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Chapter 22

The New Status of Eastern Europe

The German invasion of Russia brought the Soviet Union into the Second World War, where it became an active and successful participant in military operations against the Reich, and also the most directly affected country in the territorial reorganization of Eastern Europe. In 1919 -1920, France played a determining role, imposing its views on its partners; in 1945, it was the USSR who dictated the rules for the peace settlement in Eastern Europe.



By the summer of 1941, Great Britain and the United States saw the USSR as an ally and full partner in the struggle against the Axis powers. In their initial meetings with the Allies, the Soviet leaders made it very clear that there would be no question of giving up territory gained in the Russo-German Pact -- the three Baltic republics and eastern Poland -- nor did they attempt to hide their wish to guarantee their own security as well as East European security against any future German aggression. From 1942 on, the Soviets declared their interest in dividing Germany, and in redistributing part of Italy to Yugoslavia and taking part of Rumania for themselves.

The western Allies were evasive about the question of the Russian border with Poland; the Poles had been an early ally, and France and Great Britain

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had entered the war for Polish territorial integrity in September, 1939. Thus, no precise provisions were made on the Polish-Soviet border question until 1943. After the victory at Stalingrad, which heightened Soviet prestige, the Anglo-Americans became less antagonistic to Soviet propositions and began to exert pressure on the Polish government in exile to give up claims to the eastern provinces. In return, the USSR was ready to compensate Poland with territory in the west to be taken from Germany. The Po1ish government firmly refused to abandon the principle of territorial integrity and hardened its position after the discovery of the mass grave at Katyn. When General Sikorski asked for an inquest of the matter by the International Red Cross, the Soviets broke off diplomatic relations with Poland, to the acute embarrasment of the Anglo-Americans. Sikorski,s accidental death on July 4, 1943, relieved the pressure on the western Allies, particularly since his successor, Mikolajczyk, seemed more flexible. But attempts to reestablish contact with Moscow remained in an impasse, as Mikolajczyk steadfastly refused to give up the eastern Polish provinces.

At the Teheran Conference of November 28 and 29, 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin -- known as "the Big Three"-- discussed the problem of Germany and agreed it was necessary to divide the country. They also spoke of Eastern Europe. The West acknowledged Stalin's hold on the Baltic states and listened again to his views on the Polish border question. Stalin argued that if Poland were to gain Pomerania and Silesia in the west, Danzig in the north and part of eastern Prussia, it was only fair that the Poles should give up the territory beyond the Curzon line. Roosevelt seemed to accept Stalin's arguements, but Churchill was more reticent. Churchill finally agreed to Stalin's demand, provided the Poles found it acceptable. During the same conference, Stalin, supported by Roosevelt, turned down British plans to open a second front in the Balkans. The idea of an Anglo-American landing in the Balkans was totally out of step with Russian plans for expansion in Eastern Europe. The Soviets scored a clear victory when the project was abandoned. Just after the Teheran conference, the Soviets scored another diplomatic coup with the signing of a friendship treaty in Moscow on December 4, 1943, with the Czechoslovak government in exile. In his conversations with Stalin, Benes promised that the Communists would play an important role in the future government of a liberated Czechoslovakia. Benes also insisted that the Soviets erase feudalism in Hungary and Poland; his hatred for these neighboring countries caused him to promote an active Soviet presence in Eastern Europe.

Soviet victories beginning in early 1944, and the Red Army's occupation of Bulgaria, Rumania and part of Poland, convinced the Allies to let the Soviets have their way in all matters concerning Eastern Europe. The Polish question resolved itself when the Soviets set up a national council, which was

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an actual government based in Lublin in direct defiance of the Polish government in London. The failure of the Warsaw uprising did not help matters for the Poles in London. In October, 1944, Mikolajczyk went to Moscow accompanied by Churchill, and was compelled to accept the borders Stalin demanded as well as the fusion of the London government and the Lublin Committee. Mikolajczyk was disowned by his colleagues and replaced as head of the government in exile by Tomasz Arciszewski, a socialist dedicated to preserving the territorial integrity of his country. But this change of leadership had no effect on the course of events. The Great Powers had decided to settle the Polish question without the Poles.

The Yalta Conference, from February 4 to 11, 1945, was the first to deal with the fate of Germany, whose territory was divided into zones of occupation under each victorious power. In Poland, the initial Soviet plan was accepted using the Curzon line as the new Polish-Soviet frontier, and giving Poland territorial compensation at Germany's expense. Churchill managed to assure Poland, however, that a Polish national union government would be formed with members from the Lublin Committee to prepare for the election of an assembly to organize the new Poland. At Yalta, the Big Three put together a document which emphasized their own responsibilities in the future organization of the "liberated states and the former satellite states of the Axis powers in Europe;" the Allied powers pledged to encourage the formation of "governments by representatives of all democratic elements of the population, that would organize free elections as soon as possible to establish governments responsive to the will of the people." In actuality, expressions like "democratic elements of the population" and "free elections" did not hold the same meaning everywhere. The Anglo-Americans were certainly aware of this, but taking into account the Red Army's presence in Eastern Europe at the time, it was difficult for them not to give the Soviets carte blanche in those areas they already occupied. Thus, the Big Three divided Europe among themselves at Yalta.

Less than three months after the German defeat, the Potsdam Conference (July 17 -- August 2, 1945) completed the arrangements made at Yalta. The Allied foreign affairs ministers were asked to draw up peace treaties with Germany's former allies, while the treaty with Germany itself was to be drawn up later. Major policy decisions regarding Germany were made and the exact lines of the different zones of occupation set. The Anglo-Americans and the Soviets finally ratified their Yalta agreement on Poland's new borders with the USSR. Once again, the peoples of Eastern Europe had had their fate decided for them.

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Sanctions Against the Defeated Countries

Bulgaria and Rumania, despite their change of allegiance toward the end of the war, were considered defeated countries just like Hungary. The conditions of the armistice signed by the new leaders just as the fighting ceased was premonitory; the armistices returned the borders to the lines of 1937 with a few adjustments. Germany's three former allies first had to make restitutions to their victims in gold or merchandise: Rumania, 300 million dollars, but 200 to the Soviet Union and 50 each to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; Bulgaria, 70 million, with 25 going to Yugoslavia and the rest to the USSR--despite the fact that Bulgaria had only been at war with the USSR for a few days, and not even that by choice! The Soviets used these reparations as an indirect method to further weaken the countries they occupied, continuing this strategy by demanding deliveries of foodstuffs and raw materials. All German assets in defeated territory automatically became the property of the USSR -- and Germany had invested heavily in Eastern Europe. Through confiscated German assets, the Soviets came into control of large and key sectors of the economies of Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania. These three countries were also to be placed under occupation by Soviet troops until the signing of the peace treaties. For the duration of the occupation, an "Allied Commission" was responsible for "regulating and supervising the execution of the terms of the armistice under the leadership of the Soviet Commandant and with the participation of representatives of Great Britain and the United States."

After several meetings of the Allies, the defeated countries were invited to Paris to sign the peace treaties on February 10, 1947. Bulgaria did fairly well territorially; it kept the southern Dobrudja that Rumania had ceded in 1945, but had to relinquish the Greek and Yugoslav territory occupied in 1941. Hungary was returned to the Treaty of Trianon borders with the exception of three villages on the Danube across from the city of Bratislava, which were ceded to Czechoslovakia. Hungary thus lost all the territory regained between 1938 and 1941. Rumania recovered the northern part of Transylvania that it lost to Hungary in 1940, but had to surrender all claims to Bessarabia and Bukovina, territories which the USSR had taken at the same time in 1940. Restitutions set by the terms of the armistice were confirmed by the peace treaties. The three countries were all restricted militarily, and the USSR planned to bring them into the Soviet security system. The treaties also authorized the Soviet Union to maintain troops in Hungary and Rumania so that it was assured of contact with its zone of occupation in Austria.

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Countries of the Victors

The new Polish borders were drawn according to the decisions made at Yalta and Potsdam. For the western Allies, these borders were only provisory, and in their eyes, they would be legally finalized only by the peace treaty with Germany; until the agreements signed by Willy Brandt and the Polish government, the "new Polish provinces" were considered to be under "provisory Polish administration" by the western Allies. The Soviets and the Poles on the other hand, considered the borders to be final.

In the west, the border between Poland the Soviet zone in Germany followed the Oder River and its tributary, the Neisse. Poland gained substantial advantages such as a broad maritime coast stretching from the mouth of the Oder to the mouth of the Vistula, the rich farmlands of Pomerania and Prussia, and especially Silesia with one of the richest coal beds in Europe. In the east, however, Poland lost everything east of the Curzon line except for the city of Przemysl, which it kept, and shared eastern Prussia with the USSR. Looking at the total picture, Poland in 1945 was 30,880 square miles smaller than in 1938, had shifted westward with an off-centered capital, and had a better balanced economy with sizeable industrial potential in Silesia and a much more extensive maritime coastline than the narrow Danzig corridor.

Albania and Yugoslavia were also subject to border realignment. Albania returned to its borders of 1939, but Yugoslavia made some gains on its western border: Italy surrendered Istria, except for the city of Trieste, a large part of Julian Venetia, and the port of Fiume which became Rijeka.

The Soviet Union was really the main beneficiary in the war, as its borders moved noticeably westward. Already at Teheran and Yalta, the USSR had garnered official recognition of its sovereignty over the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- acquired first in 1940, then occupied bythe Germans from 1941-1944, then reacquired during the winter of 1944-1945. The USSR also annexed the north part of eastern Prussia with the city of Konigsberg, renamed Kalingrad. This push to the west was also at the expense of its official allies. The USSR was not satisfied with eastern Poland, and despite promises to Benes to respect Czechoslovakian territorial integrity, forced Prague to surrender Carpathian Ruthenia after stirring up the local population. On January29, 1945, a Russo-Czechoslovak agreement officially marked the withdrawal of Czechoslovakia from the area. The USSR then held both sides of the Carpathian mountain chain, putting an end to the common border between Rumania and Czechoslovakia and advancing deep into the Hungarian plain. It was a major strategic position: ethnically, the region was mainly Ruthenian, but had a sizeable Hungarian minority.

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The new political makeup of Eastern Europe increased the number of national minorities. The Great Powers responsible for the new organization were aware of the problem; to minimize the risks, they allowed countries acquiring new territories to expel whole populations. At the Potsdam Conference, the deportation option was extended to include all populations foreign to Eastern Europe. The main victims of these relocations were the Germans, Poles and Hungarians. Germans in eastern Prussia and in regions acquired by Poland were promptly and indiscriminately deported to Germanyin the winter of 1945-1946. For the government in Czechoslovakia, the option to expel minorities sanctioned by the Allies was advantageous, as it happened to coincide with the Kosice Program which limited the Czechoslovakian state to Czechs and Slovaks only. Between May and

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August, 1945, 800,000 Germans were deported to Austria, and after the Potsdam Conference, the 2,500,000 Germans remaining in Czechoslovakia were driven out under particularly harsh conditions. Only 155,000 anti-Nazi, or reputedly anti-Nazi, Germans were allowed to remain in the country. The other Danubian states also expelled Germans who had lived in certain areas for centuries. Out of the 600,000 Germans in Hungary, only 250,000 were allowed to stay, and over half of the 780,000 Germans in Rumania were deported. But the fate of the Yugoslav Germans was the most tragic. Apart from 80,000 who were sent to Germany in 1943, 450,000 remained in Yugoslavia in 1945; out of these remaining, from 140,000 to 260,000 (depending on the source), were massacred during the deportation, while the rest suffered great hardships arriving in Austria.

The Soviets treated the two million Poles within their annexed territories similarly, deporting them to Poland where they were resettled in the western regions just vacated by the Germans Simultaneously, the Polish government invited Polish emigrants to return and fill the void left in the wake of war. Nearly two million of them answered the call.

The only national minorities unaffected by mass relocation were the Albanians and the Bulgaro-Macedonians in Yugoslavia, and most of the Hungarians who had already been placed under the authority of neighboring states in 1919. Czechoslovakia would have liked to eliminate the Hungarian minority in southern Slovakia. Several thousand Hungarians were in fact deported to Hungary in 1945, and then on February 27, 1946, an agreement between the Hungarian and Czechoslovak governments authorized an exchange of Hungarian "war criminals" and "traitors to the Czechoslovak homeland" for Hungarian Slovaks who wanted to move to Czechoslovakia. About 30,000 people were exchanged in this way. Tens of thousands of Hungarians considered to be undesirable in Slovakia but also necessary to the Czechoslovak economy were moved to the Sudetenland to replace the recently deported Germans. They were not able to return to their own villages until 1948-1949.

The ethnic map of Eastern Europe of 1947 was much less complicated than that of 1938. The German minorities had nearly entirely disappeared as a result of the population transfers, a better term for which would be "deportations," considering the conditions under which these transfers took place. Thousands of destitute men, women and children were forced to travel, usually on foot and in the dead of winter, over hundreds of miles. The national minorities had become less numerous, but the cost of achieving this objective was very high, perpetuating national hatreds.

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At the close of the Second World War, the Soviet Union emerged as the main beneficiary of the changes in Eastern Europe, and was the only country to make major territorial gains. The Soviets were able through their acquisitions to accomplish the major policy goal of establishing a defensive glacis to the west; the Red Army was on guard from the North Sea to the Adriatic, from the Baltic Sea to the Danube. The Soviet military presence gave Moscow extraordinary means of pressure on the Eastern European governments. Soviet take-over of German assets in countries formerly allied with Germany gave the USSR major economic advantages, advantages reinforced by the integration of East Germany into the Soviet system. For the victorious countries such as Czechoslovakia or Poland, the military power of the USSR appeared to offer the most effective protection against the possibility of yet another German aggression. Thus, the postwar era began with the Soviet Union's overwhelming influence on the direction of Eastern European affairs.

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