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Part IV

In the Shadow of Moscow

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Chapter 21

A Warning

By the end of the war, the USSR had extended its authority over all of Eastern Europe through the presence of its military forces in territories conquered or occupied by Soviet troops after 1944, or through the dominating influence of Soviet ideology in the resistance movements which liberated Albania and Yugoslavia. The USSR had persuaded the Allies to recognize this exceptionally favorable position during diplomatic talks in Teheran and Yalta, and immediately after the war began efforts to consolidate and reinforce it.

Once the Soviets gained this foothold in Eastern Europe, Eastern European history became dominated by the problematic relationships between the governments of its countries and the Soviet Union. In order to understand the policy of the USSR toward all of these countries after 1945, two basic principles of Soviet political philosophy must be kept in mind:

First, as a state, the USSR considered itself under constant threat, real or imagined, from the Western capitalist states -- a phobia dating back to the October Revolution, but reinforced by the German invasion in 1941. As a result, the security of the entire stretch of borders facing the Western countries was an overriding priority. To the Soviets, the best way to guarantee this security was to create a wide defensive glacis, a viewpoint which was advanced and successfully argued by Soviet diplomats during negotiations with Hitler before the signing of the Russo-German Pact, and also with the Western Powers during and after the war.

Second, as the first socialist state and the founder of world Communism, the USSR's intention was to extend the politico-economic

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system it adopted in 1917 to the rest of the world, in particular to those countries forming its "zone of security," whether this view was publicly stated by the Soviets or dissimulated for various opportunistic reasons, it was a cornerstone of Marxist-Leninist principles, an underlying fact never denied by Kremlin leaders. With these conditions in mind, the Soviets encouraged or imposed Communist-led governments in Eastern Europe. These governments were to be maintained at all costs, against the will of the people and by force if necessary. It also clearly followed that any Communist leader who did not demonstrate unconditional loyalty to the Soviet party line, was stripped of power. The East European Communist leaders implicitly accepted this point of view, this unconditional imperative, sometimes sacrificing their careers and even their lives in the name of the higher interests of the Party and the Soviet state. The baffling behavior of certain East European Communists, which bordered on the masochistic at times, is impossible to explain or understand without taking these given principles into account. Only blind loyalty and an unconditional obedience to Moscow can explain the self-sacrifice of the victims in the trials during the 1950s, who confessed whatever they were asked to confess in the interest of the Party. This behavior was exemplified by the resigned docility of the Czechoslovak Party secretary, Dubcek, who humbly admitted his errors and destroyed his own work in order for people to accept his self-criticism more easily.

The principle of absolute loyalty to the USSR was written into law during the secret meetings held at Szklarska-Poreda from September 22 to 27, 1947, out of which emerged the Cominform (Communist Bureau of Information). Communist party leaders from nine European countries -- the USSR, France, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia -- unanimously accepted the principle of total, unconditional loyalty to the Soviet Union. From then on, being Communist implied acceptance of Soviet leadership and guidance.

In a few cases Soviet leaders and socialist countries appeared to tolerate some deviation from the principle of absolute fidelity to Moscow, as in Tito's Yugoslavian schism in 1948 or the break in relations with Albania under Enver Hoxha in 1960, but there was no actual show of leniency or change in principles. The explanation for these exceptions lies elsewhere. Neither Yugoslavia nor Albania were under direct Soviet military authority, and therefore the Soviets and their allies did not deem it wise to intervene militarily -- as they did in Budapest in 1956 or in Prague in 1968. Such an operation might have had international repercussions. The Soviets, however, never gave up hope of bringing these countries back into the "family." The principle of unconditional loyalty to Moscow and to the socialist camp was still very much in force. For a brief time, it appeared that the relative tolerance of Poland's trade union, Solidarity, lasting for over a year, was an indication that something was changing in the Kremlin. The events that took place in Poland after December 13, 1981, abruptly ended these hopes.

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