The Cold War and the Iron Curtain
The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, declared that the Second World War was not a disaster but a great opportunity to extend communism into the very heart of Europe.
Even Poland, for whose freedom Great Britain had ostensibly entered the war, was now little more than a satellite of the Soviet Empire ruled by men chosen by Moscow. Its population was now imprisoned behind a line of barbed wire, watchtowers and mine fields - a physical iron curtain.
To spy on its captive populations the Soviet empire set up secret police. In the Soviet Union it was the KGB, in Bulgaria it was the DS, in Czechoslovakia the StB, in Hungary the AVB, in Poland the SB, in Romania the Securitatae, and in East Germany it was the STASI (the Ministry of State Security). The STASI maintained a huge network of 90,000 secret police and 175,000 paid informants. They kept files on 4,000,000 East Germans - a quarter of the population.
The Berlin Wall was manned by 15,000 guards - the so called Volkspolizei (VOPOS). When Joseph Stalin attempted to starve West Berlin into submission by cutting off all electricity and supplies on 23 June 1948 the Western powers responded with the Berlin Airlift. The Berlin blockade was the first serious global crisis of the Cold War. West Berlin was kept alive by an airlift of over 150 aircraft supplying an average of 5,000 tons per day. By the time the Soviets ended the blockade on 12 May 1949 over 2.5 million tons had been delivered at the cost of 60 aircrew who had died in aircraft crashes.
There were numerous hot fronts in the Cold War. The Cold War included a full scale military war in Korea where 2 million died in the three year conflict. Evidence has since surfaced that Stalin was planning to follow up the Korean attack with a military offensive in Europe. He was deterred by the quick international response in Korea.
Protests in Berlin
After the death of Joseph Stalin (5/3/53), over 100,000 East Berlin workers protested against the Soviet occupation. Two Soviet armoured divisions were sent into East Berlin to crush the protest in June 1953. Over 100 civilians were killed and 25,000 protesters arrested.
Uprising in Hungary
In July 1956 a full scale uprising in Hungary shook the Soviet Empire. Mass demonstrations demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and in Budapest a massive statue of Stalin was toppled. Soviet troops poured into Hungary and over 20,000 Hungarians were killed in the repression. Tens of thousands more were arrested and imprisoned. 250,000 Hungarians fled to the West.
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was concrete proof of the failure of “scientific socialism”.
To prevent Germans in the Soviet zone from fleeing to the Western zone in Berlin, a 165 km wall was constructed to seal off West Berlin's island of freedom from Soviet occupied communist East Germany.
The Berlin Wall included 289 concrete observation posts/machine gun towers and 123 km of electric fencing.
A further death strip stretching 1,393 km along the border between communist East Germany and free West Germany was constructed with:
724 observation posts/machine gun towers,
1,161 km of electric fencing,
54, 000 self-firing devices, and
190 km of mine fields.
Just between 13 August 1961 to 30 July 1983, 73 people were killed by the communists while attempting to escape over the Berlin Wall, 182 more people were killed attempting to escape from East Germany across the border into West Germany, 60,000 people were imprisoned for “preparation, assistance or complicity”, in attempting to escape from East to West Germany (with sentences ranging from 16 months to life imprisonment).
Yet from the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949, more than 4,500,000 (over one quarter of the population) voted with their feet by fleeing to West Germany. 38,515 escaped from East to West Berlin by tunnels, by improvised air machines or hot air balloons, hidden inside vehicles travelling from East to West Berlin. 2,768 East German soldiers and officers on duty (including a Colonel) escaped to the West.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cold War almost went nuclear during the Cuban missile crisis, October 1962. The vicious conflicts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (1963 - 1975) were hot parts of the Cold War.
Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Anyone who believed that communism could be reformed from within was shaken by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Czech communist party chief, Alexander Dubcek, attempted to create “socialism with a human face.” As a result of economic reforms in Czechoslovakia, the other East European satellite states complained that their positions were being undermined by the reforms in Czechoslovakia. The response was that Leonid Brezhnev ordered a full scale Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to restore orthodox communism. The Prague Spring ended in August 1968 as half-a-million Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and overwhelmed the courageous resistance of Czech patriots.
The Soviet Empire reached its peak during the period of Détente, as they sponsored, trained and armed revolutionaries to seize power in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in 1975, Ethiopia in 1974, Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique in 1975, Grenada and Nicaragua in 1979 and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in 1980. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a major wake up call to those in the West who still believed in Détente.
Freedom on the Offensive
As a result of this unprecedented Soviet advance there was a backlash throughout the West, epitomised by staunch anti-communist US President, Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl and south Africa’s P.W. Botha. The West went on the offensive, directly supporting the anti-communist Solidarity trade union movement in Poland, which soon organised nationwide strikes and protests against the Soviet occupation. The USA began to arm and support anti-communist resistance movements as far afield as in Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Angola.
Bankrupting the Soviets
Ronald Reagan's policies forced the Soviets back onto the defensive and strategically undermined their economy. Spectacular re-armament programmes and the space based Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) quickly left the Soviets far behind in the arms race and totally bankrupted the Soviet Union in their futile attempt to keep up with America.
The Iron Lady
British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's determination to fight to reclaim the Falkland Islands, after the Argentinean invasion, helped convince the Soviets that the West was not nearly so decadent and weak as they had imagined. Thatcher's success in reviving the British economy also helped demonstrate that capitalism had a future even while communism was bankrupting the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. The Iron Lady had this to say about the Berlin Wall: “The Berlin Wall stands as concrete proof that when people have a choice, they choose to be free … Freedom has its problems but we've never needed to build walls to keep our people in.”
Defeating the Communists
Brave anti-communist resistance fighters in Mozambique, Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan severely bled the Soviet forces, inflicting serious defeats upon them. The Rhodesian resistance throughout the 60s and 70s had set back the advance of communism in Southern Africa and the destruction of entire Cuban mechanised divisions in Angola by South African conventional forces in the battles on the Lomba River in 1987 and 1988 convinced the Soviet Union that they would not even be able to win a conventional war against the West.
Russian soldiers began to refer to Afghanistan as their 'Vietnam'. As Russian casualties mounted in that conflict, the ongoing political crisis in Poland, and widespread resistance to communism throughout the Soviet empire helped convince the Soviet leaders that their bankrupt system was doomed.
The Glasnost Gulag
Even under Gorbachev's much acclaimed Glasnost, the Soviet Gulag imprisoned millions. When US President, Ronald Reagan, stood at the Berlin Wall and challenged: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” the Soviet Union operated 1,976 concentration camps, 273 prisons, 85 psychiatric prisons and 41 death camps. In this Soviet Gulag were incarcerated over 5,000,000 political and religious prisoners.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, documented that between 1918 and 1953 (under Lenin and Stalin's rule) over 50,000,000 Russians served long sentences in the Soviet concentration camps - with millions perishing.
The Hypocrisy of Communism
It was pointed out that while the communists claimed to have liberated Russia from the oppression of the Czars, there were 50 times more official executions under communist rule in Russia as occurred under Czarist rule in the same time period. By comparison with Russia under Czarist rule where the highest figure of political prisoners was 183,949, the communists imprisoned seventy times as many people at any one time.
Callous Disregard for Life
Vladimir Lenin famously declared that it did not matter if three quarters of the population of Russia perished, as long as the remaining quarter were communist.
Joseph Stalin observed: “The death of one person is a tragedy; whereas the death of a million is just a statistic!”
Prayer and Protests
As candlelit prayer vigils and protests spread from Leipzig, through Dresden, to all of East Germany, the East German government was bankrupt and tottering. Gorbachev's Soviet Union was also bankrupt and could no longer bail them out. So Erich Honecker, the dictator of East Germany, turned to the West Germans (who in the past had always been willing to provide enough to keep East Germany going). This time, however, the West German Federal Government, was not willing to bail them out. They demanded reforms.
The Fall of the Wall
While governments negotiated, the people in both East and West Berlin rose up to breach the wall and began to dismantle it physically. The leaders were overwhelmed by events. Days after the Berlin Wall collapsed, mass demonstrations broke out in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel, long-time leader of the Resistance movement and prisoner of the communists, rose to power and dismantled communism in Czechoslovakia.
The Christmas Revolution
Street fighting erupted in Romania to overthrow the brutal communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Soon resistance spread to Bulgaria where the communists were overthrown in December 1989. In Hungary the communist government was overthrown in October 1990. In Albania the first free elections were held in March 1991. Yugoslavia split into different republics as each broke away from the communist control in Belgrade. Soon the Baltic Republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were demanding and achieving their independence from the Soviet Union.
The End of the Soviet Union
In August 1991 a coup in the Soviet Union was frustrated in its attempt to return the country to hard line communism. Boldly waving the white, blue and red Russian flag, Boris Yeltsin abolished the Soviet Union and pulled down the Soviet Flag. The Cold War had formally ended.
Terrorist Threat from the Middle East
But even as the Cold War with Soviet Union communism ended, a new war was starting with radical Islamic terrorists declaring war on the West.
Victory Over Communism
“There is nothing they despise more than weakness. There is nothing they respect more than strength.” The Cold War was won by a combination of Christian courage by persecuted Christians who endured decades of brutality, steadfast resistance by brave anti-communist soldiers who fought the Soviets to a standstill, persistent prayer and pressure from Christians in the West and the bold strategy of Ronald Reagan, which dismantled the Evil Empire.
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption…” 2 Peter 2:19
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
The Failure of Atheism and the Triumph of Faith in Russia
28 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall
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