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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Suffocation of Central Europe
I am just about old enough to remember 'Eastern Europe'; I can remember school books and soon-to-be-outdated atlases in which Europe was neatly divided in half, West and East. I can just about remember the 'fall of Communism', specifically I remember the tanks on the street of Romania, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of my...
Published 15 months ago by S. Matthews

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39 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but...
Wasn't expecting too much from someone married to the Polish foreign minister, but that is simply an ad hominem. Let's get to some meat.

What I liked:

Applebaum's interviews with those who lived it are, of course, fascinating. What the Soviets did is well recounted. Some of the discontent with Soviet rule in Poland actually resonates today, what with...
Published on 4 Jan. 2013 by EnglishLad101


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Suffocation of Central Europe, 7 Feb. 2014
By 
S. Matthews "astafjevs" (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
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I am just about old enough to remember 'Eastern Europe'; I can remember school books and soon-to-be-outdated atlases in which Europe was neatly divided in half, West and East. I can just about remember the 'fall of Communism', specifically I remember the tanks on the street of Romania, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of my headteachers actually managed to get hold of a piece of concrete he solemnly told us was a piece of the Berlin Wall. I got an idea of Eastern Europe as a strange and homogenous region with identical cultures, histories, and similar sounding place names, all built out of concrete. Later, I learnt about spheres of influence, the Warsaw Pact, the Cold War, and Totalitarianism, all of which seemed to reinforce these ideas.

Later still, and I started to meet people from 'Eastern Europe' and found my ideas were challenged. Not least, people from the Czech Republic and Poland aren't especially impressed with the 'East/West' dichotomy and see themselves as inhabitants of central Europe, a place that was never in my old books. I have visited both countries, and found that the old Habsburg cities survived the horrors of World Wars and Communism, if not intact, then with their historic hearts still beating. I realised that my earlier ideas weren't just challenged, but wrong. So was Communist 'Eastern' Europe just a veneer, or a piece of Western propaganda? How did the Soviet Union come to dominate such a large territory so completely?

So it was with some interest I looked forward to the paperback publication of this book; the title alone seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. However, fairly early on it becomes apparent it wasn't quite what I was looking for; rather than the 'Crushing of Eastern Europe', this is a book about the suffocation of parts of Central Europe. Most of the Soviet sphere of influence is mentioned only in passing, with the dominant focus being on East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. Eastern Europe itself, being an integral part of the USSR during the period in scope, is barely mentioned at all.

The distraction of the title and the disappointment of the slightly limited scope apart, this is a marvellous book. Appelbaum looks in detail at various aspect of how the Soviet Union found itself in control of large swathes of Europe outside its own territorial borders, and the means it used to exercise complete domination over these countries. The very first chapter shows that the job of 'crushing' the area had largely been done by World War Two, and whilst not a blank canvas, the Soviets had several pulverised, demoralised and weary countries in dire need of reconstruction on which to inflict it's brutal totalitarian regimes.

In the first half of the book, through chapters on the situation at the cessation of hostilities, the dividing of the defeated areas into zones, the nascent communist parties in the three areas of focus, the policemen, violence and media used to exert complete control over the population, the forcible repatriations of people based on ethnicity, the suppression of 'civil society' and the efforts to force one party systems and Marxist economics onto each of the conquered countries, Appelbaum paints an appallingly vivid picture of the situation that befell the populations in the years immediately after World War Two.

In the second half, she concentrates on the 'reactionary enemies' in the church and the 'internal enemies' within the communist systems that were brutally suppressed in the name of Stalinism, the desire and failed efforts to turn both the people and the cities into idealised versions of a communist citizens in a communist utopia, the efforts to control both the artists and the workers, the emphasis based on 'realism' and industry, and the effect all this had on the ordinary people, whether they became 'reluctant collaborators' or 'passive opponents', or both, all culminating in the unsuccessful uprisings and revolutions in the mid 1950s after Stalin's death.

By ending where it does, the story feels a bit unfinished. The brief epilogue isn't especially satisfying, attempting to squeeze 33 years into a handful of pages after taking nearly 500 to explain a dozen years up to that point doesn't really work. There is surely scope for a sequel.

Clearly, the image of 'Eastern Europe' behind the Iron Curtain was not a veneer, and not a construct of Western propaganda. Life under Soviet communism was unpleasant, difficult, or downright impossible for many people. There were definite similarities between the experiences of each of the constituent countries of the 'Soviet Empire', especially in the years leading up Stalin's death. Yet, as Applebaum demonstrates, the populations of these three countries, and by extension the rest of the 'Soviet Empire', somehow managed to retain enough 'civil society' and national character to re-establish themselves once the Soviet yoke was lifted. Crushed or not, Central Europe survived under Soviet domination, and has regained it's place on the map.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book, 29 Dec. 2013
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I enjoyed this book very much. I have always wanted to understand why Russia and the West fought together against Germany in the Second World War, and then went on to become enemies with the division of Europe. This book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand this period of European history, and the background to the subjugation of Eastern Europe by Russia after the Second World War.
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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Iron Curtain' by Anne Applebaum, 5 Nov. 2012
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Anne Applebaum's last book, 'Gulag' related events that were so horrifying that you were almost glad when the book came to an end. The story here is also of cruelty and failure, but not on such a terrible scale. It shows how ordinary, decent people were made to conform, partly at least because of the threat of terror, and how the Soviet backed governments in Eastern Europe tried to divert attention from their failure to get public support or to significantly improve living standards. It ends with the doomed attempts at rebellion in East Germany and then Hungary.
A lot of research must have gone into this book, but the author manages to present her ideas clearly and simply. Partly of necessity, she has to concentrate on only three countries, Hungary, Poland and East Germany. She shows that the conventional picture of the Cold War only breaking out in 1948-9 is misleading. The communists genuinely believed, after the War, that they could win popular elections. But they were soon disabused of these ideas. Instead, they effectively seized power and crushed any opposition.
By relating the personal stories of many of the people that she was able to interview, the author is able to make the story that she is relating much more interesting. A major theme is how private institutions were not allowed to survive for very long under Communism.
This book is well worth reading. It extends our knowledge of what happened in Eastern Europe after the War, and never fails to interest the reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive survey., 15 Jun. 2013
By 
Pompom (Devon) - See all my reviews
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Applebaum continues to develop an impressive scholarly collection of work which, given her journalist training, proves to be readily accessible and commercially successful. Iron Curtain is yet another well researched, written and structured work which covers a fascinating and somewhat under exposed period of European history. Applebaum captures the inherent drama and tragedy of the period, as nations emerged from the war only to see their guarded optimism dashed by the catastrophe of Stalinism. Her review of the period covers East Germany, Hungary and Poland to the exclusion of the other nations, but given the depth of research and the comprehensive study, the themes and issues she captures, speaks more broadly of East Europe. There are many more such books that deserve to illuminate these other countries and Applebaum deserves to be credited as the pathfinder for this generation as we look to relearn and gain a better perspective of our recent past.
An insightful and comprehensive work which should be a must for any post-graduate reading list and military and political student or professional. It does have an appeal and is accessible for the general reader, but given its very precise and thorough review of a tumultuous 12 years, it may not attract as broad a readership as it deserves and very much merits. For those wavering to decide if to buy it or not, no need to hesitate - if you enjoy reading history, this book bears real witness to events which even now echo with significance for the contemporary world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mmmmmmm, 15 April 2013
By 
C M Cotton "Chris Cotton" (Europe and USA) - See all my reviews
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I have a great love of modern European history, with part of my degree specialising in Soviet politics and the satellite states and modern history. I ordered this book with great expectations but had not read the other reviews. Firstly this book only covers, Hungry, East Germany and Poland, which quite frankly is a travesty. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania represent countries where the authors analysis of how socialism was engineered and Eastern Europe was crushed by the mighty Soviet Union does not necessarily hold up. The way power was transferred in these countries should have been included. Secondly the in-depth strata/realist analysis of how "Eastern Europe" was crushed is not here in this book. The author tends to make sweeping generalisations and does not look at the micro causes of why certain groups backed the taking over of the Governments in these three countries.

The book focuses upon how Governments used the threat of terror to gain public support and then used propaganda and lying to hide their failures. I am sorry but there is a far greater depth of analysis needed to understand control and taking of power in these countries. If you take just two examples Matyas Rakosi in Hungry and Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland you can see the simplifications to the theory by the author do not explain the whole story. Rakosi was deemed too dangerous and too cruel in his treatment of the Hungarians by Moscow, that Moscow decided he had to go. Yes he kept order, yes he destroyed minority discontent but it was the Soviet Union itself who did not want this type of person in charge of Hungry so they themselves removed him. If terror was the name of the game Rakosi would have been kept in power. Gomulka reformed the Communist party of Poland and removed in the early days many vestiges of terror in doing so, although he brought back some vestiges later on. These changes were done to pacify Hungarians and Poles, but the realist intent of these decisions is not gone into in enough detail by the author.

Whilst this is not a bad book and in parts it is very interesting, the theory put forward by the author seems to be oversimplified and not enough analysis has been done on the structural reasons why the socialist parties were allowed to take over, nor the realist intent of those who allowed it. The generalisations continue in the way that terror and propaganda are analysed by the author as the main reasons Eastern Europe was crushed. This is an interesting book, but if you want a deep analysis based upon strata analysis or realist intent then look further.

Interesting but needs more depth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work that shows how Nation States were subjugated and subdued by Stalinism and Soviet Hegemony, 8 April 2013
By 
Susman "Susman" (London Mills IL) - See all my reviews
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A large percentage of reviewers seem to have read Ms Applebaum's other works namely `Gulags': A History of Soviet Camps, unfortunately this is a book I have yet to read. Hence for better or worse I will be unable to compare writing styles etc. for the purpose of my review.

Ms Applebaum's book, initially looks at the precursors and origins of Stalin policies towards the nations his armies had `liberated' from the Nazi occupation, thereafter this book can be divided into roughly two parts the Soviet's need to for control, but this need was for total governance. All organs of government were subjected to special treatment by Soviet indoctrinated communists who seemed to be all pervasive and dominating. The second part of her book deals with the need to eradicate the citizen's `private' sphere of their lives to ensure that are fully indoctrinated, dare I say enthusiastically embrace the new socialist workers `Utopia'

This is a well-researched and highly detailed historical account that is well written and not a dry academic treatment. One review I have seen, suggests that the Author has a political agenda in writing this book. I may be naïve but I cannot see any overt political axe to grind here. While I understand the need to be concise and not to try and cover all things, I would have liked to see some reference and critical analysis of what happened to the Baltic States, Romania, and Bulgaria to name but a few other Eastern European States that were subjugated and subdued by Stalinism and Soviet Hegemony. Never the less a good read that highlights a time has shaped modern central and Eastern Europe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anne Applebaum - The Lockdown of Eastern Europe, 8 Jan. 2013
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Red on Black - See all my reviews
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By any standards Anne Applebaum's follow up to her microscopic Pulitzer Prize winning examination of the Soviet Gulags is an important work of history. Ms Applebaum's credentials are set out in other more extensive reviews however the key factor about "Iron Curtain - The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1994-1956" is the authors ability to steer through some hugely complex issues with admirable sureness of touch. This is achieved by the use of a large database of personal accounts and interviews of people who lived through these events to provide a sterling and very readable backdrop to her research. In football parlance the book is a "game of two halves" divided into dual sections on "False Dawn" and "High Stalinism". Inevitably it is the latter, which generates most interest and anger from the reader, as it is a very full the account of the stifling of freedoms, protest movements and popular uprisings over the period. The book primarily concentrates upon Hungary, Poland and East Germany but is not shy about providing a helicopter view of the totality of what was once known as the Eastern bloc.

Applebaum starts with the well known revisionist thesis that Red Army's march on Germany was not infused with a dedicated plot or calculated attempt at advancing the Soviet Union in response to US global ambitions. In every sense the Soviets control of this huge swathe of territory was unexpected, but there were models of control for them to draw upon once they overran what were hugely divergent political and cultural systems. The template for a communist takeover was already well established since the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1940 and this initially involved the taking over the public sphere such as police forces and radio. It developed into a system of brutal political domination with various satellite communist parties and puppet states where any viable political alternatives were deemed to unthinkable. Later intellectuals like the East German Rudolf Bahro who forensically examined these regimes in his book "The Alternative in Eastern Europe" did so from a position of describing how "actually existing socialism" deviated from classic socialist models. Perhaps more importantly was the mind numbing dysfunction and near madness, which had to be endured by the populations of Eastern Europe in an all-persuasive loyalty to the state. As Keith Lowe recently stated in his review of this book in the Daily Telegraph "The communist regimes that took over Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War were among the most humourless administrations ever created - a forgivable fault, perhaps, had the unbearable earnestness of their political project not been so ripe for satire. These were people who wrote books for toddlers with titles like Six-Year-Old Bronek and the Six-Year Plan. Their posters bore such immortal slogans as "every artificially inseminated pig is a blow to capitalist imperialism", and their idea of civic art was to commission paintings depicting "the technology and organisation of cattle slaughter".

Applebaum books brilliantly dissects these abominations but as stated the reader is primarily drawn to the cruel false hopes that arose upon Stalin's death on 6th March 1953 and the especially poignant tragedy of Irme Nagy and the failure of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. It will be interesting to see whether Applebaum brings this fine volume to a updated conclusion by the production of another book looking at the collapse of Soviet style Eastern Europe in 1989. However for now this is a remarkable book that stands as a testimony to the resilience of the human condition in the vilest of circumstances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grim's Tales, 28 Dec. 2012
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Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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The subjugation of Eastern Europe by a mixture of Stalinism (and other less impressive personality cults) anti-fascism and idealism is a very sad tale that cast a dark cloud over many lives. It was only after 30+ years that the impracticality of the state economic model became manifest, and it took as long for the fear of retribution by Soviet forces to be lifted. The mixture of communist theory, Russian imperialism, and anti-capitalist feelings combined to require the State to attempt to control the masses.

Anne Applebaum describes in each of the countries the parallel (and, in some cases, divergent) trends whereby the State was obliged by its construct to seize more and more control as it moved towards a totalitarian model. Yet at every stage those in control felt unable to divert this, even where they saw it as ineffective, the other alternatives being so much worse in their view. After a while the roll of lives blighted or ended, prison cells occupied, and wealth ruined or wasted becomes almost too much. But even in this the author does not forget the areas that did improve (though at a fearsome cost) like child care. This is a grim tale and the author tells it carefully and without great passion: it does not persuade with great oratory but by battering us chapter after chapter with each turn of the sorry tale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Disturbing Account of Life Behind the Iron Curtain, 20 Nov. 2013
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A very detailed account on how ordinary citizens lived in Eastern European Countries, through the end of the Second World War and Nazism and then Soviet Invasion, at first welcoming them as liberators but slowly realizing that their freedoms were being eroded bit by bit closing down the media, radio, youth groups, art and culture, replacing them with heavily censured communist versions.

The book covers the new cities created and the communist economy such as the five year plans,and work life, the communist authority songs, marches, schools and summer camps held to inordinate citizens to be good communists and to conform, encouraging workers to accede their quotas with competitions and rewards winners were made famous and held up as good examples to aspire too.

The most difficult and emotional chapters to read were on the arrests, executions, beatings and prison conditions, and the mental toll on citizens who did not agree with communism but felt that they had to conform to keep their families safe.

The last two chapters deal with the uprisings following the death of Stalin and the debates the authorities had on whether to allow more freedoms to keep the protests at bay, the book most covers East Germany, Poland and Hungary.

A very good read and highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Demanding, but worth the effort, 16 May 2013
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I am by no means an expert on this subject and so my response is very much that of a reader reasonably well informed about the history of the second world war, but not so much its aftermath.

This is a serious account of a complex period in European history and Applebaum's erudition is obvious from the very first. As has been written elsewhere, the author wears her considerable scholarship fairly lightly, but there is no question that this is a highly analytical account by an academic historian. It is not, therefore an easy read, as the threads of the narrative are complex and require the author's expert teasing out. Focusing on Poland, Hungary and East Germany, Applebaum charts the transition from governments which believed they could represent the popular will to something increasingly coercive, controlling and totalitarian, controlled from the Soviet Union. The popular rebellions against the state structures in each of the three countries are effectively, sometimes movingly, covered, particularly in the case of the Hungarian Uprising which effectively concludes the period covered. It is a grim and depressing narrative which leaves these Warsaw Pact countries facing an extension of the suffering of the war with another 33 years of oppression and state control.
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Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 by Anne Applebaum (Paperback - 6 Jun. 2013)
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