How the spectre of the Iron Curtain haunts Eastern Europe today: Toronto Star interview with Anne Applebaum (Jan. 6, 2013)

I read with interest this Jan. 6, 2013 interview in The Toronto Star with Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe.

The opening up of archives and the availability of personal accounts of the postwar years in Eastern Europe is, I believe, a significant achievement. Accurate and balanced overviews based on such resources are well worth reading.

The text for the headline and opening paragraphs of the Jan. 6, 2013 article by Olivia Ward reads as follows:

How the spectre of the Iron Curtain haunts Eastern Europe today

“It’s hard to read Anne Applebaum’s massive analysis of the Soviet takeover of East Europe without feeling the cold, clammy hand of Soviet communism on your shoulder, to breathe the stifling air of the police state, and feel your chest tighten at descriptions of lives shredded and squandered at the will of a faceless force that was inescapable.

“Even those who know little of the era that Applebaum writes about in Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe — the turbulent post-war years of 1945 to 1956 — would shudder at the story of the Ukrainian child who watched as his cousin’s wedding turned to a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing by the Polish communist regime. Or the Hungarian teenagers dragged from their homes and deported to Soviet work camps as part of the geopolitical engineering that overtook millions in the carve-up of Eastern Europe.”

[You can read the full article by clicking on the first link in the opening paragraph in this blog post.]

The book draws on newly opened European archives

The blurb for this book at the Toronto Public Library website provides the following overview:

“At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union, to its surprise and delight, found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Central Europe. It set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to a completely new political and moral system, Communism. Iron Curtain describes how the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created, and what daily life was like once they were complete. Applebaum draws on newly opened European archives and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief, rendered worthless their every qualification, and took everything away they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Block is a lost civilization, whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality and strange aethestics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of this book.”

Ethnic cleansing

Michael Mann (2005), Sönke and Welzer (2012), and Welzer (2012) have shared insights regarding the dynamics of ethnic cleansing and the conditions under which is occurs.

With regard to Michael Mann (2005), Welzer (2012, p. 50) comments:

“Phenomena such as the Holocaust or the violent break-up of Yugoslavia (the latest European instance of state-building) illustrate the truly horrifyinng point made recently by Michael Mann: that most of Europe’s ethnically homogeneous states are the outcome of processes of ethnic cleansing and mass killing. These murderous options are not simply occupational accidents but the dark side of the democracy that rests upon them. The path to ethnic cleansing and genocide does not follow any master plans and is often strewn with unintended consequences. War and violence intrinsically tend to trigger developments that no one foresaw at the beginning of the state-building process; resettlement can suddenly turn into expulsions, and expulsions into genocide. It is important to realize that such dynamics are not historically random. But escalations of extreme violence are aspects of modernization processes that are subject to cultural amnesia after the successful constitution of a new state. One reason why this is possible is that the victims of homogenization have run away or are dead.

“If the ethnic cleansings and genocides of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are understood as dynamos of modernization – and there is much to suggest that they should be – then the social transformations that come in the wake of globalization will produce a further rise in deadly violence. And, if changes in habitat, system change or the resource needs of other countries lead to increasing instability in various societies, attempts to find solutions through violence will become more and more likely.”


A Dec. 16, 2014 Foreign Policy article is entitled: “Europe’s New Problem With Anti-Semitism: Anti-Semitism isn’t just a problem for Europe’s Jews. It’s a problem for Europe.”

A study of relevance to the topics at hand is entitled: Remembering the Holocaust: A Debate (2009); a blurb reads:

“Remembering the Holocaust explains why the Holocaust has come to be considered the central event of the 20th century, and what this means. Presenting Jeffrey Alexander’s controversial essay that, in the words of Geoffrey Hartman, has already become a classic in the Holocaust literature, and following up with challenging and equally provocative responses to it, this book offers a sweeping historical reconstruction of the Jewish mass murder as it evolved in the popular imagination of Western peoples, as well as an examination of its consequences.

“[Jeffrey] Alexander’s inquiry points to a broad cultural transition that took place in Western societies after World War II: from confidence in moving past the most terrible of Nazi wartime atrocities to pessimism about the possibility for overcoming violence, ethnic conflict, and war. The Holocaust has become the central tragedy of modern times, an event which can no longer be overcome, but one that offers possibilities to extend its moral lessons beyond Jews to victims of other types of secular and religious strife. Following Alexander’s controversial thesis is a series of responses by distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences–Martin Jay, Bernhard Giesen, Michael Rothberg, Robert Manne, Nathan Glazer, and Elihu & Ruth Katz–considering the implications of the universal moral relevance of the Holocaust. A final response from Alexander in a postscript focusing on the repercussions of the Holocaust in Israel concludes this forthright and engaging discussion.

“Remembering the Holocaust is an all-too-rare debate on our conception of the Holocaust, how it has evolved over the years, and the profound effects it will have on the way we envision the future.”

[End of text]

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”


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