In our history classes, we were always told that life behind the famous Iron Curtain was dismal, with food shortages, substandard housing, lacking in human rights, and lots of government control over communications. But what can we find out now about life back then? How bad was it, or were we just brainwashed, like we were in many other conflicts?
Many say it looked like the Great Depression, though just three decades removed from the fall of the Soviet Union. Store shelves were bare, and long queue at the grocery stores were normal. Life just beat these people down. Meanwhile, in the west, living conditions improved dramatically. The Communist political system stifled free enterprise and stopped the countries from moving beyond their feudal past.
The actual Iron Curtain has disappeared, but a few reconstructions of the old border have been set up at or near their original locations. Today, the only way to know a border crossing and former curtain location are the border signs and language of advertisements. However, bunkers built along the borders back during World War 2 were left standing and still visible in places. Two bunkers have been restored and open to the public in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The Iron Curtain symbolized the efforts by the Soviet Union to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the West and non-Soviet-controlled areas. I guess this might be known as capitalist propaganda? Or like North Korea today, they don’t want their people to know about the life they don’t have. For us, we saw oppression and isolation in those countries.
The term iron curtain
was coined by the British author and suffragette Ethel Snowden in her book Through Bolshevik Russia
(1920). In her very early and negative critique of the Bolshevik form of communism, this British feminist referred to the iron curtain simply as the contemporary geographical border of Bolshevik Russia in 1919 (‘
We were behind the ‘
). At the end of the Nazi
regime in Germany
the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, used the term in a journal article and several times in his private diary in February 1945, and the minister of finance, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, used it in a radio broadcast on May 2, 1945. Both Nazi leaders argued that the Soviet Army is occupying one country after the other, lowering an iron curtain immediately afterward on these occupied countries in order to commit war crimes, without being observed and controlled by the outside world. During the last months of the Third Reich, both ministers regarded the iron curtain as a moving part of the ongoing occupation process by Soviet troops within the territorial scope of the Yalta agreements from 1943. This analogy with an iron curtain in a theater (Goebbels was in charge of German theaters and culture) in this usage of the notion refers to the fact that events behind the theater curtain are not visible by the audience and somehow cut off from outside observation. The British prime minister Winston S. Churchill used the term in a diplomatic telegram to President Harry S. Truman in May 1945, and in a public speech in the British Parliament on August 16, 1945, but the term was not popularized until the following year, with Churchill’
s speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri
, on March 5, 1946.
You can read about it yourself. I am going to try to find out as much as I can from the “man on the street”, the local citizen, who lived through those times. Wish me luck!
My basic impression is that older people do not seem very happy. And the younger people seem unsure to smile or frown. Our hotel staff is quite cheerful compared to most people we have met here. Maybe the iron curtain has transformed into veiled curtain?