Apart from Iceland, which is a European country situated by itself out in the North Atlantic, the east-west extremes of Europe are the west coast of Ireland at 10 degrees west longitude and Russia’s Ural Mountains at 60 degrees east longitude. The central meridian of these extremes is 25 degrees east. To refer therefore to the capitals of Germany, Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia as “Eastern Europe” when all of them: Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava are well to the west of that central meridian, is to participate in a falsehood. Yet this lie was repeated over and over again between the end of World War II in 1945 and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991, not just by spokesmen for communist regimes around the world but journalists, academics, politicians and statesmen in Western countries.
Referring to nations in Central Europe as “Eastern Europe” served various interests. Otherwise the falsehood would not have been so often repeated for so many decades in such disparate contexts. Categorising Poland, Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia and a large segment of Germany as “Eastern Europe” became so embedded in Western perception in 1945–1991 that it is still encountered in the speech and writings of Westerners. These misrepresentations, though less common today, now that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have ceased to exist, demonstrate the long-term effects of propaganda when it is clear, simple and undeviatingly adhered to for decades. After awhile, the perception a propaganda campaign is designed to produce can take on a life of its own and create an alternative “reality”, which will persist long after the purpose that gave rise to the propaganda no longer exists.
Why did the Soviet Union initiate this deceit? For one very clear reason. By referring to Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia as “Eastern Europe, the political, military and police forces at work in them under Soviet control after World War II were made to appear to be operating within their proper “sphere of influence” (i.e. Eastern Europe) while in truth something quite different was happening. The Soviet Union was colonising Central Europe. That the Soviet Union did colonise Central Europe as a consequence of World War II is shown by the fact that the border between West and East Germany which marked the extent of Soviet penetration of Central Europe was 15 degrees of longitude west of Europe’s central meridian: 1,150 miles from Moscow but only 420 miles from London.1
East Germany was never part of Eastern Europe. All of Germany as well as all of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have always been part of Central Europe. Calling Central Europe “Eastern Europe” was an astonishingly brazen but effective bit of propaganda which psychologically justified what the Soviet Union did in Central Europe after the Second World War.
But why did Western journalists, academics, politicians and statesmen go along with the deceit? Why did they adopt the deceptive reference “Eastern Europe” in regard to countries that before World War II had always been truthfully referred to as Central Europe? The main reason was the stony-faced, constant repetition of the deceptive term by Soviet operatives in combination with its use in the West by influential commentators with socialist sympathies. Another consideration made the propaganda of substituting “Eastern Europe” for Central Europe attractive to other Westerners: it covered up the monstrous betrayal of the countries of Central Europe by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, three months before the end of World War II in Europe, which was particularly shameful in the case of Poland whose government-in-exile in London had been a firm ally of the Western democracies throughout the war.
The secret arrangements the US president and the British prime minister made with the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at Yalta subjected the people of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and a large portion of the German population to the terrorism that transformed their homelands into communist colonies.2
Calling Central Europe “Eastern Europe” provided a fig leaf to hide the consent Roosevelt and Churchill gave for the Red Army to occupy all of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and much of Germany. For if these territories were perceived to be “Eastern Europe”, to hand them over to Stalin could be regarded as consenting to something inevitable in the sense that they were already within the Soviet dictator’s “sphere of influence”. Speaking of Central Europe as “Eastern Europe” gave the Soviet colonisation of more than half of Central Europe some colour of legitimacy. It tended to justify the inexcusable enslavement to communist tyranny of tens of millions of Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks, and thereby protected Roosevelt’s reputation as the leader of the free world. Speaking of Central Europe as “Eastern Europe” was, therefore, especially agreeable to liberal journalists, publishers and academics in the United States who were chiefly responsible for having given Roosevelt that reputation and were its custodians.
My father, Maj. John Henry McElroy, who fought in Europe as a member of the 89th Division of the US Third Army under command of General George S. Patton, told me his Division was in Czechoslovakia rolling rapidly northward toward Berlin when they were ordered to stop and await further orders. The much soiled, large-scale military field maps he used as Executive Officer of the 341st Field Artillery Battalion of the 89th Division and brought home as souvenirs were maps of Czechoslovakia. One of the Yalta agreements assigned the parts of Central Europe which the Red Army was to occupy.
By 1948–1949, the effects of Yalta were evident in the governments the Soviet Union installed in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, all of the one-party, Soviet-style police states headed by a native communist reporting to and taking orders from Moscow. The exploitation of these post-war colonies the Kremlin established in Central Europe began with the Red Army stripping East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia of industrial machinery, rolling stock and other valuables, and sending all of it back to the Soviet Union. The exploitation was institutionalised by making the Soviet colonies in Central Europe purchase Soviet goods with real money (US dollars, British pounds, French francs etc.) while buying products from them in roubles having no true value on international money exchanges despite the high valuation the Kremlin set for its currency within the Soviet Empire.3 The hard money the Soviet Union acquired through this practice helped to fund the subversion of free countries and the expansion of the Soviet Empire.
At the end of World War II, an empire as thoroughly evil as the Nazi Third Reich, in terms of the scale of political terror it perpetrated inside its borders, controlled most of Central Europe. So far as the Soviet colonies in Central Europe were concerned, the Second World War’s devastation and loss of life (thanks to Yalta) resulted only in one brutal dictatorship replacing another. The war gave Stalin a chance to outmanoeuvre Churchill and Roosevelt, and extended Soviet imperialism into Central Europe.
History books which say World War II began with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 are not entirely truthful. It was the prearranged joint invasion of Poland that month by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that started the war. The Ribbentrop–Molotov treaty signed in Moscow in August 1939 by representatives of Hitler and Stalin provided for this coordinated military partitioning of Poland by which the Nazis would invade, occupy and govern the part of the country that bordered Germany while the Soviet government did the same to the part of Poland next to the Soviet Union. The USSR was thus the only major combatant on the winning side of World War II to have also been an ally on the losing side earlier in the war. It was also the only government to gain control of a great deal of territory as a consequence of having participated in the war. Soviet prospects of gaining control of more territory in Europe seemed excellent in the years just after the end of the war (1946–1947) as Europe experienced widespread and sometimes desperate hunger. Political unrest and communist party memberships in Western countries increased as strikes by communist-financed labour unions and communist-influenced elections overturned government administrations in Western Europe, an instability which was especially alarming in France during these years.
Only the implementation in 1948–1949 of a plan offering massive amounts of emergency food and economic aid from the United States to every suffering country of Europe, including the Soviet Union which refused to accept the offer either for itself as for the countries the Red Army was occupying, plus the organisation of a strong military alliance of free nations from both sides of the North Atlantic, constrained further Soviet expansion in Europe. Both of these strategies, the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, were carried out under the leadership of the plain-spoken Harry Truman, who became president of the United States when Roosevelt died in April 1945; both had bipartisan support in the US Congress.
But who freed the colonies the Soviets established in Central Europe? It was not the United States. The peoples of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and East Germany did that. They freed themselves by insisting on their natural right to freedom and by fearlessly telling the truth about communism: that it condemns mankind to the straightjacket of communist dogma and to chronic shortages of food, electricity, soap, toilet paper, and other necessities and amenities of civilised life. Rather than “liberating” and uplifting the lives of human beings, communism debases them and lowers human productivity by suppressing freedom and the rule of law and subjecting people to unrestrained government regulation and management. It must also be remembered that the legislatures of Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine, the core republics of the USSR, knowing what was happening in the Soviet colonies of Central Europe, stood up to the dictatorship of the Communist Party in the homeland of communism, by seceding from the USSR which caused the collapse of the Union and the dissolution of the CPSU, whose Central Committee and general Secretary were the Soviet state. The peoples in Central and Eastern Europe who took responsibility for their freedom accomplished the downfall of the Soviet state and its empire.
There is a compelling lesson in the liberation of Central Europe which was preceded by many brave protests against Soviet imperialism beginning in 1953 in East Germany and continuing in 1956 in Poland and Hungary, in 1968 and 1977 in Czechoslovakia, in 1968, 1970 and 1976 in Poland, and the decade-long Polish freedom movement of the 1980s which took the form of a Christian labour union (Solidarity) enrolling over 85% of wage and salary workers in the largest communist-ruled nation of Europe outside the USSR. And in the continual brave protests of dissidents inside the USSR who stubbornly refused to be silent about the practice of communist theory. The essential means by which these countries liberated themselves is perhaps best expressed by father Jerzy Popiełuszko, a young Polish Priest who publicly supported Solidarity even when such support was decreed illegal by the communist government of Poland in its attempts to destroy that unique national union. Here is what Father Jerzy said in one of his sermons before he was beaten to death by communist thugs and his broken body dumped into a reservoir:
The essential thing in the process of liberating man and the [Polish] nation is to overcome fear. […] We fear suffering, we fear losing freedom or our work. And then we act contrary to our consciences, thus muzzling the truth. We can overcome fear only if we accept suffering in the name of a greater value. If the truth becomes for us a value worthy of suffering and risk, then we shall overcome fear.4
In other words, the power of one-party communist government, wherever it exists or has existed, depends on telling the lie that it is succeeding and on making the people that it governs live in fear of what the regime can and will do to them if they do not consent to the lie. Anytime human beings participate in a lie, such as calling Central Europe “Eastern Europe” or calling economic and political enslavement “social justice”, they are forfeiting their humanity, which is to say their conscience and their freewill. Telling the truth is, as father Jerzy said with his words and his life, inseparable from being free.
1 The (London) Tiles Concise Atlas of the World (London: Times Books, 1979), pp. 4–5.
2 See, for instance, the account of the colonisation process in Hungary in George Paloczi-Horvath, The Undefeated (London: Eland Publishing, 1993). This memoir was first published in London in 1959.
3 Lech Dymarski, an elected officer of the Poznań branch of the Polish labour union Solidarity, whom I interviewed through a translator in 1981, gave me this analysis of the exploitive imperial policies of the Soviet Union. He said Polish workers had had enough of such treatment.
4 Razyna Sikorska, Jerzy Popieluszko: A Martyr for the Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985).