The Post-War Divide: Western Europe vs. Eastern Europe
The article compares the political and economic progression of Western Europe, which developed into democracies and created institutions that supported cooperation and integration, with Eastern Europe, which remained under the Soviet Union’s control and faced a clamp or vice that was tightened after Stalin’s death. The physical destruction and brutal reconstruction of the Soviet Union following World War II are also discussed, along with the human cost of the recovering economy.
Table of Contents
- The Development of Democracy in Western Europe
- Democracy, End of Empires, and National Integration
- The Soviet Union’s Control of Eastern Europe
- Stalin’s Death and the Thaw
- Khrushchev’s Speech and Political Dissent
Q: How did democracy develop in Western Europe after World War II?
A: The end of World War II saw the creation of institutions that coexisted with the nation-state, creating new levels of cooperation and integration that were inconceivable before the war. This led to the development of democracies and the end of empires in Western Europe.
Q: How did Eastern Europe fare after World War II?
A: Eastern Europe remained under the Soviet Union’s control and faced a clamp or vice that was tightened after Stalin’s death. The Soviet Union’s heavy-handed response to the unrest caused by de-Stalinization led to the clamp being retightened.
Q: How did the Soviet Union rebuild after World War II?
A: While there were impressive recoveries in iron, steel, coal, oil, electricity, and cement production, the standard of living remained low, and much of the population continued to live in poverty. The brutal reconstruction of the economy led to widespread famine and instances of cannibalism, and the Gulag expanded in the post-war years.
Q: What was Khrushchev’s speech about, and how did it affect Soviet society?
A: Khrushchev’s four-hour speech denouncing Stalin’s abuses of power at the Twentieth Congress in 1956 attempted to separate Lenin’s legacy from Stalin’s reign of terror and emphasized the importance of collective party leadership. However, reactions to the speech were mixed as many citizens had come to worship Stalin after years of cultivating his personality cult. Portraits and busts of Stalin were destroyed in some places, but Georgia fiercely defended him with protests and demonstrations. The speech led to an increase in political dissent in 1956 and 1957, particularly among students and youth groups, but Soviet leaders sought to curb dissent.
Q: What was the human cost of the Soviet Union’s reconstruction after World War II?
A: The brutal reconstruction of the Soviet Union led to widespread famine and instances of cannibalism, as the state removed food reserves from peasants for industrialization. The Gulag expanded in the post-war years, and the population continued to live in poverty despite impressive recoveries in industrial production.
The divide between Western Europe, which developed into democracies with institutions that supported cooperation and integration, and Eastern Europe, which remained under the Soviet Union’s tight control, shaped the post-war world. The reconstruction of the Soviet Union’s economy came at a tremendous human cost, and the political dissent following Khrushchev’s speech denouncing Stalin’s abuses of power was met with repression. Understanding the history of this period is essential to understanding the tensions and relationships that continue to shape the global political landscape today.