Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Žhavé ohnisko studené války: Německo 1945–1990 / A Hot Spot of the Cold War: Germany, 1945–90
An Introduction to the Set of Articles on the German Question, 1945–90
This introduction to the thematic set of articles in the current issue of Soudobé dějiny presents the individual contributions and provides information on how and why they were written and first presented. The five selected essays are on the German question, which during the Cold War was one of the sites of great tension in the rivalry of the two superpowers and their allies. The articles are reworked versions of papers given at the international conference ‘Dropping, Maintaining and Breaking the Iron Curtain: The Cold War and East-Central Europe Twenty Years Later’. The conference was held, on 19–21 November 2009, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of the Communist régimes in central and eastern Europe. It was organized by the Institute of Contemporary History, Prague, with the Cabinet Office of the Czech Republic and with assistance of students from the Institute of International Studies, at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague. The reworked versions of most of the papers will be published this year as Weaving and Tearing Asunder the Iron Curtain: The Cold War and East-Central Europe from Beginning to End in the Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series of Rowman & Littlefield. In 2011 Soudobé dějiny published the articles by David Holloway, Csaba Békés, Alex Pravda, Thomas Blanton, Svetlana Savranskaya, and Mark Kramer in Czech translation, with an introductory report on the conference and its results in the context of current research in the thematic set ‘Nekonečný příběh s náhlým koncem: Studená válka 1945–1989’ (A Never-ending Story with a Sudden Ending: The Cold War, 1945–89), Soudobé dějiny, 18 (2011), nos. 1–2, pp. 11–195. Another four articles, written by William Taubman, Silvio Pons, Bernd Schäfer, and James G. Hershberg, have been published in the periodical Dějiny a současnost (History and the Present) in the thematic set ‘Konec studené války: Rozpad sovětského impéria’ (The End of the Cold War: The Break-up of the Soviet Empire), Dějiny a současnost, 33 (2011), 5, pp. 26–43.
Hope M. Harrison
The Berlin Wall symbolized in concrete the global Cold War conflict between Communism and dictatorship, on the one hand, and democracy and freedom, on the other hand. The desire of East Germans to live in a free market economy with democracy, freedom of thought, and freedom of movement spurred a mass exodus westwards via West Berlin, which led to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This essay addresses the question of what we have learned in the past two decades about these historic events since the opening of formerly closed Communist archives in Moscow, Berlin, and elsewhere. It also assesses how the passage of time has affected the views of Germans about the Berlin Wall and the history surrounding it.
A close examination of now available documentary evidence shows that East German leader Walter Ulbricht was absolutely essential to the building of the Berlin Wall and to the harsh border régime that developed with it. The building of the Wall is a clear part of German history and cannot be deflected onto the Soviets/Russians, although they too definitely share the blame. The second part of the article examines the ongoing German process since 1989 of coming to terms with the history of the Berlin Wall and with responsibility for the Wall. It deals with the developments in reappraising the SED dictatorship and the commemoration of its victims as well as specific projects connected with the legacy of the Berlin Wall such as the creation of the Berlin Wall Memorial and its gradual expansion.
New Evidence on the Decision-Making Process of the Stalin Note of 1952
The Stalin Note of 10 March 1952 has long been an intensively debated, even fiercely contested, topic among Cold War historians. The core of this debate was constituted by the question of whether Stalin’s proposal to the Western powers to allow the unification of Germany in exchange for its neutrality was made in earnest. If this was the case, then the United States, the United Kingdom, and France could be at least partly blamed for refusing the proposal and thus for endorsing the continued division of Germany.
The author of this article has carried out extensive research in various Soviet archives to trace the origins of the Note and to reveal its true purpose in the overall context of Soviet policy towards Germany. By doing so, he has dispelled some of the widespread myths surrounding the nature of the process of making Soviet foreign policy in the last years of Stalin’s life. He clearly demonstrates that regarding Germany, no decision was made by the Politburo without the approval of Stalin, even during his long absences from the capital. He also shows that although the origins of the Stalin Note can be traced to East Germany and Walter Ulbricht, the East German leadership played no significant role in wording the note itself.
Based on his extensive research, the author concludes that far from being a serious plan to achieve the unification and neutralization of Germany, the Stalin Note instead provided a comfortable cover for the integration of East Germany into the Eastern bloc. While ostentatiously criticizing the remilitarization of West Germany and the Western reluctance to compromise, the Soviet leader had decided long before receiving the answer of the Western powers to his note that the only tenable course for East Germany was the building of socialism and full absorption of the country into the Eastern bloc. Thus, the Stalin Note cannot be considered anything more than a propaganda manoeuvre, although very well executed as far as deception of the general public was concerned.
Hindrance or Catalyst on the Path to 1989/90?
In this article the author focuses on a question of very high importance for the Cold War period in Europe – the question of divided Germany and its role in maintaining the status quo in Europe, and later, in changing this very same status quo. He argues that the ‘German question’, though originally a hindrance that increased tensions between East and West, gradually evolved into one of the areas where the East-West division slowly began to crumble.
The author demonstrates that in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the Soviet Union tried to keep the possibility of a unified, neutralized Germany open, despite the fact that it somewhat undermined the legitimacy of the Berlin government. This unified and neutralized Germany would provide a cordon sanitaire for the Eastern bloc, which would place an effective barrier between the East and the West while at the same time removing the need for a strong military build-up in the region and enabling the Soviet Union to focus on other pressing matters. For the West, however, such a prospect was unacceptable since a unified Germany still constituted a threat, while at the same time the ‘neutralization’ of the country would play directly into the hands of the Soviets. Thus, the Soviet efforts being unsuccessful, the Kremlin finally approved the building of the Berlin Wall and with it the lasting division of Germany into two states, a reality so much sought after by the Communist leadership in Berlin.
Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik brought a significant new element into play. Now the attempts at rapprochement, and eventually unification, were coming from the two German states themselves, particularly from the Federal Republic. It was Ostpolitik, together with the structures that gradually developed within the framework of intra-German co-operation, which eventually paved the way for the reunification of the two German states. This was made possible not only by the changing international situation and the collapse of the Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe, but also by the ability of the German politicians to convince their counterparts in the East and the West that unified Germany no longer constituted a threat. It can therefore be argued that whereas in the 1950s and 1960s the German question constituted a hindrance to the détente between East and West, in the 1980s it became a catalyst of changes in the superpower relationship and the geopolitical makeup of Europe.
The View from London
This essay first examines the leading role of Britain over the division of Germany in 1945–49, and then considers its less vital role in Eastern Europe (with Czechoslovakia as a case study), showing that it was closer to being an observer than an initiator of policy. While the British could make a strategic difference over at least part of Germany’s future, they knew that the fate of Eastern Europe was essentially contingent upon the broader development of East-West relations, and concluded that it would be futile, and possibly counter-productive, not to accept the Soviet Union’s influence over this area as a fait accompli.
In 1989, on the other hand, serious diplomats and observers of British power knew that this time the UK’s role would not be central even in Germany. So what mattered was how the UK positioned itself for the post-Cold War era. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who allowed emotion to outweigh realpolitik and principle, did not understand this. Somehow, the cumulative effect of relative economic decline, loss of empire, and membership of the EEC left the British unable to formulate and stick with any consistent and workable strategy; thus they became followers rather than leaders.
Eastern Europe was, sadly, a lost cause for London in the Cold War years. And even though British policy towards the region did shift in the late 1980s, it was strategically of secondary importance as the Soviet Union’s European empire started to unravel. It was only in its support of EU enlargement to the region in the 1990s that the UK was able to act more sympathetically and expansively.
The German question was one of the important areas of French foreign policy throughout the Cold War period. There were different views as to whether German reunification should be permitted, and, if so, under what conditions and within what timeframe. Whereas the politicians of the early decades of the Cold War did not have to solve the question while the Iron Curtain divide persisted, President François Mitterrand found himself in the late 1980s facing a series of rapid dynamic changes, which forced him to adjust his policies and come up with new solutions.
In his article the author shows how Mitterrand’s position and approach gradually developed as a result of changing circumstances. The French President placed a lot of trust in the Soviet Union and its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, seeing the Kremlin once more as a counter-balance both to the United States and to resurgent Germany (thus retaining the longstanding ‘double security concept’ of French foreign policy). With this strategy proving to be a failure, and with the prospect of reunification looming ever closer in the autumn of 1989, Mitterrand had to devise new approaches to cope with the situation. His ultimate decision to allow the reunification of Germany (or, more precisely, not to oppose it openly) went hand in hand with the decision that the European Community must be strengthened to integrate the whole of Germany into the Western bloc. This solution was acceptable to Chancellor Helmut Kohl as well and thus the reunification could proceed with much greater haste than Mitterrand had originally anticipated.
The author provides a detailed analysis of the motives and objectives behind Mitterrand’s moves and decisions. He also shows, however, that Mitterrand’s often finding himself unable to keep pace with events was frequently because of the inaccurate reports he received from his advisers and French diplomats abroad. Yet, despite this lack of information, Mitterrand was able to realize what was happening in Germany and the consequences of these events faster than, for example, Margaret Thatcher and other Western politicians.
Russian-Georgian Relations, 2001–07
This article seeks to demonstrate that, with increasing US involvement in the affairs of the South Caucasus, relations between Russia and Georgia had permanently taken a turn for the worse as early as autumn 2001, when this process accelerated. In that sense, even the change in government in Georgia was not decisive, when, in late 2003, as a consequence of the Rose Revolution the moderate President Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, was forced to resign and power was taken over by the pro-American politician Mikheil Saakashvili, who made Georgian membership in NATO and the EU an aim of his assertive foreign policy – in accord with the prevailing mood in Georgian society and his own overall orientation. The author focuses on how these deteriorating relations were reflected in disputes over the penetration of armed anti-Russian Islamist rebels into Georgian territory and their subsequent elimination, and in debates over the presence and removal of Russian military bases in Georgia, accompanied by massive American military assistance to the Georgian government. He also seeks to show that the short war between Moscow and Tbilisi in 2008 should be seen as the logical culmination of the long-lasting and escalating conflict between Moscow and Tbilisi, a conflict that was determined more by structural factors than personal ones and in which none of the sides showed a willingness to retreat from its position. In these circumstances it was just a matter of time before the ‘diplomatic war’ would lead to an armed confrontation.
This article discusses some of the usual ways of perceiving political repression and persecution in Communist Czechoslovakia, including the implicit identification of these phenomena with violence carried out by the State Security Forces (Státní bezpečnost – StB) and in show trials. The author advocates dealing with these phenomena complexly, in their various forms, in their ways of being expressed, their contexts and aims, by means of the stories of victims and perpetrators, in reflections, and in the consequences for the behaviour of Czech and Slovak society. He points out the often over-simplified use of statistics about the number of people sentenced for political crimes, which has created an exaggerated picture of acts of political repression in the 1950s, compared to which the 1960s are almost too easily perceived as a period of political liberalization, a judgement that is, from the perspective of political repression by means of the courts at least to the mid-1960s, unwarranted.
The author takes issue with Martin Franc’s review, ‘Nedotažená syntéza: První vysokoškolská učebnice dějin Československa 1948–1989’ (Half-baked: The First University Textbook on the History of Communist Czechoslovakia) published in the previous issue of Soudobé dějiny, 19 (2011), 2, pp. 316–22, of Jan Rataj and Přemysl Houda’s Československo v proměnách komunistického režimu (Prague: Vysoká škola ekonomická and Nakladatelství Oeconomica, 2010). Franc’s review, according to the author, is the kind that seeks to belittle the work and ‘knock out’ its author(s). The author rejects the reviewer’s criticism of the allegedly unclear periodization and structural imbalance of the book, and he finds the reviewer’s criticism of his interpretations to be merely a collection of impressions, aversions, and new stereotypes. Together with his co-author, his aim was, he argues, to write a history and political-science textbook for university students, which would offer a broad background of the people and institutions of the time; it was not their purpose, he states, to make an encyclopaedic scholarly synthesis, a fact that the reviewer has failed to take into account.
Bobek, Michal, Pavel Molek, and Vojtěch Šimíček (eds), Komunistické právo v Československu: Kapitoly z dějin bezpráví. Brno: Masarykova univerzita and Mezinárodní politologický ústav, 2009, 1005 pp.
In his long review of this publication, whose title translates as ‘Communist Law in Czechoslovakia: Chapters from the History of Lawlessness’, the reviewer states that this is a serious volume, which is certain to become a key work on Czechoslovak legal history of the years 1948 to 1989. His criticisms should therefore not be seen to outweigh the obviously positive aspects of the book. The weaknesses, he believes, are, however, the undefined basic terms with which the authors of the volume operate, as well as the problematic criteria of the selection of its authors, the intentional omission of older scholars, and mainly the presence of the ‘delegitimizing discourse’ in relation to the Communist era, the aim of which is to unmask the régime, to show its perverse aspirations, and to condemn it morally. The reviewer characterizes and assesses the contributions one by one. He appreciates in particular the conceptual essays in the first part of the book, which discuss the legal system of Communist Czechoslovakia and its development. He then makes an appeal for a social history of Communist law in the sense of ‘lived law’, which still awaits its author.
Rokoský, Jaroslav. Rudolf Beran a jeho doba: Vzestup a pád agrární strany. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů and Vyšehrad, 2011, 912 pp.
What the reviewer appreciates about the work under review is that its author has depicted the political career of Rudolf Beran (1887–1954), head of the Agrarian Party from the mid-1930s onwards and Czechoslovak Prime Minister during the Second Republic) in connection with the fate of his party. He also appreciates that the author has considered in depth a number of thorny questions and themes, which other historians have so far mostly avoided. On the other hand, the reviewer finds that the author offers an excessively personal view, overly sympathetic towards Beran. Moreover, his conception of the Third Republic (May 1945 to February 1948) as an undemocratic régime is, the reviewer argues, largely untenable, and displaying a marked bias against the Beran trial after the war.
Syrný, Marek. Slovenskí demokrati ’44–48: Kapitoly z dejín Demokratickej strany na Slovensku v rokoch 1944–1948. Banská Bystrica: Múzeum Slovenského národného povstania, 2010, 403 pp.
According to the reviewer, the author has stuck to diligent archive research and has endeavoured fairly and comprehensively to chart out the birth, activity, and demise of the Democratic Party, the largest non-Communist party in Czechoslovakia in the brief period between the end of the Second World War and the Communist takeover. He recapitulates the well-known facts, but also provides much new information, though readers would probably have appreciated a less descriptive, livelier style.
Hazdra, Zdeněk, Václav Horčička, and Jan Županič (eds). Šlechta střední Evropy v konfrontaci s totalitními režimy 20. století / Der Adel Mitteleuropas in Konfrontation mit den totalitären Regimen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2011, 347 pp.
The volume under review comprises articles based on papers from a conference of the same name, which was organized by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague, together with the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, on 19 and 20 October 2010. With one exception, the articles published here concern the history of the nobility in the Bohemian Lands, Slovakia, Germany, and Austria. Readers will, according to the reviewer, learn on the one hand, the personal stories of certain noblemen and noblewomen or their families, and, on the other hand, become better acquainted with more general trends of development and broader views on the topic.
Goldstein, Ivo. Dvadeset godina samostalne Hrvatske. Zagreb: Novi Liber, 2010, 392 pp.
The title of the book under review translates as ‘Twenty Years of Croatian Independence’. The author is a respected Croatian scholar of medieval and, more recently, contemporary Croatian history. The book is remarkable for the author’s efforts to take a scholarly approach unburdened by politics. In that respect it differs from most other works of history published in Croatia. Moreover, according to the reviewer, it is written in a lively, elegant style. Nevertheless, the interpretation is still not free of national stereotypes. The author’s criticism is aimed mostly at the régime of Franjo Tudjman, and is seriously imbalanced in terms of the space devoted to the various topics and periods.
A Ljubljana Conference on Conscription into the Wehrmacht
This is a report on the international conference ‘Mobilisation into the Wehrmacht in the Occupied Lands of the Third Reich’. The conference was held by the National Museum of Contemporary History, Ljubljana, on 18 and 19 October 2012. It presented the results of several years of Slovene research on the topic and was also an attempt to expand the project to include the international context and make contrasts and comparisons with other European countries.