While Wolchik and Curry (2011) talks about the “rocky roots” of Central and Eastern Europe, the authors also cover the consequences of the Soviet totalitarian regime in the region. The state politics and the sense of belonging to not only a world power but an ideology have made their mark on the post-1989 history of all the countries in the region. People spent more than 40 years behind the iron curtain, were told what to think, do and believe in for too long. The transition towards democracy and the process of replacing totalitarian regimes with a democratically elected parliament was another “bumpy road” for all countries for a different reason. The demolition of national identities in the region and the creation of “artificial” borders, for example the division of Germany and the Trianon Treaty in 1920 that placed millions of Hungarians outside of the country’s border, and the modifications after the 2nd World War, the creation of Czechoslovakia of two main nations have created national tension in the region.
Paradigms Built after the War Behind the Iron Curtain
The “shared paradigm” of the USSR was communicated throughout the region from the beginning of the post-war era. (Getty and Thompson Manning, 1993) The common “Soviet history” was planted into the mainstream ideology: it was taught in schools, workplaces, while the totalitarianism of the system was constantly confirmed as valid, honest and logical. Indeed, many people did believe that Communism was the best system there is, and the communication of politicians created not only belief but fear from the “bad and selfish capitalist west”.
Hanson (1997) confirms that the ideology that surrounded the paradigm of totalitarianism was based on moral values. It was based on Leninist, later Stalinist analysis of the West: judging it unfair, chaotic and insecure. Creating this image of the democratic world in people, the USSR offered a new ideology: there is no need for electing leaders, as those who follow the teachings of Lenin are right and just. There was no need for “free thinking” or religion: the system looked after everyone’s material, emotional and intellectual needs.
Minorities and National Identity
Further, state languages were taught, minorities were suppressed and the state’s moves to suppress minorities were supported. Moscow wanted peace, and this meant that there was no place for national identities to develop and get stronger. One good example is the reign of Ceausescu in Romania, who (partly based on centuries-old arguments about Transylvania) campaigned against Hungarian nationals in the country and looked at them as the enemies of the Soviet Union, as well as the Socialist state. Similarly, Germans and Hungarians were treated as “traitors” in the post-war Czechoslovakia, hence the Benes decrees were born, deporting hundreds of thousands of people from their homeland and taking their property away.
The post-war Eastern and Central Europe looked different from what it was before World War II. The state ideology confirmed that the “Soviet Army” liberated the countries from German occupation, and regarded the leaders of the USSR as heroes. Songs had to be sang about the praise of Lenin, Stalin, and the power of the Eastern Bloc was constantly confirmed. While societies became more equal, this also meant that many people lost their property. Those regarded “bourgeois” by the state had to hand in all their property. Traditional factories and farms were closed and everything was owned by the state that took on the role of “redistributing” goods. While the system did focus on the elevation of masses and eduction of people from other than exceptional backgrounds, there was a price to pay for every service. The person had to “agree with the state ideology” in order to get somewhere in their career. Most leaders of state-owned companies had to become a member of the country’s Communist Party. The so called liberation of the Eastern Bloc by the Soviet Union was an ideology that very few people really believed in. However, as all state firms and institutions had their own KGB agent reporting of the actions of others, people had to learn to lie. By the 1980-s, most people did not believe in state propaganda, but they had to bend according to the system’s requirements.
Society and the Communist Party-State
According to Ekiert, (1996) the party-state molded the society into an even mass: nobody was allowed to be different, think different or better. Wages were kept in the same scale for all: everyone worked and got paid by the state for it. It did not really matter if one worked as a cleaner or teacher: the wages were similar. Consequently, as all firms were owned by the state, the spirit of entrepreneurship was pushed back by the governments. Nobody was allowed to do a “private business”, while every affair was state affair. While there were some nondemocratic organizations in all countries, they were operating in secret and regarded as illegal. Labor mobility and principle, ethics were controlled by state as well. (Ekiert, 44) Revolutions like the one in Czechoslovakia and Hungary were defeated by the huge Soviet Army, which was present in all countries in a great number throughout the Cold War, and the society slowly adapted the attitude of disappointment and hopelessness, until the weakening of the Soviet “iron fist” and the collapse of the USSR.
Ekiert, G. (1996) The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe. Princeton University Press
Getty, J., Thompson Manning, R. (1993) Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
Hanson, S. (1997) Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institutions. Univ. of North Carolina Press.
Wolchik, S. L. & Curry, J. L. (2011) Central & East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy, 2nd Ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc