Robert Service: Review of Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956"

tags: Cold War, books, reviews, Anne Applebaum, Robert Service, Iron Curtain



Robert Service is an author and professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His latest book is Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

...The novelty of [Applebaum's] approach comes as she examines the expansion of persecution. Poland had no radio station when under Nazi rule, as the Germans sought to deprive the country of every facility that could foster unmonitored communication. The Communists were no less suspicious of wireless sets. Boleslaw Bierut published a decree in mid-1945 making private possession of a radio a capital offense, and at least one unfortunate Pole was executed for holding on to a “Phillips” model. But Bierut’s larger ambition was not to silence Polish public communication but rather to restrict it to a framework favorable to the Communist cause. Stalin himself enthusiastically granted permission for the establishment of Poland’s first post-German radio station, for his goal was not to reduce the Poles to abject slavery and starvation but rather to turn them into happy collaborators in the communization effort. All modalities of advanced technology were to be employed in that effort.

But no rival sources of information would be tolerated, and an aggressive prophylactic approach was adopted. Though there was no evidence, for example, that the YMCA in Warsaw was a nest of nationalist or anti-Communist resistance, Bierut and Gomulka saw trouble in the organization’s mission of providing shelter and food to disoriented young Polish men. They wanted the new state to be the sole provider of these services. An additional source of concern lay in the fact that the YMCA premises were not adorned with posters that hymned Lenin and Poland’s radiant Communist future. Nor could it be overlooked that the YMCA was an international body with a religious affiliation. For the Polish Communist leadership, Stalin and his party’s international department were the sole foreign authorities that offered healthy—albeit confidential—guidance. The YMCA was promptly ejected from Polish territory....




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