Key Facts & Summary:
- The satellite countries of the USSR (Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, GDR, Yugoslavia and Albania) experienced, under Soviet domination, a totalitarian regime comparable to that prevailing in the USSR.
- From the 1950s, there were disputes in these countries. They were quickly repressed (Hungarian revolt in 1956). With the arrival of Gorbachev in 1985, a policy based on the modernization of the system was introduced: Perestroika. Communist regimes fell from the late 1980s.
- In 2004, the majority of satellite countries in the USSR joined the EU.
It is already true to say that the countries of Europe Western society constituted one of the main lines of the West while the satellite countries present one of the main (if not the main) lines of weakness of the Communist bloc. We can see in the rejection by the Kremlin to Western Europe the proof of its reality. The hate and tension that existed between the Communist bloc and the Western countries was surprising.
The Western powers clearly did not know how to take advantage of the situation that existed beyond the iron curtain. The Russians provided in the fifties a fine example of what a smart policy can get when it acts on the weak points of the opponent and in the direction of the revolution.
This precedent even made it possible to assume that the rule of game in the period of coexistence was to pass on positions of neutrality of the countries which until now either were part of the opposing camp or were swaying towards their side.
Because the current era did not seem to lend itself to rapid and dramatic upheavals in the reports of forces. The balance of terror applied rules strict enough to any change that may have occured at the advantage of one and to the detriment of the other block? That did not want in no way say that we had entered the era of immobilization that was being imposed. Only, modifications that brought into cause the respective areas of influence could not occur the end of evolutionary processes, with many precautions and at the cost of a lucid effort and a lot of perseverance.
Applied to satellite countries this program leaned towards a “Finnish” solution. The aspirations of the population of the satellite countries would be largely satisfied without a disturbance of the political equilibrium and especially military. Their return to the family would not be done by joining the military alliance but first of all through tighter cultural and commercial associations and then through the institutions and the way of life.
Economic links with the Soviet bloc could at least partly be maintained. Having said that, it was not easy to define the modalities of such a policy. It was rather a sinusoidal line fixed in much according to the circumstances; from a range of means which were far from being used simultaneously, otherwise be kept in reserve so that we can use it at the appropriate times, taking into account both set objectives and existing conditions.
It was necessary to be aware of promising more than one can hold but this that is possible must be done and no chance to advance in the right direction should not be neglected. Obviously a distinction must be made between the political long-term goal of which is to change the status quo and, ultimately, the self-determination of satellites and the measures conservatories called to preserve the future, which in the present circumstances is equivalent to holding and consolidating the Western positions in Central and Eastern Europe.
Long-term policy excludes placing on one hypothesis. We must examine several. Liberalization by the general Soviet force or repression under threat have such a low degree of probability that it is permissible to discard them.
Among the hypotheses to be retained, there is, in the first place, along with evolution for the purpose of emancipating guardianship Soviet. This process would be marked by a whole series of facts of which none, separately, would be able to put the powder fire but which, taken together, would constitute a transformation of paramount importance.
Also, in favor of intelligent aid from the West, these countries would cross successive stages to be a much more satisfactory situation in all respects. In the second place, it can be foreseen, in the event of a very long-term relaxation, an evolution towards a more “liberalization” in parallel with the same process which would continue in U.R.S.S. We can indeed suppose that the internal constraints would be progressively lightened once their external justification has disappeared.
However, an important barrier would then limit this movement and not only in its initial phase: progress towards achievement could not apparently go beyond the line beyond of which there would be a clear break with the system Soviet, that is, to question the source and the natural power. This singularly narrows the frame inside which facilities could be obtained and the limits to minor problems.
Thirdly, there are internal upheavals, as a result of acute economic crises in particular, since the situation of these countries contains, like the germ in the bud, the announcement of future turnarounds. As far as we know to anticipate and deal with them, such phenomena could also lead to changes in structure and- by that – on the acquisition of a more favourable status.
A variant of this case would consist of some relief of economic structures in return for aid granted at particular times difficult for recipient countries. In addition, as a general rule, the establishment of a new could arise as part of a global haggling between the West and the Kremlin, at a price to be paid by the Westerners who could relay USSR in the first place for the financing of agricultural deficits, and later for the reconversion of satellite economies.
These countries correspond geographically to a large part of Eastern Europe which was “liberated” and then occupied by the Red Army: Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, then GDR. Not to mention two cases a little apart: Yugoslavia and Albania.
The Soviets are gradually taking control in these countries: the Red Army occupies them and the Communist parties are gradually eliminating the other political parties. From then on, the elections become perfectly formal, and without big stakes. This process spreads between 1946 and 1948. It was in 1948 that the coup of Prague took place which saw the liberal president Benès forced to leave power.
In these countries are rapidly applied the principles in force in the USSR: collectivization of land, nationalizations of companies. An economic organization, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), also called COMECON, was created in 1949: it put “satellite” countries at the service of the Soviet economy. A military pact in 1955, the Warsaw Pact, will be the counterpart of NATO (Western military organization around the United States).
Moreover, through terrible purges and executions, these countries are now experiencing a totalitarian regime comparable to that prevailing in the USSR.
Challenges to Perestroika
We must put aside the very early protest (in the late 1940s) of Tito’s Yugoslavia, the first strain to the unity of the communist bloc. When Stalin died in March 1953, some hoped for the fall of USSR, but the Hungarian revolt of 1956 was brutally crushed (November 1956), as was the 1953 East Berlin workers’ uprising.
The construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 shows how rigid the political situation remains. In 1968, the challenge this time is on the side of Czechoslovakia. Liberal Dubcek is at the forefront. He advocates a “socialism with a human face”. But its revolt against Soviet domination will also be repressed after the arrival of Warsaw Pact troops on Czech territory. On this theme, we can particularly look at the photographs of Koudelka, rightly famous.
The initiative will come from Poland, with the creation in the 1970s of Solidarnosc (Solidarity) by Lech Walesa. The election of a Polish under the name of John Paul II as the new pope in Rome in 1978 gives additional energy to this protest movement. This movement has a great echo in the West.
Elected in 1985, Michael Gorbachev, the new Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party launches a policy called Perestroika. He intends to save the system by modernizing it. At the end of the 1980s, one after another the communist regimes fell, Hungary in 1989-1990, Germany a little after the fall of the wall, intervened on November 9, 1989.
The democratic regimes that succeed these dictatorships, however, have difficulty in imposing themselves. Throughout the 1990s, we see the communist parties continue, liberal parties impose economic modernization measures often difficult to live by the people. Yet in 2004, the majority of these countries joined the EU, taking up a place in the heart of Europe that their forced subjection to the USSR had made them lose.