de Gasperi started his career by campaigning for the liberation of Italia Irridenta. Mussolini imprisoned him from 1926 to 1929, and then he spent the rest of the Mussolini years as a librarian in the Vatican. When he took charge he discarded the Communists, who had been coalition partners, and encouraged a free-enterprise economy. His "government of rebirth and salvation" was unstable, and he had to reshuffle cabinet members eight times before he retired in 1953, but he succeeded in making sure Italy would be one of the most prosperous nations of the late twentieth century. Italy's presence in the "G-7" group of nations is the legacy of de Gasperi today, though Italy's political system remains more chaotic than that of its neighbors.

Alcide de Gasperi.
Alcide de Gasperi, on a 1953 Time Magazine cover.

In Germany the American, British and French zones became the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1949, with its capital at Bonn. The elections that followed chose Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), the Christian Democrat Party's leader, as the first chancellor. Adenauer had been mayor of Cologne under the Weimar Republic, and was jailed by the Nazis; at the age of seventy-three, he was already an elder statesman. He predicted that poor health would force him to retire in two years, but as it turned out, he stayed in office until 1963. Abroad, he cultivated good relations with France and the United States, rather than with East Germany. At home his administration succeeded in everything he considered important, and West Germany played a leading role in the creation of the Common Market, which Adenauer saw as an important step toward uniting the continent. Most of all, his presence reassured many Europeans that the new Germany would be peaceful; in this grandfather-type figure nobody could see another Kaiser or a Hitler.

Konrad Adenauer.
Konrad Adenauer.

Adenauer was succeeded by two more Christian Democrats, Ludwig Erhard (1963-66) and Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-69). Then the Social Democrats came to power, under Willy Brandt (1969-74) and Helmut Schmidt (1974-82). Conservative sentiments in the 1980s allowed the Christian Democrats to regain control; their chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has so far held office longer than anyone else (1982-98), and he oversaw the reunification of Germany.

West Germany's industry recovered at a speed that astonished even the Germans; they called it the Wirtschaftswunder, the "economic miracle." Helping it were a total overhaul of the currency, a large supply of trained workers, an avoidance of the strikes and labor unrest that disrupted other countries, and as we noted, the fact that the West Germans did not have to pay for their armed forces until 1955. They even made a profit from the Korean War, by increasing steel production during that time. Before the 1950s had ended, West Germany's economy became the strongest in western Europe. The miracle ended with a major recession in 1966, followed by the oil crisis of 1973, allowing Britain, France and Italy to catch up. In the 1980s the average growth rate was 1.6 percent a year. This was less than half of what it had been previously, but still ahead of the stagnating economies to the east.

France was under martial law immediately after liberation; Charles de Gaulle stepped down in 1946 so that a civilian government, the Fourth Republic, could take charge. During the Fourth Republic's twelve-year existence, it saw even less stability than Italy; twenty governments rose and fell, while de Gaulle, still the country's most capable leader, watched from the sidelines. Before the war, American humorist Will Rogers had joked that American tourists go to London to watch the changing of the guard, and then they go to Paris to watch the changing of the government; this was even more true of postwar France (and Italy). What finally brought the Republic down was its insistence on fighting two wars it could not win, to keep France's colonial empire; each lasted for eight years and drained the country's wealth and manpower. The first, in Vietnam, ended in a humiliating defeat, when the Vietnamese communists besieged and captured Dienbienphu (1954). The second, in Algeria, became the "grave of the Fourth Republic." Paris freely gave independence to neighboring Morocco and Tunisia, but French colonists insisted that the Tricolor remain over Algeria forever, so fighting erupted here only four months after the fighting ended in Vietnam. The corrupt colonial regime pursued a campaign of terror against Algerian natives, and the army ignored the directives issued from Paris. Despite this, the French were not any closer to winning, and in May 1958 the war caused the government to disintegrate. Militant army officers and European civilians, fearful that Paris was preparing to talk with the rebels, seized control of Algiers; the army supported them, and a military coup in France looked likely. The National Assembly was forced to call de Gaulle out of retirement, and it voted him almost dictatorial powers, to govern the country for six months and to prepare a new constitution.

De Gaulle submitted his constitution to a plebiscite in September 1958, and the voters gave it a 79 percent approval rating, an overwhelming vote of confidence for the author. Thus, de Gaulle became the first president of the Fifth Republic. He promised that, "There will be no Dienbienphu in Algeria," but that meant he would negotiate a peaceful settlement, whereas his supporters expected him to push for an ultimate victory. In 1960 he began peace talks with the Algerian rebels, and--undeterred by revolts of army officers in Algeria, assassination attempts against himself, and by terrorist violence--he pursued these negotiations until they reached an agreement granting independence. In an April 1962 referendum, 90 percent of the voters approved. At any rate, Algeria's one and a quarter million French residents had given de Gaulle more headaches than nine million Algerians.

Charles de Gaulle as president.
President Charles de Gaulle.

For de Gaulle, the most important task was to restore France as a first-class power. However, the French had learned the hard way that the age of colonialism was over, so he gave the rest of the French empire (most of it in Africa) the choice of staying or leaving. Most of the colonies chose independence; by the time de Gaulle pulled out of Algeria, only a few choice islands and coastal enclaves were left. Therefore, he worked instead to make France the most important nation in continental Europe; because of him, France played a major role in the Common Market and all other activities that involved more than one western European nation. He got along well with Konrad Adenauer, and together they ended the century-old rivalry that had caused three bitter wars between France and Germany. At the same time, he cooled relations with the United States, declaring that: "We will never descend to the level of American vassals." In 1966 he removed the French armed forces from NATO, making France a nonparticipating member of that organization, and developed a French atomic bomb to further reduce the need for American protection. As far as de Gaulle was concerned, the British were little more than American agents, so in 1963 he vetoed the first effort to bring the United Kingdom into the Common Market. Despite all this, he was a nationalist first, not anti-American or anti-British as much as he was pro-France.

France saw considerable economic growth during the de Gaulle years, but also inflation and rising unemployment. A surplus of university graduates found no suitable jobs for them as they left school; having grown up in an age of affluence, they found themselves in an unrewarding consumer society. In 1968 this led to widespread student revolts, like the strikes and demonstrations that shook other Western nations at that time. The government's efforts to end it by persuasion and concession failed, and de Gaulle called for new elections. The voters, fearful of growing disorder, gave de Gaulle's party an absolute majority in the new assembly. De Gaulle, however, felt the need for additional endorsement of his presidency, so in 1969 he announced a referendum on two constitutional reforms and declared that he would resign if the voters rejected his proposals. 53 percent of the electorate voted against them, so de Gaulle resigned, and died a year later.

France has seen seven presidents since de Gaulle: Georges Pompidou (1969-74), Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-81), François Mitterand (1981-95), Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-12), François Hollande (2012-17), and Emmanuel Macron (2017-). Mitterand and Hollande were socialists, while the rest were center-right "Gaullists." All of them have promoted European unity, independence from the superpowers, and a strong economy; even under Mitterand the confrontation many expected between government and business never took place.

Britain started the postwar era with a head start; its factories had suffered less damage than those on the Continent, and the Allied victory had apparently proven that democracy was the best kind of government. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom failed to keep ahead of the recovering states. It may have won the war, but it had lost a fourth of its net wealth. Instead of collecting reparations from its defeated enemies, Britain was helping them get back on their feet, because having their support against communism was now more important than any punishment. The British found it especially galling when they had to send aid to Germany, to prevent mass starvation during the winter of 1946, and it was no accident that the Americans gave more assistance to Germany and Italy than to their allies. Over the next twenty years Britain managed a growth rate of 2.5 percent a year, but this was far less than France and Germany's. An inflation rate of 20% and a poorly organized industry caused even more trouble, requiring a major loan from the International Monetary Fund in the 1970s and a vigorous overhauling of the economy while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister (1979-90). Instead of dominating the Continent, Britons gave most of their attention to domestic matters.

The British Empire disintegrated in a single generation. During and immediately after World War II, the Americans made it clear that their vision for the future called for a world government, namely the United Nations, but it had no place for any empire, including Britain's. And there was considerable nationalist activity in the colonies before the war, so Britain had to make concessions (like independence for India) to keep the nationalists on their side throughout the war years. Afterwards Britain honored its agreement, and let India go in 1947. Once this happened it didn't have the resources to hold on to the rest of its empire, and many Britons thought colonies had lost their relevance anyway, so the British empire became the first in history to give itself away. By 1970 the only colonies left were little ones in places that saw British rule as better than the alternatives, and Britain turned these loose once the natives changed their minds. In 1982 Argentina seized South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, causing a brief war that Britain won easily; the English-speaking inhabitants of those islands never wanted to be under Argentine rule. Hong Kong went back to China in 1997, leaving a small list of places where the Union Jack still flies: Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Falkland Islands, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, Gibraltar, the British Indian Ocean Territory, and Pitcairn Island. Between them these outposts have only 200,000 people, and nearly half of those residents live on Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, places best known for beautiful beaches and loose financial regulations. Most of them are too small to find independence attractive, since it would mean giving up the money London sends them every year to keep their economies afloat. At this point one could say that the sun still never sets on penguins and volcanoes!

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Unrest in the Soviet Empire

In each nation of eastern Europe, communism brought heavy-handed state planning, a near-total loss of political and religious freedom, and an economy that was static and inefficient compared to the capitalist West. In previous chapters we noted how governments can mobilize their people to take part in impressive projects, but in the long run the gains (especially in science and per capita income) are greatest when individuals are left alone. By contrast, the societies of the socialist/communist world saw little creativity and little choice; store shelves would have only one brand of a given product, if they weren't completely bare. Staples we take for granted, like meat and eggs, were in such short supply that consumers would wait in line for hours to buy them. Moreover, the state showed no concern for the environment, so industrial pollution ran rampant, turning every communist state into a biohazard. West Germans pointed out that even the birds no longer stopped in East Germany when they migrated; they flew out while the people were forced to stay.

After Yugoslavia left the Soviet Bloc, most of the other satellite states remained loyal, but only Bulgaria gave Stalin and his immediate successors, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, the cooperation they wanted; the others saw unrest, and sometimes revolts, at one time or another. Here is a capsule description of how they behaved during the Cold War era:


If there was a true tyrant among eastern Europe's strongmen, it was Albania's Enver Hoxha (pronounced "Haw-Jah"). He got rid of malaria, and dramatically increased literacy and the role of women in society, but otherwise he transformed Albania into a state so totalitarian that even the USSR looked democratic by comparison.(4) By the time he was done, Hoxha resembled Big Brother, the ultimate dictator in George Orwell's 1984. Hoxha also isolated Albania from the rest of the world; very few outsiders were allowed in, and only party members could leave. The Soviet Union persecuted religious organizations, but was willing to recognize their existence; by contrast, Hoxha eradicated all religions, and declared Albania the first truly atheist country. Society was so regimented that ordinary people could not own a car, a permit was required to own a refrigerator or typewriter, singing was not allowed in public, and neither citizens nor visiting foreigners could have beards (The government reasoned that anyone with a beard was either a Moslem or a hippie, and wanted nothing to do with either. I don't know how they explained pictures of Marx and Lenin, though.). The countryside was turned into an armed camp, full of bunkers and concrete pillboxes to deter potential invaders, which in Hoxha's book included just about everybody.

The religious issue and the USSR's de-Stalinization (Hoxha was a devout Stalinist) prompted Albania to break with the Soviet Union in 1961. Since Albania was not adjacent to any Soviet Bloc state, it was able to get away with this, unlike Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The break in relations between China and the Soviet Union occurred around the same time, so Albania sided with China, seeing Mao Zedong's brand of communism as purer than that of the Russians; in return, China replaced the USSR as a major supplier of trade and economic aid. Then in 1978, Albania broke with China as well, denouncing China's abandonment of Maoism and the normalization of relations between China and the United States. After that Albania went alone for the next few years, despite a declining economy.

Because of Hoxha's tight grip on the country, and because he wrote more than sixty books telling everyone how great he was, the only opposition came from within the ruling party. In 1981 Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu died under mysterious circumstances; officially it was declared a suicide, but many suspect he tried unsuccessfully to unseat Hoxha. When Hoxha died in 1985, he was succeeded by Ramiz Alia; still, there was hardly any loosening of the regime's absolute rule until 1990.

Enver Hoxha
Enver Hoxha.

Epilog: For today's Albanians, the concrete bunkers built by Hoxha are an eyesore from the past that won't go away. There are more than 750,000 of them, about one for every four Albanians. Because the bunkers were designed to last through a massive bombardment, you can't just knock them down with a bulldozer, and Albania cannot afford the equipment needed to remove them. Therefore the Albanians have come up with creative ways to recycle their "concrete mushrooms." Hoxha's bunker was recently opened as a tourist attraction, while others have been converted into cafes, two-person homes, works of modern art, and in one case, a tattoo parlor.


Czechoslovakia gave the USSR no trouble while another Stalinist, Antonin Novotny, was in charge. However, he eventually fell out of favor in Moscow, and in January 1968 Alexander Dubcek, the reform-minded party boss of Slovakia, took his place. Almost immediately he began loosening the tight controls of the state in a program he called "socialism with a human face." He abolished censorship, rehabilitated the victims of "the past period of mistakes and aberrations," and even toyed with the idea of legalizing non-Communist political parties. Along with this he signed economic agreements with the West, particularly West Germany. Moscow warned Dubcek that he was making too many changes too fast, and when he did not heed the warnings, the Soviets struck. On August 21, 1968, Soviet, East German, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian divisions invaded and quickly occupied the country. Dubcek and his supporters were arrested, taken to Moscow in chains, and blackmailed to surrender. But thanks to universal Western and Chinese condemnation, the Soviets did not commit any atrocities in Prague after that.

The Prague Spring ends
Soviet tanks in Prague, 1968.

Dubcek got the last laugh; he lived as a private citizen for the next twenty-one years, and then took part in the revolution that toppled communism in his country. He had the right idea about "socialism with a human face," but was a generation ahead of his time.

East Germany

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was supposedly the best-run state in eastern Europe. In the 1970s East German standards of living were even higher than those of the Soviet Union, but compared to dynamic West Germany, the East didn't amount to much.(5) There also was no doubt about which part of Germany the Germans preferred; the number of East Germans defecting to the West peaked at 500,000 in 1960. Thus, to avoid losing its workers, East Germany had to lock them in. Here the Iron Curtain became three-dimensional, a physical barrier as well as one in the imagination.

First East Germany built barbed-wire and chain-link fences, minefields and guard towers, all along its border with West Germany. Whenever some defector managed to get over these obstacles, more were added, until this became the most heavily fortified frontier between two nations. However, there was still a problem with Berlin, where it was relatively easy for somebody in East Berlin to sneak over to West Berlin and not come back. Suddenly on August 13, 1961, East Germany began building a concrete wall, all the way around the 28-mile perimeter of West Berlin. To make the wall truly formidable, the construction crews added additional barricades: landmines, trip wires, broken glass, sentries with vicious dogs, etc. East German leader Walter Ulbricht called the wall an "antifascist protection barrier," to keep the enemies of communism out, but everyone knew its real purpose was to keep the East German people in.

The desire for freedom was so strong that some East Germans tried to get over the Berlin Wall anyway. Those who succeeded became local legends, and today Berlin has a museum to commemorate their exploits. One defector flew over the wall in a balloon; another had himself lowered on the other side by a crane. A West Berliner drove through one of the wall's gates to get his girlfriend out of East Berlin, and while he was on the east side, he cut the whole top half of his car off, so he could drive under the gate's lowered crossing barrier when he returned. An entire nursing home of senior citizens, located a hundred yards from the border, managed to escape by digging a tunnel with spoons. However, these were the lucky ones; 75 were killed by guards when they tried to cross. West Berliners showed how they felt by covering their side of Die Mauer ("the Wall") with graffiti, and they cursed the structure, declaring that moss would never grow on it. Even so, the Berlin Wall was a success in that it stopped the mass defections, and the officer in charge of its construction, Erich Honecker, succeeded Ulbricht as secretary general in 1971.


Hungary saw the bloodiest anti-Soviet uprising in the Warsaw Pact. There Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin became a signal to launch riots. The rioting turned into street fighting, and then open rebellion, when part of the Hungarian army joined the rebels. The Soviet forces pulled out of Hungary at the end of October; the new Hungarian prime minister, Imré Nagy, declared Hungary a neutral, multiparty state, and announced he was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. This was too much for the Soviets; the Red Army's armored divisions turned around and attacked Budapest, slaughtering the freedom fighters who had been celebrating their "victory." It was a massacre. As a sickened world listened, the rebel radio broadcast its last message: "Goodbye friends. Save our souls. The Russians are too near." More than 200,000 Hungarians fled across the Austrian border to a sickened West before order was restored. Nagy and hundreds of others were executed, and Nagy's successor, János Kádár, kept Hungary firmly in the Soviet camp for the next thirty years.

Ironically, Kádár succeeded for as long as he did because he made Hungary the most capitalist state in the Soviet Bloc. Although he kept absolute control over the Communist Party and the government, he allowed western-style economic reforms, long before the Soviet Union tried them. Peasants were allowed to earn a profit from their land, and industry was free from state control. This nearly free market improved the Hungarians' standard of living, so that by the 1980s one family in three had a car, and nearly half the population could take vacations abroad. However, they depended too heavily on trade with the West, which declined during the bad economic years of the 1970s and early 80s, so Hungary nearly went bankrupt by 1985. What kept the economy going at this time was the unofficial black market, which produced an estimated 30 percent of the nation's GDP in 1985. Two thirds of all apartments were built without government approval, and 80 percent of Hungarians made ends meet with an unofficial second job. It wasn't the safest way to live, but it allowed people to joke that Hungary had the most comfortable barracks in the Soviet concentration camp.


The USSR always had to go easy on Poland, due to the millennium-old hatred between Poles & Russians. There was also the Catholic Church, which was so strong in Poland that it served as an opposition party, especially after Karol Wojtyla, the cardinal of Cracow, became Pope John Paul II (1978). Thus, the USSR carefully avoided pushing the Poles too far. Despite this, the effects of de-Stalinization were felt immediately. As in Hungary, riots broke out here in 1956, but here the story had a happier ending. Wladislaw Gomulka, an anti-Stalinist who had recently been released from prison, used the unrest to get himself elevated to the position of Poland's first secretary, without Moscow's consent. He promptly expelled the Russian officers in Poland's army, dissolved the collectives, and allowed optional religious teaching in the schools. Khrushchev and three other Politburo members (Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich and Anastas Mikoyan) flew to Warsaw and found an uncooperative Polish government staring at them. After a heated debate Khrushchev decided that he liked Gomulka, and left him alone after Gomulka promised to keep Poland's economic and military ties with the Soviet Union.

Gomulka's successor, Edward Gierek, was less successful at solving the country's problems. By the end of the 1970s, the economy was in dreadful shape, and on August 14, 1980, this triggered a strike at the Lenin Shipyard of Gdansk. Within weeks the strike was joined by others all over Poland, the strikers began demanding political rights, and Gierek was forced to step down. The strikers, led by an unemployed electrician named Lech Walesa, quickly formed a trade union named Solidarnosc (Solidarity), and by the end of the year its membership had grown to exceed that of the Polish Communist Party.

Lech Walesa.

Solidarity gave Marxist ideologists, like the Politburo's Mikhail Suslov, major headaches; Marxist philosophy repeatedly states that communism is a government for the workers, so the existence of unions was a strong indication that communism had not lived up to its promises; that's why labor unions were not allowed in the USSR. Suslov made a personal trip to warn the Poles that they had gone far enough. So did Walesa and other moderates, who now urged the Polish people to stop for the good of the nation, but food shortages, rationing, and strikes caused by radical workers got worse. On December 13, 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the commander of Poland's armed forces, declared enough was enough and imposed martial law on the country. In defense, Jaruzelski argued that he had saved Poland from outside intervention; if the Poles did not put their own house in order, the Russians would do it for them. Solidarity was outlawed, but it was too popular to die; one year later Walesa was released from prison. Negotiations concerning the relationship between the government and the workers went on for most of the 1980s.


Romania's first communist leader, Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, died in 1965, and was succeeded by his protegé, Nicolae Ceausescu. Once his position was secure, Ceausescu began leading the country on a dangerous form of tightrope diplomacy--act as independent of the USSR as possible without triggering Soviet intervention. To start with, Romania remained in the Warsaw Pact, but did not allow the stationing of Red Army troops within its borders; it also refused to submit to Soviet economic planning. During the Sino-Soviet quarrel, Romanian newspapers printed the arguments of both major powers, and Chinese leaders made regular visits to Bucharest. Romania condemned the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan; moreover, it sent athletes to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, defying the communist boycott imposed on the games. Romania even had good relations with Israel, which was unthinkable in the rest of the communist world. Thus, Romania became the same sort of maverick for the East that de Gaulle's France was for the West. The USSR permitted all this because Romania was not on the border of any NATO country; furthermore, Ceausescu wasn't interested in spreading his ideas to other Soviet Bloc states.

Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceausescu.

Ceausescu was praised in the West as a champion of national self-determination. The Queen of England knighted him, and France granted him its Legion of Honor. Though his wife Elena was a dropout who could barely read, Ceausescu demanded that she be made a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and the Royal Institute of Chemistry--and both of those institutions accepted her, to avoid causing an incident. When he made a state visit to France, in the place where he stayed, everything worth taking was stolen, so when he came to London in 1978, Queen Elizabeth II prevented more kleptomania by having his guest rooms stripped of all valuables.

Romanian foreign policy concealed what Ceausescu was doing to his own people. There was persecution of the country's Hungarian minority, he tried to destroy the culture of the peasants by uprooting and resettling them in drab apartment complexes, and he filled the country with secret police. To gain much needed capital from abroad, he exported the country's abundant meat, grain and oil, making those items scarce at home.

Ceausescu's early success went to his head, causing him to build a personality cult around himself that rivaled Stalin's. He called himself "the Genius of the Carpathians," and became the first communist leader to carry a scepter in public. When the famous artist Salvador Dalí sent him a telegram congratulating him for "introducing the presidential scepter," Ceausescu didn't realize Dali was making fun of him, and passed the note on to the Romanian newspapers, which published it the next day. In the 1980s Ceausescu grew paranoid and senile. Fearing that his clothing might be poisoned, he wore a new suit every day and had his clothes and shoes burned after a single wearing. For the trips he made, he brought his own food in a cooler, which was kept under armed guard (of course). When Ceaucescu went to Washington, DC, the US government let him stay at Blair House, the usual guest house for visiting heads of state, but before he arrived, his staff cleaned and disinfected the place, replaced the linens and pillows with approved Romanian ones, and installed radiation detectors. For his people, Ceaucescu launched strange economic programs and megalomaniac building projects that impoverished the country. By 1989 Romania was tied with Albania for the dubious title of Europe's poorest, most oppressed nation.

The craziest of Ceausescu's projects was a palace called the "People's House," meant to house himself and the entire national government. You may have thought Versailles was a grand palace (see Chapter 11), but for Ceausescu it wasn't grand enough; his palace is the world's largest government building, the most expensive administrative building (it cost $10 billion to build), and the heaviest building. By putting it in the historic district of Bucharest, he forced the tearing down of twenty-two churches (nineteen Orthodox, three Protestant), six synagogues and 30,000 homes to make room for it.

You can see what a ridiculous idea the palace was by what present-day Romania has done with it. It wasn't completed until 1997, eight years after Ceausescu's death, and the Romanians first renamed it the House of Ceausescu; then after both of the legislative houses moved in, it became the Palace of the Parliament. But even today, with the whole Parliament in there, only 30 percent of the building is being used.


Under Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia enjoyed its best years, but even then "Splitsville" might have been a more appropriate name. The country was divided into six republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia), each for a different ethnic group. In addition, Serbia had two autonomous districts: Voyvodina, with a Hungarian minority, and Kosovo with its Albanian majority. Because he had mixed Croat-Slovene ancestry, Tito discriminated in favor of the non-Serbs whenever there was a boundary question. The result was that he drew the borders so that there were Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, but no Croats or Bosnians in Serbia.

Yugoslavia before 1991.
Tito's Yugoslavia, showing the republics and autonomous districts.

In foreign policy, Tito successfully cultivated his image as the head of a neutral state. At international conferences he often appeared with other famous neutral leaders, like India's Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. He also entertained Khrushchev and Brezhnev when they visited Belgrade, but neither guest could persuade him to return to the Soviet fold. At the United Nations, Yugoslavia generally voted with other communist countries on most issues, but condemned the Soviets for intervening in Korea and Czechoslovakia. The last conference he attended was the 1979 meeting of the nonaligned nations in Havana, and there he claimed he was a better representative of the Third World than the host, Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Economics proved to be the one challenge Tito couldn't overcome. The 1950s and 60s saw rapid growth, urbanization and industrialization, as Western nations rushed to do business with Yugoslavia; the country also became a popular tourist destination. However, the incoming money was not distributed evenly. Slovenia, Croatia and Voyvodina became the richest areas, while Kosovo was the poorest. From 1965 to 1988, a massive welfare program transferred funds from rich republics to poor ones. It didn't work, and the controversial program was abandoned because it produced no significant results. The Slovenes and Croats came to resent the Serbs for taking their profits away, calling it an abuse of federal power against the republics, while Kosovo's lack of development suggested that much of the money earmarked for it never reached the intended destinations. During Tito's final years, the country suffered from inflation, unemployment and strikes, and the trade deficit bloomed to $15 billion per year, one of the world's highest.

Tito died in 1980, after two months in the hospital. The mourning at his funeral was real, because all Yugoslavs knew that nobody could hold the country together as well as he had. The 1974 constitution called for Tito's successors to set up a rotating government, where the leaders of the republics, and the leaders of the two autonomous districts, took turns as president, each serving for one year. The system worked for a decade, so all eight regions got their turn in the president's chair. Still, a solution like this is not a formula for stability, and the deteriorating economy eventually undermined it.

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Fascism's Last Stand

Winston Churchill may have called the Mediterranean "the soft underbelly of the Axis beast," but in Spain, Portugal and Greece, harsh dictatorships existed long after the war. Spain's Francisco Franco called the Loyalists "Reds" who had been "anti-Spain," imprisoned hundreds of thousands, and executed 37,000 opponents by 1943. By then, the Allies were winning the big war against the Axis powers, so Franco eased up to avoid their wrath. Nevertheless, until the beginning of the Korean War, the United Nations ostracized his regime, and many countries cut off diplomatic and other relations with Spain. With the complicity of France, surviving Loyalists started a new guerrilla war. Most of Spain saw guerrilla activity well into the 1950s.

During the Cold War, the Americans were willing to forgive Spain in return for Spanish support against communism, so in 1953 Spain gave the United States the right to use Spanish air and naval bases, in return for important military and economic aid. Two years later, Spain was finally allowed to join the UN. However, Franco's fascist origins were not completely forgotten; many European nations remained unfriendly, and Spain was kept out of NATO. Still, open hostility ended, and Spain was no longer a pariah nation.

Franco had the backing of three conservative factions: the army, the Falange Party, and the Church. In 1947 he announced that Spain would return to monarchy after his death, but waited until 1969 to choose an heir: Juan Carlos, grandson of the last Bourbon king, Alfonso XIII. During the second half of his reign, Franco released control over business and labor, and Spain's economy finally industrialized. Abroad, Spain avoided wars in Africa by giving its colonies (Equatorial Guinea, the Western Sahara and part of Morocco) independence. The country saw unprecedented growth, foreign investment and socioeconomic change during the 1960s, but in politics El Caudillo (the Leader) remained oppressive; in fact, he ruled by martial law from 1962 to 1970. This was because he could not suppress the Basques in the north and the Catalans in the northeast, after peace had returned everywhere else. The Catalans weren't really Spanish, and they remembered how on several occasions they had been part of France (see Chapters 7, 11 and 12). The 1931 revolution had given the Catalans their own president and parliament, but they lost these gains when Franco took over, because of their support for the Loyalists. It took a restoration of limited Catalan autonomy to satisfy the folks in Barcelona, and that didn't happen until 1977, two years after Franco's death.

The Basques were far more difficult to please. Four hundred years of Spanish rule had not extinguished their desire to be free; one of their favorite mottos was: "Neither slave nor tyrant." Like the Catalans, the Basques enjoyed autonomy from 1931 to 1939, and under Franco they formed a separatist movement called the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Liberty). In 1969 they began a campaign of terrorism, and the government responded with counter violence against random targets in the Basque provinces. One year later several ETA members were sentenced to death, but international pressure caused the government to back down and commute the sentences. The ETA scored its biggest success in 1973, when a car bomb assassinated Premier Luis Carrero Blanco. The regime was badly shaken, but the next premier, Carlos Arias Navarro, chose liberalization instead of repression; his program included the legalization of political associations, which had been banned since 1939. Hard-core Phalangists opposed this, and after they sabotaged Arias's attempted reforms, they passed a law requiring the death penalty for terrorists who killed police. As a result, five Basques were executed in September 1975, but this was the last hurrah for the fascists. Already gravely ill, Franco went into the hospital around this time; two months and five heart attacks later, he was dead.

Juan Carlos never wanted to be anything more than a constitutional monarch, so the fascist regime was quickly dismantled. In July 1976 he appointed Adolfo Suárez González, a moderate Phalangist, to succeed Arias, and Suárez successfully led Spain's transition to democracy. First Suárez introduced the Political Reform Law, which was approved by referendum in December 1976; then he legalized the Communist Party, despite strong army objections. In June 1977 the first democratic elections in four decades gave him a vote of approval; his new party, the Union of the Democratic Center (UDC), won 34 percent of the vote, with the Socialists a close second. A new democratic constitution, introduced in 1978, did much to decentralize the government by granting autonomy to seventeen regions, especially Catalonia and the Basque country.

Suárez ran into problems after that. His policy of cooperation with other parties broke down, and the economy went into a recession. He resigned in January 1981, and was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo. This administration only lasted for a little more than a year; the main accomplishment was Calvo Sotelo's decision to have Spain join NATO. The next time elections took place (October 1982), the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, led by Felipe González Márquez, won a decisive victory. Despite his leftist background, González acted moderately once in office, and thus was able to manage the country for fifteen years.

Among the fascist regimes of twentieth-century Europe, Portugal's was both the least belligerent and the longest lived. Antonio Salazar ruled for forty years, giving us some idea of how long Adolf Hitler might have lasted, if he hadn't been such a bully-boy; Salazar never even set foot outside of Portugal. However, he also presided over a terribly backward country; the Portuguese were 30 percent illiterate, and had the second highest infant mortality rate in Europe.

We already noted that Portugal sat out World War II, but its economy suffered anyway. The fishing industry declined, exports lessened, and refugees crowded the country; in the Pacific, Japan's occupation of Timor didn't do the Portuguese any good. By the end of the war, unemployment and poverty were widespread, but the National Union remained in total control. In May 1947, after crushing an attempted revolt, the government deported numerous labor leaders and army officers to the Cape Verde Islands. Marshal Carmona died in April 1951 and General Francisco Lopes, another ally of Salazar, became the next president. Lopes served until 1958 and was then in turn succeeded by Rear Admiral Américo Deus Tomás.

The brush fire of nationalism which had brought down other colonial empires spread to Portugal's colonies around this time. Rebellions broke out in Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea) during the early 1960s, while India annexed Portuguese Goa in 1961. Lisbon tried both the stick and the carrot; it sent in the army against each rebellion, while granting Portuguese citizenship to Africans in the territories. Neither had much effect, and the United Nations condemned Portugal for waging "colonial wars."

Salazar's long reign ended when he was incapacitated by a stroke in 1968. Marcello Caetano, a law professor and businessman and a longtime associate of Salazar, became the new prime minister. Although Caetano called for reforms when he took office, he continued Salazar's repressive policies, especially in Africa. This, combined with defeats at the hands of African liberation movements, persuaded a group of leftist army officers that the time had come to end fascism. They overthrew the Caetano government on April 25, 1974; a seven-man junta, under Gen António de Spínola, promised democracy at home and peace for the colonies. It kept both promises; by the end of 1975, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, the Cape Verde Islands, São Tomé & Príncipe, and Angola were independent. Portugal also got out of East Timor, but instead of independence coming, Indonesia seized that territory.(6) A socialist, Vasco Gonçalves, became prime minister in July. Spínola resigned the presidency on September 30, warning of growing Communist influence; he was replaced by General Francisco da Costa Gomes. The return of troops and European settlers from Africa aggravated Portugal's problems of unemployment and political unrest.

1975 was a year of near-anarchy for Portugal. In March a right-wing coup attempt, reportedly directed by Spínola, was suppressed. In April the Socialists led in the voting for a constituent assembly. Gonçalves formed a new government, but it proved unstable. After a series of clashes between Socialists and Communists, followed by violent anti-Communist demonstrations, the military established a triumvirate consisting of Costa Gomes, Gonçalves, and General Otelo de Carvalho, Portugal's security chief. In September, at the army's insistence, Gonçalves was replaced as prime minister by Vice Admiral José de Azevedo. Under the Azevedo government, stability began to return. New parliamentary elections gave the Socialists a plurality of the vote in April 1976, and their leader, Mário Soares, became prime minister. Unfortunately for Soares, the country experienced severe economic problems for the next two years, and in mid-1978 Soares was dismissed. After Soares came two short-lived interim governments; then in December 1979 the conservative Democratic Alliance, headed by Francisco Manuel de Sá Carneiro, won a clear majority in parliamentary elections.

Sá Carneiro served as premier until he was killed in a plane crash the following December. The next premier was another conservative, Francisco Pinto Balsemão. On his initiative, a constitutional amendment abolished the military Council of the Revolution (1982). Parliamentary elections in April 1983 brought Soares back into power as prime minister. This time Soares' government introduced an austerity program and conducted negotiations to bring Portugal into the Common Market. New elections in October 1985 led to the formation of a minority government under a Social Democrat, Aníbal Cavaco Silva. Soares returned as president following elections in 1986, but he now ran a minority government; the Social Democrats controlled both the prime minister's office and parliament until the general elections of October 1995. In January 1996, Aníbal Cavaco Silva ran for president and was soundly defeated by the Socialist candidate Jorge Sampaio, marking the first time since the 1974 coup that both premier and president came from the same party.

In Greece, political instability caused the postwar constitutional monarchy to slide into dictatorship. In 1952 the right-wing Greek Rally party won the election, and Field Marshal Alexandros Papagos became prime minister. After Papagos died in 1955, King Paul chose another conservative, Konstantinos Karamanlis (1907-98), as his successor; he would be the most important figure in Greek politics in the late twentieth century.

For Greek citizens and politicians, Cyprus was by far the most important issue. Under British rule since 1878, this island had a population that was 80 percent Greek, 20 percent Turkish. Greek Cypriots wanted to become part of Greece, while Turkey declared itself the protector of the Turkish Cypriot minority. The two sides and Britain reached an agreement which allowed Cyprus to become an independent nation in 1960, but bad memories of the Greco-Turkish war in the 1920s helped make sure that no agreement would last for long; the elaborate plan for power-sharing between the Greek and Turkish communities soon broke down in violence.

Karamanlis narrowly won the elections of 1958 and 1961. However, allegations that the 1961 election had been manipulated made this a hollow victory. Georgios Papandreou, a centrist and the main opponent of Karamanlis, fought a vigorous campaign to overturn the result of the election; growing resentment toward the government's autocratic policies worked in his favor. Eventually Karamanlis had to resign, and the next election (February 1964) gave Papandreou's Center Union party a clear majority. Papandreou didn't do better, though; his administration lasted for only seventeen months. There was the crisis in Cyprus, and he was unable to get along either with the conservatives or with the new king, Constantine II, who had succeeded Paul in March 1964. When Papandreou moved to assume control of the Ministry of Defense, he was accused of seeking to protect his leftist son, Andreas, and the king refused to sanction the move. Papandreou resigned in July 1965; massive demonstrations followed, because the center and the left resented the king's action, while the right, which included anticommunists in the armed forces, saw the younger Papandreou as a dangerous radical.

On April 21, 1967, a group of army officers, led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, launched a bloodless military coup. The junta, which came to be known as the Colonels, claimed that they had acted to prevent a communist coup, although no evidence for this ever appeared. What really motivated the Colonels was a wish to stop the elections scheduled for May, which many expected would return the Papandreous to power. Then the regime rounded up hundreds of people with records of left-wing political activity and sent them to prison camps, where reports of torture and mistreatment soon emerged. There had been military juntas in Greece before World War II, but at least they had shared power with civilians who agreed with them. Now the Colonels showed by their actions that all power would remain in their hands until further notice; they suspended the constitution, abolished political parties, imposed censorship, and undid the reforms of the Papandreou government. When a counter coup by the king failed in December 1967, Constantine II went into exile, ending the Greek monarchy.

Western governments often criticized the junta but took no formal action against it. In fact, the United States continued to provide aid, because it saw Greece as a crucial front-line member of NATO. In a 1973 referendum where he was the only candidate, Papadopoulos was elected to an eight-year term as president. University students responded with anti-government demonstrations and the occupation of the Athens Metsoveion Polytechnical University; the military brutally suppressed the occupation, and killed many students. Papadopoulos was ousted by an even more extreme hard-liner, Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis, who led the much feared military police.

In the end, it was Cyprus that brought down the junta. That hot spot blew up in the summer of 1974 when Greek Cypriots, with the support of Ioannidis, launched a coup against Archbishop Makarios, the president of Cyprus, who had made no secret of his dislike for the junta. Turkey invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish Cypriots, and within a few days occupied the whole northern side of the island. Nobody abroad raised a finger to help Greece, and instead of mobilizing to fight the Turks, the incompetent government collapsed; the army did not fight to hold on, but simply went back to its barracks. Karamanlis, who had been living in Paris since 1963, returned and was sworn in as prime minister, bringing the dictatorship to an end without bloodshed.

Two quick elections gave a "yes" vote to Karamanlis and a "no" vote to restoring the monarchy, so in June 1975 the parliament approved a constitution which split executive power between the prime minister and a president. The first president, Konstantinos Tsatsos, was an ally of Karamanlis. In the next election (1977), Andreas Papandreou's radical Panhellenic Socialist Movement (known by its Greek acronym, PASOK) emerged as the principal opposition party, with a 25 percent share of the vote. In May 1980 Karamanlis was elected president and relinquished his post as prime minister to another ally, Georgios Rallis. As president, Karamanlis achieved one of his long-standing objectives when he secured Greece's entry into the Common Market (1981).

The October 1981 elections gave the PASOK party 48 percent of the vote; thus, Papandreou became Greece's first socialist prime minister. Papandreou's campaign platform included a heavy dose of anti-Americanism; many Greeks blamed the United States for supporting the junta. Once in power, however, Papandreou did not carry out his threats to withdraw Greece from NATO and the Common Market. In March 1985 Papandreou secured the election of his chosen candidate, Christos Sartzetakis, to replace Karamanlis as president.

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The Nations That Tried to Buy Happiness

For the rest of the twentieth century, the minor nations of western Europe continued to make a high standard of living their first priority, and since only the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark had colonies, most chose to let their stronger neighbors take care of defense needs. Scandinavia, Benelux(7) and Switzerland developed the world's most advanced welfare states, where spending on social services grew to absorb nearly the entire national budget.

Belgium faced a royal succession crisis in the immediate postwar years. Many Belgians were disgusted by the defeatist attitude of their king, Leopold III; he surrendered without warning in 1940, and the Nazis locked him up in Austria. The Belgian government in exile declared the king's surrender "illegal and unconstitutional," voted to remove him, and elected Leopold's brother, Prince Charles, as regent. After the Allies liberated Belgium, the Belgian parliament extended the regency of Prince Charles indefinitely, effectively exiling Leopold.

On March 12, 1950, after more than a year of political crises brought on by the controversy over the king, Belgium held a plebiscite on the question of Leopold's return; the return of the king was favored by 57.6 percent of the voters. Leopold came home, and strikes, demonstrations, and riots occurred in many urban areas of the country, until a civil war looked possible. On August 1, after consultations with government and political leaders, Leopold agreed to assign his royal prerogatives to his son, Crown Prince Baudouin, and to abdicate the following year, when his son came of age. Leopold abdicated on July 16, 1951, and Baudouin ruled until in 1993, when he was succeeded by his brother, Albert II.

When Norway declared independence in 1905, Iceland and Greenland remained under Danish rule. Nazi Germany's occupation of Denmark in 1940 prompted Britain to occupy Iceland with its own troops; in 1941 the United States sent soldiers to both Greenland and Iceland, relieving the British so they could concentrate on defending their homes. The treaty which united Iceland with Denmark expired in 1943, and because Denmark was still occupied, the Icelanders voted in early 1944 to sever all ties with Denmark. Thus, Iceland celebrated independence while under the rule of a foreign power. Americans are still stationed on Greenland and Iceland today, but since the war ended they have been defense partners, not an occupation force. In 1985 the Althing unanimously passed a resolution that banned the entry of nuclear weapons into Iceland.

After independence, fishing rights became the main political issue for Iceland. In 1958 Iceland decided to extend its fisheries jurisdiction from 4 to 12 miles offshore, thereby closing that zone to foreigners. Britain responded by sending warships to protect British trawlers in Icelandic waters; the resulting dispute was called the "Cod War." Iceland eventually had its way, because fishing was far more important to the Icelanders than it was to the British. Two more Cod Wars occurred when the Icelanders enlarged their territorial waters to 50 miles in 1972 and 200 miles in 1975. It was not until 1977 that Iceland became the undisputed master of this vital resource.

Because of its small population and the bitterly cold climate, Greenland does not feel it is ready to make a complete break with the mother country. In January 1979, the Greenlanders voted for home rule. The result was that Denmark pulled out of local affairs; Greenlandic (an Inuit dialect containing several Danish words) became the official language, and Inuit geographical names replaced Danish ones. Now Greenland sends two representatives to the Danish parliament, while Denmark retains ultimate control over foreign policy. Still, the Greenlanders are able to act independent when they feel like it; in 1985 they pulled out of the Common Market, though Denmark stayed in that organization.

Finland and Sweden refused to take sides during the Cold War, and waited until after it ended to join the European Union. In the case of Finland, neutrality was forced by the Russians, though Finnish sentiments were pro-Western; outsiders described this situation with the derogatory term "Finlandization." Sweden has been under the rule of the Social Democratic Party for most of the years since 1932. Under a leftist prime minister, Olaf Palme (1969-76 and 1982-86), Sweden gave shelter to American opponents of the Vietnam War and actively supported communist movements in the Third World; this seriously strained relations with the United States and endangered Sweden's neutral reputation.

Sweden's famous cradle-to-grave care for its citizens began with the establishment of old age pensions in 1911. A long period of prosperity and peace allowed the welfare state to grow steadily, adding healthcare, housing, and job security programs. To pay for this, taxes on the citizens were among the world's highest, and so was the budget deficit. Excesses on the part of the Social Democrats caused them to be voted out of office in 1976 and 1991, but the Swedes were not willing to give up their safety net, so the center-right coalitions that replaced the Social Democrats could never hold on long enough to make serious spending cuts.

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Northern Ireland's Troubles

The fighting in twentieth-century Ireland, particularly that in the north since 1969, has been a long, smoldering conflict, rather than a fiery all-out war. It dragged on for decades, killing more than 3,000 soldiers, police and civilians, because both sides were absolutely inflexible; Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) wanted nothing less than home rule over all of Ireland; the population of the north, which is 60 percent Protestant, refused to be part of a state where it would be a minority. Britain spends more on Northern Ireland than it takes in from commerce and revenue, but London has repeatedly said that it will stay as long as Ulster's people want it to stay. The IRA nearly became extinct in the years between 1922 and 1969, and often has not learned from its mistakes, but it has shown that it can continue to struggle on a small scale indefinitely, far beyond the life span of any participant. Its strategy, like that of the Vietnamese against the French and Americans, is to wear down its opponents, until in the end they will want to give up.

In the south, Eamon de Valera was voted out of office in 1948. The next prime minister, John Costello, broke the remaining ties with Britain, by changing the Irish Free State's name to the Republic of Ireland (something the British had never wanted), and by withdrawing from the British Commonwealth in 1949. Then he declared that Ireland would remain neutral in outside conflicts, and that Irish foreign policy would follow three guidelines: it would obey the UN Charter, stay out of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and support the battle of "Christian civilization" against communism. The second and third principles would have worked against each other if communism came to Ireland; fortunately that didn't happen. This wasn't the end of de Valera's career, though. The founder of the Irish Free State remained as active in politics as ever, despite his age, and finally got to be the head of state for a third time--he served as president from 1959 to 1973. When he finally retired, two years before his death, he was blind and ninety-one years old.

The IRA began a new campaign in the north in 1956, which it grandly called "the Border War." It proved to be a dud; nineteen IRA men and members of the Northern Ireland police were killed, and acts of violence caused a million pounds worth of damage, but Northern Ireland's Catholics stayed loyal. Eventually Dublin renounced all association with terrorism, forcing the IRA to call off its attacks in 1962. After that the IRA might have faded away, as other unsuccessful insurgent movements have done, but two factors kept it alive: the old antagonism between Britons and Irish, and the dislike of Protestants and Catholics for each other. Add to this a third factor, discrimination against Catholics in the north, and the IRA found enough recruits to give it another chance. Catholic Ulstermen found the best jobs, the best schools, and houses in the best neighborhoods, denied to them; nor were they allowed more than a tiny voice in the local government. The fighting between Catholics and Protestants never became a religious war like those during the Reformation; neither side wished to convert the other. Instead, the struggle has always been an economic one, in which the terms "Protestant" and "Catholic" became the most convenient political labels.(8)

Inspired by the black civil rights movement in the USA, the Catholics organized a civil rights movement of their own in 1968, to protest against discrimination. Moderate Protestants recognized that treating the Catholics as second-class citizens couldn't go on forever, but there was a violent overreaction from the right wing of the ruling Ulster Unionist Party, which saw the civil rights movement as a front for the IRA. Northern Ireland's police, the "B Specials," were first turned loose against the demonstrators, then allowed to terrorize the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast and Londonderry. By August 1969 the situation had become a virtual civil war, with the IRA and the Protestant Ulster Defense Association engaged in demonstrations, street fighting, bombings, and assassinations. The pattern of violence became tit-for-tat; if a Protestant was killed one day, a Catholic would be killed next, and vice-versa.

London sent in the British army to help the police restore order, and soon they found they had to stay, to limit Protestant reaction. They also became a target for the IRA, and they gave back a heavy-handed response; one of the best-known examples was "Bloody Sunday," where the army killed thirteen civilians in Londonderry (January 30, 1972). In 1970 a radical IRA faction, the Provisional IRA, broke away from the main body of the group, due to the latter's failure to protect Northern Ireland's Catholics from the police. In 1971 internment (imprisonment without trial) was introduced to combat terrorism. One year later London abolished the Northern Ireland Parliament and imposed direct rule. In 1974 it introduced a 15-member council, the Northern Ireland executive, made up of both Protestants and Roman Catholics, and led by the Unionist prime minister, Brian Faulkner. Protestant extremists, like the Reverend Ian Paisley, refused to share power with the "Papists," so they used a general strike to bring down the coalition in the same year.

Overall, the IRA wasn't very successful at winning either battles or international support. They hijacked no airplanes, and about all they did beyond the British Isles was some fund-raising in the United States. However, they did become very skilled in three activities: bank robberies, sniping, and most of all bombing. In 1973 the provisional IRA sent a unit, the "Balcombe Street Gang," over to Britain, and it conducted a vicious bombing campaign until its members were arrested in 1975. More IRA bombers ambushed a party of British soldiers, killing eighteen of them, and on the same day in 1979, the IRA blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten, a member of the royal family and the last viceroy of India, as he was sailing in his yacht off the Irish coast. In 1981 the IRA tried a new tactic to gain sympathy; several members in a Belfast prison went on a hunger strike, to gain the right to be treated as prisoners of war. The most famous of the hunger strikers, Bobby Sands, actually got himself elected to Parliament just days before he starved himself to death. Each resulting death set off more violence, but London refused to give in; the current prime minister, Margaret Thatcher (the "Iron Lady"), was less conciliatory than her predecessors had been.

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The Common Market

Europeans gradually came to realize that if they were going to compete with the strongest economies abroad (the United States, Japan and the Soviet Bloc), they would have to cooperate among themselves; only then would they have resources and manpower on the scale of their rivals. The politicians of the late twentieth century encouraged their citizens to put aside their differences and work together for that reason. They found this a tough challenge, because Europeans have far more languages and cultures than America's thirteen ex-colonies had when they fused to form the United States, leading to disagreement and misunderstanding every step of the way.(9) When Britain first applied to join the Common Market (1960), Edward Heath, the future prime minister, declared that "Europe must unite or perish." So far Europe has done neither, but it has been an uphill struggle toward unity nonetheless.

Here the Low Countries led the way, because they were too small to compete with even a single European power by themselves. In 1948 they formed the Benelux Customs Union (renamed the Benelux Economic Union in 1960), which provided for a free trade zone between them and a common tariff imposed on goods from outside the Union. The result was a single economy containing 25 million people-a credible contender in the world of commerce. Because it worked so well for them, the leaders of these countries became the warmest advocates of European cooperation.

The man who got the larger European states involved was Jean-Claude Monnet (1888-1979), a French finance minister in the 1930s and a leading figure in France's postwar recovery. Monnet's real passion was not the rebuilding of France, but the creation of a whole new Europe, and he inspired so many others with this dream that they called him "the Father of Europe." In 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, proposed a union of the continent's coal and steel industries, and six countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) agreed to try it; Monnet led the ECSC (European Coal & Steel Community) from 1952 to 1955.

Next, representatives of the ECSC member nations, led by Belgian foreign minister Paul-Henri Spaak, met in Sicily in 1955 to create a more comprehensive cooperative. Eventually they signed a treaty in Rome to confirm their agreements, and in 1958 the ECSC became the European Economic Community (EEC), better known as the Common Market. Thanks to the early lead taken by Belgium in the unity movement, Brussels hosted the Common Market's headquarters. The EEC was an immediate success; together, the six founding states made up the world's largest exporter and the second largest importer.

The original goals of the EEC were to eliminate all tariffs and customs between member nations, and create a single set of tariffs to use when dealing with nonmembers like the United States. This process was completed with the passage of the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986. However, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak and others expected political unity would follow, once economic unity became a reality; they often spoke of forming a "United States of Europe." A Council of Ministers was set up, as well as a Court of Justice to resolve disputes among members, and a European Parliament, first elected in 1979; the European Parliament serves mainly as a debating body, but has some power over the budget and can dissolve the EEC's ruling commission by a two-thirds vote.

From the EEC's start, other nations were invited to join it. Britain objected to the loss of control over national policies that would come with integration, so it attempted to persuade its neighbors to create a free trade area instead. After the EEC treaty was ratified, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, and Portugal created a competing organization, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA treaty provided only for the elimination of tariffs on industrial products among the member nations; it did not affect agricultural products, nor did it provide a common external tariff, and members could withdraw at any time. Thus the EFTA was a much weaker union than the Common Market. A few years later, Britain changed its mind and applied for membership, but because of de Gaulle, the British were left out until he retired, as we saw previously. Britain finally was admitted, along with Ireland and Denmark, in 1973.(10)

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The End of the Cold War

When Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform Soviet society by introducing glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring"), the result was that the Soviet Union began to look more like its Western rivals, and then it suddenly imploded in 1991. In other communist countries, news stories about what was happening in the USSR triggered a wave of revolutionary activity. Some of these states had enjoyed democratic governments before World War II, so the people accepted these changes wholeheartedly. The result was that 1989 was the busiest year for revolutions since 1848.

The first action came, not surprisingly, from the Poles. The Polish labor union, Solidarity, was made legal again in April 1989. New elections were held right away, with stunning results: the Communist Party tried rigging the elections to make sure that it would win 65 of the 100 contested seats in the Polish Senate, but pro-Solidarity candidates got so many of the votes that they won 99 seats anyway. A transitional government was set up; Jaruzelski stepped down from running the government, though he kept control over the army, and Solidarity's newspaper editor, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, became the new president. A year and a half later presidential elections were held, and this time Lech Walesa replaced Mazowiecki. The Polish break with Russia was now complete.

More was in store before 1989 ended. Hungary got rid of its "Iron Curtain" by removing the barbed-wire fence along the Austrian border(11), and in October the Hungarian Communist Party voted itself out of existence, renaming itself the Hungarian Socialist Party and announcing that there would be a multiparty government from now on. East Germany refused to go with the trend at first, but the mass defection of more than 100,000 East Germans to the West (via Hungary and Czechoslovakia) brought down both the government and the dreaded Berlin Wall in November. The end of the Berlin Wall, shown around the world on television, became the high point of the revolution; Berliners climbed up on the wall and celebrated, or took hammers and began knocking holes into the structure; East German troops stood aside and watched, because they had no orders to stop these civilians (see the picture below). Talks on the reunification of East and West Germany began immediately(12), and eleven months later East Germany ceased to exist. At first East Germany's ex-leader stayed, but when people started talking about putting Erich Honecker on trial for the deaths of those who tried to get over the Berlin Wall before 1989, he fled the country, eventually dying in exile (Chile, 1994). On June 20, 1991, the newly elected Bundestag, representing both East and West, named Berlin the new capital of Germany, though the transfer of government offices from Bonn took so long that Bonn remained the real capital for the rest of the 1990s.

The Berlin Wall in 1989.
German civilians knock down another chunk of the Berlin Wall.

The Czech and Bulgarian governments were the next to go, and both gave up in November. Vaclav Havel, a Czech playwright, came out of prison to become eastern Europe's most charismatic leader in only 59 days. In Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov, who had been dictator for 35 years, was also thrown out, but the Communist Party was re-elected in the 1990 elections; once again the Bulgarians proved they were Russia's best friend in the Balkans. A poster in Prague summarized the accelerating pace of change:

Poland -- Ten Years
Hungary -- Ten Months
East Germany -- Ten Weeks
Czechoslovakia -- Ten Days

Before long the above poster needed another line: Romania -- Ten Hours. Nicolae Ceausescu tried to keep the winds of reform out of his country by sealing off the borders with Hungary, Bulgaria, and even the Soviet Union; however, this failed to keep Romania's most celebrated citizen, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, from defecting to the United States. In the western town of Timisoara, the arrest of a dissident priest sparked demonstrations that were brutally suppressed with tanks and gunfire. Ceausescu attempted to restore confidence with a massive rally, only to get booed by a hostile crowd, in a scene that was broadcast all over the country. As elsewhere in eastern Europe, the Romanians were no longer afraid of their government, and this doomed communism. A Romanian flag with a hole in the middle--where the Communist Party emblem had been cut out--quickly became the symbol of the revolution. Ceausescu and his wife tried to go into hiding, but they were captured by the army--which now was on the side of the people--tried, and shot on Christmas day. The last days of 1989 saw battles in the streets between the army and the pro-Ceausescu Securitate police. Whereas the revolutions had been peaceful in the other ex-satellites, here an estimated 70,000 Romanians were killed before the police surrendered. The new government immediately disbanded the Securitate and the Communist Party, but the organization that took their place, the National Salvation Front (NSF), contained many former communists, including the new president, Ion Iliescu.

Incidentally, it is fitting that all of the above revolutions happened in 1989, the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

This is the End of Chapter 17.


1. Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), p. 497.

2. Soviet Bloc members beyond Europe eventually included Mongolia, China (until 1960), Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.

3. David Rees, The Age of Containment (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967), p. 23.

4. Like other communist dictators, Hoxha banned Western movies and TV programs, but he made an exception for the movies of Norman Wisdom, an obscure British comedian. Wisdom resonated with Hoxha because he played a member of the working class, outwitting those who had more money and power than he did. After Hoxha was gone from the scene, Wisdom remained tremendously popular in Albania; when asked why, the comedian just said, "They must be raving mad."

5. The Germans have a reputation for building excellent automobiles, like the Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes, but that didn't apply to East Germany. The official East German car, the Trabant, became a symbol of communist inefficiency and bad ideas; many consider it the worst car ever made, even worse than the Yugo. For a start, it had a two-cylinder, 25 HP engine; the Germans tried to build a stronger one, but Moscow, in the name of socialist brotherhood, insisted on having a monopoly on strong motors. When Time Magazine did a story on the Trabant, it compared its performance with a riding lawnmower, since that was the only western vehicle with the same kind of horsepower. East Germans claimed a Trabant would get stuck if it ran over a piece of gum, and told jokes like: "How do you double the value of a Trabant? Fill it up!" The little cars did play a heroic role in 1989, each carrying as many as seven passengers across the border when the barriers between East and West came down. After unification, demand for the Trabant disappeared, now that West German cars were available in the East. The last Trabants were built in 1991.

6. After independence, Portugal took part in the negotiations to end the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, and was also a leader in the movement to end Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. In 1999 Portugal returned Macao to China.
In July 1996 Portugal and six former colonies--Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé & Príncipe--created the Commonwealth of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP). The CPLP seeks to preserve the Portuguese language, coordinate diplomatic efforts, and improve cooperation among its members.

7. The modern term for the Low Countries, taken from the first syllable in each country's name: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

8. Even the colors on the Irish flag represent political and religious division: green for the Catholics, orange for the Protestants, and white to keep them apart!


9. Europeans joke that Heaven is the kind of place where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and everything is run by the Swiss. On the other hand, Hell is the kind of place where the police are German, the cooks are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is run by the Italians!

10. Norway considered joining the Common Market, but Norwegian voters rejected the proposal every time it came up. In 2001 the Swiss also voted no; they're not ready to give up their famous neutrality just yet.

11. They sold it in pieces to souvenir-hunters, and entrepreneurial East Germans did the same with the Berlin Wall when it was torn down.

12. The end of the Cold War also meant it was finally possible to pass a treaty defining Germany's role in the modern world, replacing the temporary agreements made at Potsdam. The four Allied nations that had occupied Germany in the late 1940s, plus the governments of East and West Germany, met in 1990 to negotiate the terms of what they called the "Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany." Under this, the Allies renounced all rights they had held previously, especially in Berlin, and for the first time since World War II, Germany became a fully sovereign state, with no restrictions on its foreign policy or the size of its military. The treaty was signed in Moscow on September 12, 1990, and went into effect on March 15, 1991, after reunification had taken place. Because of the number of participants, you could say that here the equation was 4 + 2 = 1, and technically speaking, World War II ended with this treaty, forty-five years after the fighting had stopped. But if you think forty-five years is a long time to tie up loose ends, remember from Chapter 3 how long it took to end the Punic Wars!

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