Eastern Bloc was the name used by NATO-affiliated countries for the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact. The terms Communist Bloc and Soviet Bloc were also used to denote groupings of states aligned with the Soviet Union, although these terms might include states outside Central and Eastern Europe.
The USSR and World War II in Central and Eastern Europe
In 1922, the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR and the Transcaucasian SFSR, approved the Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who viewed the Soviet Union as a "socialist island", stated that the Soviet Union must see that "the present capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement."
Expansion of the USSR in 1939–1940
In 1939, the USSR entered into the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany that contained a secret protocol that divided Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Bessarabia in northern Romania were recognized as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence. Lithuania was added in a second secret protocol in September 1939.
The Soviet Union had invaded the portions of eastern Poland assigned to it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact two weeks after the German invasion of western Poland, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland. During the Occupation of East Poland by the Soviet Union, the Soviets liquidated the Polish state, and a German-Soviet meeting addressed the future structure of the "Polish region." Soviet authorities immediately started a campaign of sovietization of the newly Soviet-annexed areas. Soviet authorities collectivized agriculture, and nationalized and redistributed private and state-owned Polish property.
Initial Soviet occupations of the Baltic countries had occurred in mid-June 1940, when Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, followed by the liquidation of state administrations and replacement by Soviet cadres. Elections for parliament and other offices were held with single candidates listed and the official results fabricated, purporting pro-Soviet candidates' approval by 92.8 percent of the voters in Estonia, 97.6 percent in Latvia, and 99.2 percent in Lithuania. The fraudulently installed peoples assemblies immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union, with the annexations resulting in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The international community condemned this initial annexation of the Baltic states and deemed it illegal.
In 1939, the Soviet Union unsuccessfully attempted an invasion of Finland, subsequent to which the parties entered into an interim peace treaty granting the Soviet Union the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory), and the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic was established by merging the ceded territories with the KASSR. After a June 1940 Soviet Ultimatum demanding Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Hertza region from Romania, the Soviets entered these areas, Romania caved to Soviet demands and the Soviets occupied the territories.
Eastern Front and Allied Conferences
In June 1941, Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by invading the Soviet Union. From the time of this invasion to 1944, the areas annexed by the Soviet Union were part of Germany's Ostland (except for the Moldavian SSR). Thereafter, the Soviet Union began to push German forces westward through a series of battles on the Eastern Front.
In the aftermath of WWII on the Soviet-Finnish border, the parties signed another peace treaty ceding to the Soviet Union in 1944, followed by a Soviet annexation of roughly the same eastern Finnish territories as those of the prior interim peace treaty as part of the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic.
From 1943 to 1945, several conferences regarding Post-War Europe occurred that, in part, addressed the potential Soviet annexation and control of countries in Central Europe. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's Soviet policy regarding Central Europe differed vastly from that of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the former believing Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system.
When warned of potential domination by a Stalin dictatorship over part of Europe, Roosevelt responded with a statement summarizing his rationale for relations with Stalin: "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man. . . . I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace." While meeting with Stalin and Roosevelt in Tehran in 1943, Churchill stated that Britain was vitally interested in restoring Poland as an independent country. Britain did not press the matter for fear that it would become a source of inter-allied friction.
In February 1945, at the conference at Yalta, Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Central Europe. Stalin eventually was convinced by Churchill and Roosevelt not to dismember Germany. Stalin stated that the Soviet Union would keep the territory of eastern Poland they had already taken via invasion in 1939, and wanted a pro-Soviet Polish government in power in what would remain of Poland. After resistance by Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin promised a re-organization of the current pro-Soviet government on a broader democratic basis in Poland. He stated that the new government's primary task would be to prepare elections.
The parties at Yalta further agreed that the countries of liberated Europe and former Axis satellites would be allowed to "create democratic institutions of their own choice", pursuant to "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." The parties also agreed to help those countries form interim governments "pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections" and "facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections."
At the beginning of the July–August 1945 Potsdam Conference after Germany's unconditional surrender, Stalin repeated previous promises to Churchill that he would refrain from a "sovietization" of Central Europe. In addition to reparations, Stalin pushed for "war booty", which would permit the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation. A clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations.
Concealed transformation dynamics
At first, the Soviets concealed their role in other Eastern Bloc politics, with the transformation appearing as a modification of western "bourgeois democracy". As a young communist was told in East Germany: "it's got to look democratic, but we must have everything in our control." Stalin felt that socioeconomic transformation was indispensable to establish Soviet control, reflecting the Marxist-Leninist view that material bases, the distribution of the means of production, shaped social and political relations.
Moscow-trained cadres were put into crucial power positions to fulfill orders regarding sociopolitical transformation. Elimination of the bourgeoisie's social and financial power by expropriation of landed and industrial property was accorded absolute priority. These measures were publicly billed as "reforms" rather than socioeconomic transformations. Except for initially in Czechoslovakia, activities by political parties had to adhere to "Bloc politics", with parties eventually having to accept membership in an "antifascist" "bloc" obliging them to act only by mutual "consensus". The bloc system permitted the Soviet Union to exercise domestic control indirectly.
Crucial departments such as those responsible for personnel, general police, secret police and youth, were strictly communist run. Moscow cadres distinguished "progressive forces" from "reactionary elements", and rendered both powerless. Such procedures were repeated until communists had gained unlimited power, and only politicians who were unconditionally supportive of Soviet policy remained.
Early events prompting stricter control
Marshall Plan rejection
In June 1947, after the Soviets had refused to negotiate a potential lightening of restrictions on German development, the United States announced the Marshall Plan, a comprehensive program of American assistance to all European countries wanting to participate, including the Soviet Union and those of Eastern Europe. The Soviets rejected the Plan and took a hard line position against the United States and non-communist European nations. However, of great concern to the Soviets was Czechoslovakia's eagerness to accept the aid and indications of a similar Polish attitude.
In one of the clearest signs of Soviet control over the region up to that point, the Czechoslovakian foreign minister, Jan Masaryk, was summoned to Moscow and berated by Stalin for considering joining the Marshall Plan. Polish Prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz was rewarded for the Polish rejection of the Plan with a huge 5 year trade agreement, including $450 million in credit, 200,000 tons of grain, heavy machinery and factories.
In July 1947, Stalin ordered these countries to pull out of the Paris Conference on the European Recovery Programme, which has been described as "the moment of truth" in the post–World War II division of Europe. Thereafter, Stalin sought stronger control over other Eastern Bloc countries, abandoning the prior appearance of democratic institutions. When it appeared that, in spite of heavy pressure, non-communist parties might receive in excess of 40% of the vote in the August 1947 Hungarian elections, repressions were instituted to liquidate any independent political forces.
In that same month, annihilation of the opposition in Bulgaria began on the basis of continuing instructions by Soviet cadres. At a late September 1947 meeting of all communist parties in Szklarska Poręba, Eastern Bloc communist parties were blamed for permitting even minor influence by non-communists in their respective countries during the run up to the Marshall Plan.
Berlin blockade and airlift
In former German capital Berlin, surrounded by Soviet-occupied Germany, Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade, preventing food, materials and supplies from arriving in West Berlin. The blockade was caused, in part, by early local elections of October 1946 in which the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was rejected in favor of the Social Democratic Party, which had gained two and a half times more votes than the SED. The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began a massive "Berlin airlift", supplying West Berlin with food and other supplies.
The Soviets mounted a public relations campaign against the western policy change and communists attempted to disrupt the elections of 1948 preceding large losses therein, while 300,000 Berliners demonstrated and urged the international airlift to continue. In May 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade, permitting the resumption of Western shipments to Berlin.
After disagreements between Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and the Soviet Union regarding Greece and Albania, a Tito–Stalin split occurred, followed by Yugoslavia being expelled from the Cominform in June 1948 and a brief failed Soviet putsch in Belgrade. The split created two separate communist forces in Europe. A vehement campaign against Titoism was immediately started in the Eastern Bloc, describing agents of both the West and Tito in all places engaging in subversive activity.
Stalin ordered the conversion of the Cominform into an instrument to monitor and control internal affairs of other Eastern Bloc parties. He briefly considered also converting the Cominform into an instrument for sentencing high-ranking deviators, but dropped the idea as impractical. Instead, a move to weaken communist party leaders through conflict was started. Soviet cadres in communist party and state positions in the Bloc were instructed to foster intra-leadership conflict and to transmit information against each other. This accompanied a continuous stream of accusations of "nationalistic deviations", "insufficient appreciation of the USSR's role", links with Tito and "espionage for Yugoslavia." This resulted in the persecution of many major party cadres, including those in East Germany.
The first country experiencing this approach was Albania, where leader Enver Hoxha immediately changed course from favoring Yugoslavia to opposing it. In Poland, leader Władysław Gomułka, who had previously made pro-Yugoslav statements, was deposed as party secretary-general in early September 1948 and subsequently jailed. In Bulgaria, when it appeared that Traicho Kostov, who was not a Moscow cadre, was next in line for leadership, in June 1949, Stalin ordered Kostov's arrest, followed soon thereafter by a death sentence and execution. A number of other high ranking Bulgarian officials were also jailed. Stalin and Hungarian leader Mátyás Rákosi met in Moscow to orchestrate a show trial of Rákosi opponent László Rajk, who was thereafter executed.
Despite the initial institutional design of communism implemented by Joseph Stalin in the Eastern Bloc, subsequent development varied across countries. In satellite states, after peace treaties were initially concluded, opposition was essentially liquidated, fundamental steps towards socialism were enforced and Kremlin leaders sought to strengthen control therein. Initially, Stalin directed systems that rejected Western institutional characteristics of market economies, democratic governance (dubbed "bourgeois democracy" in Soviet parlance) and the rule of law subduing discretional intervention by the state. The resulting states aspired to total control of a political center backed by an extensive and active repressive apparatus, and a central role of Marxist-Leninist ideology.
However, the vestiges of democratic institutions were never entirely destroyed, resulting in the façade of Western style institutions such as parliaments, which effectively just rubber-stamped decisions made by rulers, and constitutions, to which adherence by authorities was limited or non-existent. Parliaments were still elected, but their meetings occurred only a few days per year, only to legitimize politburo decisions, and so little attention was paid to them that some of those serving were actually dead, and officials would openly state that they would seat members who had lost elections.
The first or General Secretary of the central committee in each communist party was the most powerful figure in each regime. The party over which the politburo held sway was not a mass party but, conforming with Leninist tradition, a smaller selective party of between three and fourteen percent of the country's population who had accepted total obedience. Those who secured membership in this selective party received considerable rewards, such as access to special lower priced shops with a greater selection of goods, special schools, holiday facilities, homes, furniture, works of art and official cars with special white license plates so that police and others could identify these members from a distance.
Political and civil restrictions
In addition to emigration restrictions, civil society, defined as a domain of political action outside the party's state control, was not allowed to firmly take root, with the possible exception of Poland in the 1980s. While the institutional design on the communist systems were based on the rejection of rule of law, the legal infrastructure was not immune to change reflecting decaying ideology and the substitution of autonomous law. Initially, communist parties were small in all countries except Czechoslovakia, such that there existed an acute shortage of politically "trustworthy" persons for administration, police and other professions. Thus, "politically unreliable" non-communists initially had to fill such roles. Those not obedient to communist authorities were ousted, while Moscow cadres started a large-scale party programs to train personnel who would meet political requirements.
Communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc viewed marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat because of the bases underlying Communist power therein. The suppression of dissidence and opposition was considered a central prerequisite to retain power, though the enormous expense at which the population in certain countries were kept under secret surveillance may not have been rational. Following a totalitarian initial phase, a post-totalitarian period followed the death of Stalin in which the primary method of Communist rule shifted from mass terror to selective repression, along with ideological and sociopolitical strategies of legitimation and the securing of loyalty. Juries were replaced by a tribunal of a professional judges and two lay assessors that were dependable party actors.
The police deterred and contained opposition to party directives. The political police served as the core of the system, with their names becoming synonymous with raw power and the threat of violent retribution should an individual become active against the collective. Several state police and secret police organizations enforced communist party rule, including:
- East Germany – Stasi, Volkspolizei and Combat Groups of the Working Class
- Soviet Union – NKVD, KGB and GRU
- Czechoslovakia – StB
- Bulgaria – Darzhavna Sigurnost
- Albania – Sigurimi
- Hungary – ÁVH
- Romania – Securitate
- Poland – Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, Służba Bezpieczeństwa and ZOMO
Media and information restrictions
The press in the communist period was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party. Before the late 1980s, Eastern Bloc radio and television organizations were state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly by the local communist party. Youth newspapers and magazines were owned by youth organizations affiliated with communist parties.
The control of the media was exercised directly by the communist party itself, and by state censorship, which was also controlled by the party. Media served as an important form of control over information and society. The dissemination and portrayal of knowledge were considered by authorities to be vital to communism's survival by stifling alternative concepts and critiques. Several state Communist Party newspapers were published, including:
- Central newspapers of the Soviet Union
- Trybuna Ludu (Poland)
- Czerwony Sztandar (annexed former eastern Poland)
- Esti Budapest (Hungary)
- Neues Deutschland (East Germany)
- Rudé právo (Czechoslovakia)
- Rahva Hääl (annexed former Estonia)
- Pravda (Slovakia)
- Kauno diena (annexed former Lithuania)
- Scînteia (Romania)
- Zvyazda (Belarus).
The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) served as the central agency for collection and distribution of internal and international news for all Soviet newspapers, radio and television stations. It was frequently infiltrated by Soviet intelligence and security agencies, such as the NKVD and GRU. TASS had affiliates in 14 Soviet republics, including the Lithuanian SSR, Latvian SSR, Estonian SSR, Moldavian SSR. Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR.
Western countries invested heavily in powerful transmitters which enabled services such as the BBC, VOA and Radio Free Europe (RFE) to be heard in the Eastern Bloc, despite attempts by authorities to jam the airways.
Under the state atheism of many Eastern Bloc nations, religion was actively suppressed.
In 1949, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania founded the Comecon in accordance with Stalin's desire to enforce Soviet domination of the lesser states of Central Europe and to mollify some states that had expressed interest in the Marshall Plan, and which were now, increasingly, cut off from their traditional markets and suppliers in Western Europe. The Comecon's role became ambiguous because Stalin preferred more direct links with other party chiefs than the Comecon's indirect sophistication; it played no significant role in the 1950s in economic planning. Initially, the Comecon served as cover for the Soviet taking of materials and equipment from the rest of the Eastern Bloc, but the balance changed when the Soviets became net subsidizers of the rest of the Bloc by the 1970s via an exchange of low cost raw materials in return for shoddily manufactured finished goods.
In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was formed partly in response to NATO's inclusion of West Germany and partly because the Soviets needed an excuse to retain Red Army units in Hungary. For 35 years, the Pact perpetuated the Stalinist concept of Soviet national security based on imperial expansion and control over satellite regimes in Eastern Europe. This Soviet formalization of their security relationships in the Eastern Bloc reflected Moscow's basic security policy principle that continued presence in East Central Europe was a foundation of its defense against the West. Through its institutional structures, the Pact also compensated in part for the absence of Joseph Stalin's personal leadership since his death in 1953. The Pact consolidated the other Bloc members' armies in which Soviet officers and security agents served under a unified Soviet command structure.
Beginning in 1964, Romania took a more independent course. While it did not repudiate either Comecon or the Warsaw Pact, it ceased to play a significant role in either. Nicolae Ceaușescu's assumption of leadership one year later pushed Romania even further in the direction of separateness. Albania, which had become increasingly isolated under Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha following de-Stalinization, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in 1968 following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Emigration restrictions and defectors
In 1917, Russia restricted emigration by instituting passport controls and forbidding the exit of belligerent nationals. In 1922, after the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, both the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR issued general rules for travel that foreclosed virtually all departures, making legal emigration impossible. Border controls thereafter strengthened such that, by 1928, even illegal departure was effectively impossible. This later included internal passport controls, which when combined with individual city Propiska ("place of residence") permits, and internal freedom of movement restrictions often called the 101st kilometre, greatly restricted mobility within even small areas of the Soviet Union.
After the creation of the Eastern Bloc, emigration out of the newly occupied countries, except under limited circumstances, was effectively halted in the early 1950s, with the Soviet approach to controlling national movement emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. However, in East Germany, taking advantage of the Inner German border between occupied zones, hundreds of thousands fled to West Germany, with figures totaling 197,000 in 1950, 165,000 in 1951, 182,000 in 1952 and 331,000 in 1953. One reason for the sharp 1953 increase was fear of potential further Sovietization with the increasingly paranoid actions of Joseph Stalin in late 1952 and early 1953. 226,000 had fled in the just the first six months of 1953.
With the closing of the Inner German border officially in 1952, the Berlin city sector borders remained considerably more accessible than the rest of the border because of their administration by all four occupying powers. Accordingly, it effectively comprised a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still move west. The 3.5 million East Germans that had left by 1961, called Republikflucht, totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population. In August 1961, East Germany erected a barbed-wire barrier that would eventually be expanded through construction into the Berlin Wall, effectively closing the loophole.
With virtually non-existent conventional emigration, more than 75% of those emigrating from Eastern Bloc countries between 1950 and 1990 did so under bilateral agreements for "ethnic migration." About 10% were refugee migrants under the Geneva Convention of 1951. Most Soviets allowed to leave during this time period were ethnic Jews permitted to emigrate to Israel after a series of embarrassing defections in 1970 caused the Soviets to open very limited ethnic emigrations. The fall of the Iron Curtain was accompanied by a massive rise in European East-West migration. Famous Eastern Bloc defectors included Joseph Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, who denounced Stalin after her 1967 defection.
Eastern Bloc countries such as the Soviet Union had high rates of population growth. In 1917, the population of Russia in its present borders was 91 million. Despite the destruction in the Civil War, the population grew to 92.7 million in 1926. In 1939, the population increased by 17 percent to 108. million. Despite more than 20 million deaths suffered throughout the Soviet Union, Russia's population grew to 117.2 million in 1959. The Soviet census of 1989 showed Russia's population at 147 million people.
The Soviet economical and political system produced further consequences such as, for example, in Baltic states, where the population was approximately half of what it should have been compared with similar countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway over the years 1939–1990. Poor housing was one factor leading to severely declining birth rates throughout the Eastern Bloc. However, birth rates were still higher than in Western European countries. A reliance upon abortion, in part because periodic shortages of birth control pills and intrauterine devices made these systems unreliable, also depressed the birth rate and forced a shift to pro-natalist policies by the late 1960s, including severe checks on abortion and propagandist exhortations like the 'heroine mother' distinction bestowed on those Romanian women who bore ten or more children.
In October 1966, artificial birth control was proscribed in Romania and regular pregnancy tests were mandated for women of child-bearing age, with severe penalties for anyone who was found to have terminated a pregnancy. Despite such restrictions, birth rates continued to lag, in part, because of unskilled induced abortions. Population in Eastern Bloc countries was as follows:
|Country||Area (000s)||1950 (mil)||1970 (mil)||1980 (mil)||1985 (mil)||Annual Growth (1950–1985)||Density (1980)|
|East Germany||108.3 km2||17.94||17.26||16.74||16.69||-0.20%||154.6/km2|
|Soviet Union||22,300 km2||182.32||241.72||265.00||272.00||+1.41%||11.9/km2|
A housing shortage existed throughout the Eastern Bloc, especially after a severe cutback in state resources available for housing starting in 1975. Cities became filled with large system-built apartment blocks Western visitors from places like West Germany expressed surprise at the perceived shoddiness of new, box-like concrete structures across the border in East Germany, along with a relative greyness of the physical environment and the often joyless appearance of people on the street or in stores. Housing construction policy suffered from considerable organisational problems. Moreover, completed houses possessed noticeably poor quality finishes.
The near-total emphasis on large apartment blocks was a common feature of Eastern Bloc cities in the 1970s and 1980s. East German authorities viewed large cost advantages in the construction of Plattenbau apartment blocks such that the building of such architecture on the edge of large cities continued until the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. These buildings, such as the Paneláks of Czechoslovakia and Panelház of Hungary, contained cramped concrete apartments that broadly lined Eastern Bloc streets, leaving the visitor with a "cold and grey" impression. Wishing to reinforce the role of the state in the 1980s, Nicolae Ceaușescu redeveloped part of Bucharest, Romania with Systematisation of constructing such buildings (Blocs) after the demolition of extensive private housing.
Even by the late 1980s, sanitary conditions in most Eastern bloc countries were generally far from adequate. For all countries for which data existed, 60% of dwellings had a density of greater than one person per room between 1966 and 1975. The average in western countries for which data was available approximated 0.5 persons per room. Problems were aggravated by poor quality finishes on new dwellings often causing occupants to undergo a certain amount of finishing work and additional repairs. Housing quality figures for the Eastern Bloc are as follows:
|Country||Adequate sanitation % (year)||Piped water %||Central heating %||Inside toilet %||More than 1 person/room %|
|East Germany||70.0% (1985)||82.1%||72.2%||43.4%||n/a|
|Hungary||60.0% (1984)||64% (1980)||n/a||52.5% (1980)||64.4%|
|Romania||50.0% (1980)||12.3% (1966)||n/a||n/a||81.5%|
|Soviet Union||50.0% (1980)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Year||Houses/flats total||With piped water||With sewage disposal||With inside toilet||With piped gas|
|1949||2,466,514||420,644 (17.1%)||-||306,998 (12.5%)||174,186 (7.1%)|
|1960||2,757,625||620,600 (22.5%)||-||440,737 (16%)||373,124 (13.5%)|
|1970||3,118,096||1,370,609 (44%)||1,167,055 (37.4%)||838,626 (26.9%)||1,571,691 (50.4%)|
|1980||3,542,418||2,268,014 (64%)||2,367,274 (66.8%)||1,859,677 (52.5%)||2,682,143 (75.7%)|
|1990||3,853,288||3,209,930 (83.3%)||3,228,257 (83.8%)||2,853,834 (74%)||3,274,514 (85%)|
The worsening shortages of the 1970s and 1980s occurred during an increase in the quantity of dwelling stock relative to population from 1970 to 1986. Even for new dwellings, average dwelling size was only 61.3m2 in the Eastern Bloc compared with 113.5m2 in ten western countries for which comparable data was available. Space standards varied considerably, with the average new dwelling in the Soviet Union in 1986 being only 68 per cent the size of its equivalent in Hungary. Apart from exceptional cases, such as East Germany in 1980–1986 and Bulgaria in 1970–1980, space standards in newly built dwellings rose before the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. Housing size varied considerably across time, especially after the oil crisis in the Eastern Bloc; for instance, 1990-era West German homes had an average floor space of 83 square metres, compared to an average dwelling size in the GDR of 67 sq. m. in 1967. The figures are as follows:
Poor housing was one of four factors, others being high female employment and education levels and abortion access, which led to severely declining birth rates throughout the Eastern Bloc. Homelessness was the most obvious effect of the housing shortage, though it was hard to define and measure in the Eastern Bloc.
As with the economy of the Soviet Union, planners in the Eastern bloc were directed by the resulting Five Year Plans which followed paths of extensive rather than intensive development, focusing upon heavy industry as the Soviet Union had done, leading to inefficiencies and shortage economies.
The Eastern Bloc countries achieved high rates of economic and technical progress, promoted industrialisation, and ensured steady growth rates of labor producitvity and rises in the standard of living. However, western historians claim that because of the lack of market signals, Eastern Bloc economies experienced mis-development by central planners. The Eastern Bloc also depended upon the Soviet Union for significant amounts of materials.
As a consequence of German and WW2 in Eastern Europe, much of the region had been subjected to enormous destruction of industry, infrastructure and loss of civilian life. In Poland alone the policy of plunder and exploitation inflicted enormous material losses to Polish industry (62% of which was destroyed), agriculture, infrastructure and cultural landmarks, the cost of which has been estimated as approximately €525 billion or $640 billion in 2004 exchange values
Throughout the Eastern Bloc, both in the USSR and the rest of the Bloc, Russia was given prominence, and referred to as the naibolee vydajuščajasja nacija (the most prominent nation) and the rukovodjaščij narod (the leading people). The Soviets promoted the reverence of Russian actions and characteristics, and the construction of Soviet structural hierarchies in the other countries of the Eastern Bloc.
The defining characteristic of Stalinist totalitarianism was the unique symbiosis of the state with society and the economy, resulting in politics and economics losing their distinctive features as autonomous and distinguishable spheres. Initially, Stalin directed systems that rejected Western institutional characteristics of market economies, democratic governance (dubbed "bourgeois democracy" in Soviet parlance) and the rule of law subduing discretional intervention by the state.
The Soviets mandated expropriation and etatisation of private property. The Soviet-style "replica regimes" that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced Soviet command economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition.
Stalinist regimes in the Eastern Bloc saw even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat because of the bases underlying Stalinist power therein. The suppression of dissent and opposition was a central prerequisite for the security of Stalinist power within the Eastern Bloc, though the degree of opposition and dissident suppression varied by country and time throughout the Eastern Bloc.
In addition, media in the Eastern Bloc were organs of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the government of the USSR with radio and television organisations being state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organisations, mostly by the local party. While over 15 million Eastern Bloc residents migrated westward from 1945 to 1949, emigration was effectively halted in the early 1950s, with the Soviet approach to controlling national movement emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc.
Transformations billed as reforms
In the USSR, because of strict Soviet secrecy under Joseph Stalin, for many years after World War II, even the best informed foreigners did not effectively know about the operations of the Soviet economy. Stalin had sealed off outside access to the Soviet Union since 1935 (and until his death), effectively permitting no foreign travel inside the Soviet Union such that outsiders did not know of the political processes that had taken place therein. During this period, and even for 25 years after Stalin's death, the few diplomats and foreign correspondents permitted inside the Soviet Union were usually restricted to within a few kilometres of Moscow, their phones were tapped, their residences were restricted to foreigner-only locations and they were constantly followed by Soviet authorities.
The Soviets also modeled economies in the rest of Eastern Bloc outside the Soviet Union along Soviet command economy lines. Before World War II, the Soviet Union used draconian procedures to ensure compliance with directives to invest all assets in state planned manners, including the collectivisation of agriculture and utilising a sizeable labor army collected in the gulag system. This system was largely imposed on other Eastern Bloc countries after World War II. While propaganda of proletarian improvements accompanied systemic changes, terror and intimidation of the consequent ruthless Stalinism obfuscated feelings of any purported benefits.
Stalin felt that socioeconomic transformation was indispensable to establish Soviet control, reflecting the Marxist-Leninist view that material bases, the distribution of the means of production, shaped social and political relations. Moscow trained cadres were put into crucial power positions to fulfill orders regarding sociopolitical transformation. Elimination of the bourgeoisie's social and financial power by expropriation of landed and industrial property was accorded absolute priority.
These measures were publicly billed as reforms rather than socioeconomic transformations. Throughout the Eastern Bloc, except for Czechoslovakia, "societal organisations" such as trade unions and associations representing various social, professional and other groups, were erected with only one organisation for each category, with competition excluded. Those organisations were managed by Stalinist cadres, though during the initial period, they allowed for some diversity.
At the same time, at the war's end, the Soviet Union adopted a "plunder policy" of physically transporting and relocating east European industrial assets to the Soviet Union. Eastern Bloc states were required to provide coal, industrial equipment, technology, rolling stock and other resources to reconstruct the Soviet Union. Between 1945 and 1953, the Soviets received a net transfer of resources from the rest of the Eastern Bloc under this policy of roughly $14 billion, an amount comparable to the net transfer from the United States to western Europe in the Marshall Plan. "Reparations" included the dismantling of railways in Poland and Romanian reparations to the Soviets between 1944 and 1948 valued at $1.8 billion concurrent with the domination of SovRoms.
In addition, the Soviets re-organised enterprises as joint-stock companies in which the Soviets possessed the controlling interest. Using that control vehicle, several enterprises were required to sell products at below world prices to the Soviets, such as uranium mines in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, coal mines in Poland, and oil wells in Romania.
Trade and COMECON
The trading pattern of the Eastern Bloc countries was severely modified. Before World War II, no greater than 1% – 2% of those countries' trade was with the Soviet Union. By 1953, the share of such trade had jumped to 37%. In 1947, Stalin had also denounced the Marshall Plan and forbade all Eastern Bloc countries from participating in it.
Soviet dominance further tied other Eastern Bloc economies, except for Yugoslavia, to Moscow via the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) or COMECON, which determined countries' investment allocations and the products that would be traded within Eastern Bloc. Although COMECON was initiated in 1949, its role became ambiguous because Stalin preferred more direct links with other party chiefs than the indirect sophistication of the Council; it played no significant role in the 1950s in economic planning.
Initially, COMECON served as cover for the Soviet taking of materials and equipment from the rest of the Eastern Bloc, but the balance changed when the Soviets became net subsidisers of the rest of the Bloc by the 1970s via an exchange of low cost raw materials in return for shoddily manufactured finished goods. While resources such as oil, timber and uranium initially made gaining access to other Eastern Bloc economies attractive, the Soviets soon had to export Soviet raw materials to those countries to maintain cohesion therein. Following resistance to COMECON plans to extract Romania's mineral resources and heavily utilise its agricultural production, in 1964 Romania began to take a more independent stance. While it did not repudiate COMECON, it took no significant role in its operation, especially after the rise to power of Nicolae Ceauşescu.
Five Year Plans
Economic activity was governed by Five year plans, divided into monthly segments, with government planners frequently attempting to meet plan targets regardless of whether a market existed for the goods being produced. Little coordination existed between departments such that cars could be produced before filling stations or roads were built, or a new hospital in Warsaw in the 1980s could stand empty for four years waiting for the production of equipment to fill it. Nevertheless, if such political objectives had been met, propagandists could boast of increased vehicle production and the completion of another new hospital.
Inefficient bureaucracies were frequently created, with for instance, Bulgarian farms having to meet at least six hundred different plan fulfillment figures. Socialist product requirements produced distorted black market consequences, such that broken light bulbs possessed significant market values in Eastern Bloc offices because a broken light bulb was required to be submitted before a new light bulb would be issued.
Factory managers and foremen could hold their posts only if they were cleared under the nomenklatura list system of party-approved cadres. All decisions were constrained by the party politics of what was considered good management. For laborers, work was assigned on the pattern of "norms", with sanctions for non-fulfillment. However, the system really served to increase inefficiency, because if the norms were met, management would merely increase them. The stakhanovite system was employed to highlight the achievements of successful work brigades, and "shock brigades" were introduced into plants to show the others how much could be accomplished.
Also, "Lenin shifts" or "Lenin Saturdays" were introduced, requiring extra work time for no pay. However, the emphasis on the construction of heavy industry provided full employment and social mobility through the recruitment of young rural workers and women. While blue-collar workers enjoyed that they earned as much or more than many professionals, the standard of living did not match the pace of improvement in Western Europe.
Only Yugoslavia (and later Romania and Albania) engaged in their own industrial planning, though they enjoyed little more success than that of the rest of the Bloc. Albania, which had remained strongly Stalinist in ideology well after de-Stalinisation, was politically and commercially isolated from the other Eastern Bloc countries and the west. By the late 1980s, it was the poorest country in Europe, and still lacked sewerage, piped water, and piped gas.
Heavy industry emphasis
In the Soviet Union, there was unprecedented affordability of housing, health care, and education. Apartment rent on average amounted to only 1 percent of the family budget, a figure which reached 4 percent when municipal services are factored in. Tram tickets were 20 kopecki, and a loaf of bread was 15 kopecki. The average salary of an engineer was 140-160 rubles.
The Soviet Union made major progress in developing the country's consumer goods sector. In 1970, the USSR produced 679 million pairs of leather footwear, compared to 534 million for the United States. Czechoslovakia, which had the world's highest per-capita production of shoes, exported a significant portion of its shoe production to other countries.
The rising standard of living under socialism led to a steady decrease in the workday and an increase in leisure. In 1974, the average workweek for Soviet industrial workers was 40 hours. Paid vacations in 1968 reached a minimum of 15 workdays. In the mid-1970s the number of free days per year-days off, holidays and vacations was 128-130, almost double the figure from the previous ten years.
Because of the lack of market signals in such economies, they experienced mis-development by central planners resulting in those countries following a path of extensive (large mobilisation of inefficiently used capital, labor, energy and raw material inputs) rather than intensive (efficient resource use) development to attempt to achieve quick growth. The Eastern Bloc countries were required to follow the Soviet model over-emphasising heavy industry at the expense of light industry and other sectors.
Since that model involved the prodigal exploitation of natural and other resources, it has been described as a kind of "slash and burn" modality. While the Soviet system strove for a dictatorship of the proletariat, there was little existing proletariat in many eastern European countries, such that to create one, heavy industry needed to be built. Each system shared the distinctive themes of state-oriented economies, including poorly defined property rights, a lack of market clearing prices and overblown or distorted productive capacities in relation to analogous market economies.
Major errors and waste occurred in the resource allocation and distribution systems. Because of the party-run monolithic state organs, these systems provided no effective mechanisms or incentives to control costs, profligacy, inefficiency and waste. Heavy industry was given priority because of its importance for the military-industrial establishment and for the engineering sector.
Factories were sometimes inefficiently located, incurring high transport costs, while poor plant-organisation sometimes resulted in production hold ups and knock-on effects in other industries dependent on monopoly suppliers of intermediates. For example, each country, including Albania, built steel mills regardless of whether they lacked the requisite resource of energy and mineral ores. A massive metallurgical plant was built in Bulgaria despite that its ores had to be imported from the Soviet Union and carried for 320 kilometres from the port at Burgas. A Warsaw tractor factory in 1980 had a 52-page list of unused rusting, then useless, equipment.
The emphasis on heavy industry diverted investment from the more practical production of chemicals and plastics. In addition, the plans' emphasis on quantity rather than quality made Eastern Bloc products less competitive in the world market. High costs passed though the product chain boosted the 'value' of production on which wage increases were based, but made exports less competitive. Planners rarely closed old factories even when new capacities opened elsewhere.
For example, the Polish steel industry retained a plant in Upper Silesia despite the opening of modern integrated units on the periphery while the last old Siemens-Martin process furnace installed in the 19th century was not closed down immediately.
There were claims that producer goods were favoured over consumer goods, causing consumer goods to be lacking in quantity and quality in the shortage economies that resulted. However, this is disputed. An article in "Russian Life" writes, "Today the Soviet reality is discussed, there are stories about food shortages. This is one of the most persisten, propagandistic cliches ... It is necessary to say that in reality, nothing of the sort happened. Starting in 1979, when I was seven, my mother regularly took me to the farm market in Butyrsky. The abundance of groceries at the market left me with a strong impression. I remember fresh meat for 3-5 rubles per kg, potatoes at 20 kopecki, and pineapples and watermelons in mid-winter."
By the mid-1970s, budget deficits rose considerably and domestic prices widely diverged from the world prices, while production prices averaged 2% higher than consumer prices. Many premium goods could be bought only in special stores using foreign currency generally inaccessible to most Eastern Bloc citizens, such as Intershop in East Germany, Beryozka in the Soviet Union, Pewex in Poland, Tuzex in Czechoslovakia and Corecom in Bulgaria. Much of what was produced for the local population never reached its intended user, while many perishable products became unfit for consumption before reaching their consumers.
As a result, black markets were created that were often supplied by goods stolen from the public sector. A saying in Czechoslovakia was "if you do not steal from the state, you are robbing your own family." This second "parallel economy" flourished throughout the Bloc because of rising unmet state consumer needs. Black and gray markets for foodstuffs, goods, and cash arose. Goods included household goods, medical supplies, clothes, furniture, cosmetics, and toiletries in chronically short supply through official outlets.
Many farmers concealed actual output from purchasing agencies to sell it illicitly to urban consumers. Hard foreign currencies were highly sought after, while highly valued Western items functioned as a medium of exchange or bribery in Stalinist countries, such as in Romania, where Kent cigarettes served as an unofficial extensively used currency to buy goods and services. Some service workers moonlighted illegally providing services directly to customers for payment.
The extensive production industrialisation that resulted was not responsive to consumer needs and caused a neglect in the service sector, unprecedented rapid urbanisation, acute urban overcrowding, chronic shortages and massive recruitment of women into mostly menial and/or low-paid occupations. The consequent strains resulted in the widespread used of coercion, repression, show trials, purges and intimidation. By 1960, massive urbanisation occurred in Poland (48% urban) and Bulgaria (38%), which increased employment for peasants, but also caused illiteracy to skyrocket when children left school for work.
Cities became massive building sites, resulting in the reconstruction of some war-torn buildings but also the construction of drab dilapidated system-built apartment blocks. Urban living standards plummeted because resources were tied up in huge long-term building projects, while industrialisation forced millions of former peasants to live in hut camps or grim apartment blocks close to massive polluting industrial complexes.
Collectivisation is a process pioneered by Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s by which Marxist-Leninist regimes in the Eastern Bloc and elsewhere attempted to establish an ordered socialist system in rural agriculture. It required the forced consolidation of small-scale peasant farms and larger holdings belonging to the landed classes for the purpose of creating larger modern "collective farms" owned, in theory, by the workers therein or the state.
In addition to eradicating the perceived inefficiencies associated with small-scale farming on discontiguous land holdings, collectivisation also purported to achieve the political goal of removing the rural basis for resistance to Stalinist regimes. A further justification given was the need to promote industrial development by facilitating the state's procurement of agricultural products and transferring "surplus labor" from rural to urban areas. In short, agriculture was reorganised in order to proletarianise the peasantry and control production at prices determined by the state.
The Eastern Bloc possesses substantial agricultural resources, especially in southern areas, such as Hungary's Great Plain, which offered good soils and a warm climate during the growing season. Rural collectivisation proceeded differently in non-Soviet Eastern Bloc countries than it did in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Because of the need to conceal of the assumption of control and the realities of an initial lack of control, no Soviet dekulakisation-style liquidation of rich peasants could be carried out in the non-Soviet Eastern Bloc countries.
Nor could they risk mass starvation or agricultural sabotage (e.g., holodomor) with a rapid collectivisation through massive state farms and agricultural producers' cooperatives (APCs). Instead, collectivisation proceeded more slowly and in stages from 1948 to 1960 in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, and from 1955 to 1964 in Albania. Collectivisation in the Baltic republics of the Lithuanian SSR, Estonian SSR and Latvian SSR took place between 1947 and 1952.
Unlike Soviet collectivisation, neither massive destruction of livestock nor errors causing distorted output or distribution occurred in the other Eastern Bloc countries. More widespread use of transitional forms occurred, with differential compensation payments for peasants that contributed more land to APCs. Because Czechoslovakia and East Germany were more industrialised than the Soviet Union, they were in a position to furnish most of the equipment and fertiliser inputs needed to ease the transition to collectivised agriculture. Instead of liquidating large farmers or barring them from joining APCs as Stalin had done through dekulakisation, those farmers were utilised in the non-Soviet Eastern Bloc collectivisations, sometimes even being named farm chairman or managers. Massive industrialisation eventually caused young men to move to urban centres, depressing agricultural productivity.
Collectivisation often met with strong rural resistance, including peasants frequently destroying property rather than surrendering it to the collectives. Strong peasant links with the land through private ownership were broken and many young people left for careers in industry. In Poland and Yugoslavia, fierce resistance from peasants, many of whom had resisted the Axis, led to the abandonment of wholesale rural collectivisation in the early 1950s. In part because of the problems created by collectivisation, agriculture was largely de-collectivised in Poland in 1957.
The fact that Poland nevertheless managed to carry out large-scale centrally planned industrialisation with no more difficulty than its collectivised Eastern Bloc neighbours further called into question the need for collectivisation in such planned economies. Only Poland's "western territories", those eastwardly adjacent to the Oder-Neisse line that were annexed from Germany, were substantially collectivised, largely in order to settle large numbers of Poles on good farmland which had been taken from German farmers.
There was significant progress made in the economy in countries such as the Soviet Union. In 1980, the Soviet Union took first place in Europe and second worldwide in terms of industrial and agricultural production, respectively. In 1960, the USSR's industrial output was only 55% that of America, but this increased to 80% in 1980.
With the change of the Soviet leadership in 1964, there were significant changes made to economic policy. The Government on 30 September 1965 issued a decree "On improving the management of industry" and the 4 October 1965 resolution "On improving and strengthening the economic incentives for industrial production". The main initiator of these reforms was Prime Minister A. Kosygin. Kosygin's reforms on agriculture gave considerable autonomy to the collective farms, giving them the right to the contents of private farming. During this period, there was the large-scale land reclamation program, the construction of irrigation channels, and other measures. In the period 1966–70, the gross national product grew by over 350%. The country produced 4 times more than the previous five-year period. Industrial output increased by 485% and agriculture by 171%. In the eighth Five-Year Plan, the national income grew at an average rate of 7.8%. In the ninth Five-Year Plan (1971–1975), the national income grew at an annual rate of 5.7%. In the 10th Five-Year Plan (1976–1981), the national income grew at an annual rate of 4.3%.
The Soviet Union made noteworthy scientific and technological progress. Unlike capitalist countries, scientific and technological potential in the USSR was used in accordance with a plan on the scale of society as a whole.
In 1980, the number of scientific personnel in the USSR was 1.4 million. The number of engineers employed in the national economy was 4.7 million. Between 1960 and 1980, the number of scientific personnel increased by a factor of 4. In 1975, the number of scientific personnel in the USSR amounted to one-fourth of the total number of scientific personnel in the world. In 1980, as compared with 1940, the number of invention proposals submitted was more than 5 million. In 1980, there were 10 all-Union research institutes, 85 specialised central agencies, and 93 regional information centres.
The world's first nuclear power plant was commissioned on June 27, 1954 in Obninsk. Soviet scientists made a major contribution to the development of computer technology. The first major achievements in the field were associated with the building of analog computers. In the USSR, principles for the construction of network analysers were developed by S. Gershgorin in 1927 and the concept of the electrodynamic analog computer was proposed by N. Minorsky in 1936. In the 1940s, the development of AC electronic antiaircraft directors and the first vacuum-tube integrators was begun by L. Gutenmakher. In the 1960s, important developments in modern computer equipment were the BESM-6 system built under the direction of S. A. Lebedev, the MIR series of small digital computers, and the Minsk series of digital computers developed by G.Lopato and V. Przhyalkovsky.
The Moscow Metro has 180 stations used by around 7 million passengers per day. It is one of the world's busiest undergrounds and considered to be the most beautiful. In the Soviet period, the fare was 5 kopeks which permitted the rider to ride everywhere on the system.
Author Turnock claims that transport in the Eastern Bloc was characterised by poor infrastructural maintenance. The road network suffered from inadequate load capacity, poor surfacing and deficient roadside servicing. While roads were resurfaced, few new roads were built and there were very few divided highway roads, urban ring roads or bypasses. Private car ownership remained low by Western standards.
Vehicle ownership increased in the 1970s and 1980s with the production of inexpensive cars in East Germany such as Trabants and the Wartburgs. However, the wait list for the distribution of Trabants was ten years in 1987 and up to fifteen years for Soviet Lada and Czechoslovakian Škoda cars. Soviet-built aircraft exhibited deficient technology, with high fuel consumption and heavy maintenance demands. Telecommunications networks were overloaded.
Adding to mobility constraints from the inadequate transport systems were bureaucratic mobility restrictions. While outside of Albania, domestic travel eventually became largely regulation-free, stringent controls on the issue of passports, visas and foreign currency made foreign travel difficult inside the Eastern Bloc. Countries were inured to isolation and initial post-war autarky, with each country effectively restricting bureaucrats to viewing issues from a domestic perspective shaped by that country's specific propaganda.
Severe environmental problems arose through urban traffic congestion, which was aggravated by pollution generated by poorly maintained vehicles. Large thermal power stations burning lignite and other items became notorious polluters, while some hydro-electric systems performed inefficiently because of dry seasons and silt accumulation in reservoirs. Kraków, Poland was covered by smog 135 days per year, while Wrocław was covered by a fog of chrome gas.
Several villages were evacuated because of copper smelting at Głogów. Further rural problems arose from piped water construction being given precedence over building sewerage systems, leaving many houses with only inbound piped water delivery and not enough sewage tank trucks to carry away sewage. The resulting drinking water became so polluted in Hungary that over 700 villages had to be supplied by tanks, bottles and plastic bags. Nuclear power projects were prone to long commissioning delays.
The catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukrainian SSR was caused by the use of an old flawed design, some operators lacking an even basic understanding of the reactor's processes and authoritarian Soviet bureaucracy, valuing party loyalty over competence, that kept promoting incompetent personnel and choosing cheapness over safety. The consequent release of fallout resulted in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people leaving a massive desolate Zone of alienation containing extensive still-standing abandoned urban development.
Tourism from outside the Eastern Bloc was neglected, while tourism from other Stalinist countries grew within the Eastern Bloc. Tourism drew investment, relying upon tourism and recreation opportunities existing before World War II. By 1945, most hotels were run-down, while many which escaped conversion to other uses by central planners were slated to meet domestic demands. Authorities created state companies to arrange travel and accommodation. In the 1970s, investments were made to attempt to attract western travelers, though momentum for this waned in the 1980s when no long-term plan arose to procure improvements in the tourist environment, such as an assurance of freedom of movement, free and efficient money exchange and the provision of higher quality products with which these tourists were familiar.
Catering to western visitors required creating an environment of an entirely different standard than that used for the domestic populace, which required concentration of travel spots including the building of relatively high-quality infrastructure in travel complexes, which could not easily be replicated elsewhere. In Albania, because of a desire to preserve ideological discipline and the fear of the presence of wealthier foreigners engaging in differing lifestyles, Albania segregated travelers. Because of the worry of the subversive effect of the tourist industry, travel was restricted to 6,000 visitors per year.
Growth rates within the bloc experienced relative decline. Meanwhile, West Germany, Austria, France and other Western European nations experienced increased economic growth in the Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") Trente Glorieuses ("thirty glorious years") and the post-World War II boom. Overall, the inefficiency of systems without competition or market-clearing prices became costly and unsustainable, especially with the increasing complexity of world economics.
From the end of the World War II to the mid-1970s, the economy of the Eastern Bloc steadily increased at the same rate as the economy in Western Europe, with the least none-reforming Stalinist nations of the Eastern Bloc having a stronger economy then the reformist-Stalinist states. While most western European economies essentially began to approach the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) levels of the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Eastern Bloc countries did not, with per capita GDPs falling significantly below their comparable western European counterparts, for example (Eastern bloc countries are in red):
|Per Capita GNP (1990 $, according to Hardt and Kaufman.)||1938||1990|
|Czechoslovak Socialist Republic||$1,800||$3,100|
|People's Republic of Hungary||$1,100||$2,800|
|People's Republic of Poland||$1,000||$1,700|
|People's Republic of Romania||$700||$1,600|
|People's Republic of Bulgaria||$700||$2,200|
|Per Capita GDP 1989 Deutsche Marks||1989|
|West Germany||35,877 DM|
|East Germany||15,318 DM|
|Per Capita GDP 1990 Dollars||1973||1990|
While, arguably the World Bank estimates of GDP used for 1990 figures above underestimate Eastern Bloc GDP because of undervalued local currencies, per capita incomes are undoubtedly lower than in their counterparts. East Germany was the most advanced industrial nation of the Eastern bloc. Until the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, East Germany was considered a weak state, hemorrhaging skilled labor to the West such that it was referred to as "the disappearing satellite." Only after the wall sealed in skilled labor was East Germany able to ascend to the top economic spot in the Eastern Bloc. Thereafter, its citizens enjoyed a higher quality of life and fewer shortages in the supply of goods than those in the Soviet Union, Poland or Romania.
While official statistics painted a relatively rosy picture, the East German economy had eroded because of increased central planning, economic autarky, the use of coal over oil, investment concentration in a few selected technology-intensive areas and labor market regulation. As a result, a large productivity gap of nearly 50% per worker existed between East and West Germany. However, that gap does not measure the quality of design of goods or service such that the actual per capita rate may be as low as 14 to 20 per cent. Average gross monthly wages in East Germany were around 30% of those in West Germany, though after accounting for taxation, the figures approached 60%.
Moreover, the purchasing power of wages grossly differed, with only about half of East German households owning either a car or a color television set as late as 1990, both of which had been standard possessions in West German households. The Ostmark was only valid for transactions inside East Germany, could not be legally exported or imported and could not be used in the East German Intershops which sold premium goods. In 1989, 11% of the East German labor force remained in agriculture, 47% was in the secondary sector and only 42% in services.
Using Switzerland's economy as a European base for comparison across time, where the GDP for Switzerland is 100 for all periods (Eastern Bloc countries are in red), yields for five Eastern Bloc countries:
|Per Capita GDP (index)||1938||1948||1990|
|Czechoslovak Socialist Republic||44.5||44.2||38.5|
|People's Republic of Hungary||37.5||22.2||28.9|
|People's Republic of Poland||30.9||32.0||21.1|
|People's Republic of Romania||28.5||--||15.1|
|Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia||28.2||--||25.3|
|Per Capita GDP (1990 $)||1950||1973||1990||highest and year|
|Czechoslovak Socialist Republic||$3,501||$7,041||$8,513||$8,768 (1989)|
|Soviet Union||$2,841||$6,059||$6,894||$7,112 (1989)|
|People's Republic of Hungary||$2,480||$5,596||$6,459||$7,031 (1989)|
|People's Republic of Bulgaria||$1,651||$5,284||$5,597||$6,430 (1984)|
|Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia||$1,551||$4,361||$5,646||$6,522 (1986)|
|People's Republic of Romania||$1,182||$3,477||$3,511||$4,215 (1986)|
Once installed, the economic system was difficult to change given the importance of politically reliable management and the prestige value placed on large enterprises. Performance declined during the 1970s and 1980s due to inefficiency when industrial input costs, such as energy prices, increased. Though growth lagged behind the west, it did occur. Consumer goods started to become more available by the 1960s.
Before the Eastern Bloc's dissolution, some major sectors of industry were operating at such a loss that they exported products to the West at prices below the real value of the raw materials. Hungarian steel costs doubled those of western Europe. In 1985, a quarter of Hungary's state budget was spent on supporting inefficient enterprises. Tight planning in Bulgaria industry meant continuing shortages in other parts of its economy.
In social terms, the 18 years (1964–1982) of Brezhnev's leadership saw real incomes grow more than 1.5 times. More than 1.6 thousand million square metres of living space were commissioned and provided to over 160 million people. At the same time, the average rent for families did not exceed 3% of the family income. There was unprecedented affordability of housing, health care, and education.
In a survey by the Sociological Research Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1986, 75% of those surveyed said that they were better off than the previous ten years. Over 95% of Soviet adults considered themselves "fairly well off,". 55% of those surveyed felt that medical services improved, 46% believed public transportation had improved, and 48% said that the standard of services provided public service establishments had risen.
During the years 1957–65 housing policy underwent several institutional changes with industrialisation and urbanisation had not been matched by an increase in housing after World War II. Housing shortages in the Soviet Union were worse than in the rest of the Eastern Bloc due to a larger migration to the towns and more wartime devastation, and were worsened by Stalin's pre-war refusals to invest properly in housing. Because such investment was generally not enough to sustain the existing population, apartments had to be subdivided into increasingly smaller units, resulting in several families sharing an apartment previously meant for one family.
The prewar norm became one Soviet family per room, with the toilets and kitchen shared. The amount of living space in urban areas fell from 5.7 square metres per person in 1926 to 4.5 square metres in 1940. In the rest of the Eastern Bloc during this time period, the average number of people per room was 1.8 in Bulgaria (1956), 2.0 in Czechoslovakia (1961), 1.5 in Hungary (1963), 1.7 in Poland (1960), 1.4 in Romania (1966), 2.4 in Yugoslavia (1961), and 0.9 in 1961 in East Germany.
After Stalin's death in 1953, forms of an economic "New Course" brought a revival of private house construction. Private construction peaked in 1957–1960 in many Eastern Bloc countries and then declined simultaneously along with a steep increase in state and co-operative housing. By 1960, the rate of house-building per head had picked up in all countries in the Eastern Bloc. Between 1950 and 1975, worsening shortages were generally caused by a fall in the proportion of all investment made housing. However, during that period the total number of dwellings increased.
During the last fifteen years of this period (1960 to 1975), an emphasis was made for a supply side solution, which assumed that industrialised building methods and high rise housing would be cheaper and quicker than traditional brick-built, low-rise housing. Such methods required manufacturing organisations to produce the prefabricated components and organisations to assemble them on site, both of which planners assumed would employ large numbers of unskilled workers-with powerful political contacts. The lack of participation of eventual customers, the residents, constituted one factor in escalating construction costs and poor quality work. This led to higher demolition rates and higher costs to repair poorly constructed dwellings. In addition, because of poor quality work, a black market arose for building services and materials that could not be procured from state monopolies.
In most countries, completions (new dwellings constructed) rose to a high point between 1975 and 1980 and then fell, as a result presumably of worsening international economic conditions. This occurred in Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania (with an earlier peak in 1960 also), Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, while the Soviet Union peaked in 1960 and 1970. While between 1975 and 1986, the proportion of investment devoted to housing actually rose in most of the Eastern Bloc, general economic conditions resulted in total investment amounts falling or becoming stagnant.
The employment of socialist ideology in housing policy declined in the 1980s, which accompanied a shift in authorities looking at the need of residents to an examination of potential residents' ability to pay. Yugoslavia was unique in that it continuously mixed private and state sources of housing finance, stressed self-managed building co-operatives along with central government controls.
|Country||Initial Year||Initial Year Shortage||% of Total Stock||1986 Shortage||1986 % of Total Stock|
These are official housing figures and may be low. For example, in the Soviet Union, the figure of 26,662,400 in 1986 almost certainly underestimates shortages for the reason that it does not count shortages from large Soviet rural-urban migration; another calculation estimates shortages to be 59,917,900. By the late 1980s, Poland had an average 20-year wait time for housing, while Warsaw had between a 26- and 50-year wait time. In the Soviet Union, widespread illegal subletting occurred at exorbitant rates. Toward the end of the Eastern Bloc allegations of misallocations and illegal distribution of housing were raised in Soviet CPSU Central Committee meetings.
In Poland, housing problems were caused by slow rates of construction, poor home quality (which was even more pronounced in villages), and a large black market. In Romania, social engineering policy and concern about the use of agricultural land forced high densities and high-rise housing designs. In Bulgaria, a prior emphasis on monolithic high-rise housing lessened somewhat in the 1970s and 1980s. In the Soviet Union, housing was perhaps the primary social problem. While Soviet housing construction rates were high, quality was poor and demolition rates were high, in part because of an inefficient building industry and lack of both quality and quantity of construction materials.
East German housing suffered from a lack of quality and a lack of skilled labor, with a shortage of materials, plot and permits. In staunchly Stalinist Albania, housing blocks (panelka) were spartan, with six story walk-ups being the most frequent design. Housing was allocated by workplace trade unions and built by voluntary labor organised into brigades within the workplace. Yugoslavia suffered from fast urbanisation, uncoordinated development and poor organisation resulting from a lack of hierarchical structure and clear accountability, low building productivity, the monopoly position of building enterprises, and irrational credit policies.
1953 East Germany uprising
Three months after the death of Joseph Stalin, a dramatic increase of emigration (Republikflucht, brain drain) occurred from East Germany in the first half-year of 1953. Large numbers of East Germans traveled west through the only "loophole" left in the Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, the Berlin sector border. The East German government then raised "norms" – the amount each worker was required to produce—by 10%. Already disaffected East Germans, who could see the relative economic successes of West Germany within Berlin, became enraged. Angry building workers initiated street protests, and were soon joined by others in a march to the Berlin trade union headquarters.
While no official spoke to them at that location, by 2:00 pm, the East German government agreed to withdraw the "norm" increases. However, the crisis had already escalated such that the demands were now political, including free elections, disbanding the army and resignation of the government. By 17 June, strikes were recorded in 317 locations involving approximately 400,000 workers. When strikers set ruling SED party buildings aflame and tore the flag from the Brandenburg Gate, SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht left Berlin.
A major emergency was declared and the Soviet Red Army stormed some important buildings. With hours, Soviet tanks arrived, but they did not immediately fire upon all workers. Rather, a gradual pressure was applied. Approximately 16 Soviet divisions with 20,000 soldiers from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany using tanks, as well as 8,000 Kasernierte Volkspolizei members, were employed. Bloodshed could not be entirely avoided, with the official death toll standing at 21, while the actual casualty toll may have been much higher. Thereafter, 20,000 arrests took place along with 40 executions.
Hungarian Revolution of 1956
After Stalin's 1953 death, a period of de-Stalinization followed, with reformist Imre Nagy replacing Hungarian Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi. Responding to popular demand, in October 1956, the Polish government appointed the recently rehabilitated reformist Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, with a mandate to negotiate trade concessions and troop reductions with the Soviet government. After a few tense days of negotiations, on 19 October, the Soviets finally gave in to Gomułka's reformist requests.
The revolution began after students of the Technical University compiled a list of Demands of Hungarian Revolutionaries of 1956 and conducted protests in support of the demands on 22 October. Protests of support swelled to 200,000 by 6 pm the following day, The demands included free secret ballot elections, independent tribunals, inquiries into Stalin and Rákosi Hungarian activities and that "the statue of Stalin, symbol of Stalinist tyranny and political oppression, be removed as quickly as possible." By 9:30 pm the statue was toppled (see photo to the right) and jubilant crowds celebrated by placing Hungarian flags in Stalin's boots, which was all that remained the statue. The ÁVH was called, Hungarian soldiers sided with the crowd over the ÁVH and shots were fired on the crowd.
By 2 am on 24 October, under orders of Soviet defense minister Georgy Zhukov, Soviet tanks entered Budapest. Protester attacks at the Parliament forced the dissolution of the government. A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside. Fighting had virtually ceased between 28 October and 4 November, while many Hungarians believed that Soviet military units were indeed withdrawing from Hungary.
The new government that came to power during the revolution formally disbanded ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. The Soviet Politburo thereafter moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The last pocket of resistance called for ceasefire on 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops were killed and thousands more were wounded.
Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported to the Soviet Union, many without evidence. Approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled Hungary, some 26,000 Hungarians were put on trial by the new Soviet-installed János Kádár government, and of those, 13,000 were imprisoned. Imre Nagy was executed, along with Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes, after secret trials in June 1958. Their bodies were placed in unmarked graves in the Municipal Cemetery outside Budapest. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition.
Prague Spring and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia
A period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia called the Prague Spring took place in 1968. The event was spurred by several events, including economic reforms that addressed an early 1960s economic downturn. The event began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power. In April, Dubček launched an "Action Program" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of movement, along with an economic emphasis on consumer goods, the possibility of a multiparty government and limiting the power of the secret police.
Initial reaction within the Eastern Bloc was mixed, with Hungary's János Kádár expressing support, while Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and others grew concerned about Dubček's reforms, which they feared might weaken the Eastern Bloc's position during the Cold War. On 3 August, representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration, which affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism–Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces.
On the night of 20–21 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria — invaded Czechoslovakia. The invasion comported with the Brezhnev Doctrine, a policy of compelling Eastern Bloc states to subordinate national interests to those of the Bloc as a whole and the exercise of a Soviet right to intervene if an Eastern Bloc country appeared to shift towards capitalism . The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, including an estimated 70,000 Czechoslovaks initially fleeing, with the total eventually reaching 300,000.
In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "normalization" began. Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of liberal members, dismissed opponents from public office, reinstated the power of the police authorities, sought to re-centralize the economy and re-instated the disallowance of political commentary in mainstream media and by persons not considered to have "full political trust".
During the late 1980s, the weakened Soviet Union gradually stopped interfering in the internal affairs of Eastern Bloc nations and numerous independence movements took place.
Following the Brezhnev stagnation, the reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 signaled the trend towards greater liberalization. Gorbachev rejected the Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that Moscow would intervene if socialism were threatened in any state. He announced what was jokingly called the "Sinatra Doctrine" after the singer's "My Way", to allow the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to determine their own internal affairs during this period.
Gorbachev initiated a policy of glasnost (openness) in the Soviet Union, and emphasized the need for perestroika (economic restructuring). The Soviet Union was struggling economically after the long war in Afghanistan and did not have the resources to control Central and Eastern Europe.
A wave of Revolutions of 1989, sometimes called the "Autumn of Nations", swept across the Eastern Bloc.
Major reforms occurred in Hungary following the replacement of János Kádár as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1988. In Poland in April 1989, the Solidarity organization was legalized and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections. It captured 99% of available parliamentary seats.
On 9 November 1989, following mass protests in East Germany and the relaxing of border restrictions in Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of Eastern Berliners flooded checkpoints along the Berlin Wall and crossed into West Berlin. The wall was torn down and Germany was eventually reunified. In Bulgaria, the day after the mass crossings through the Berlin Wall, the leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted by his Politburo and replaced with Petar Mladenov.
In Czechoslovakia, following protests of an estimated half-million Czechs and Slovaks demanding freedoms and a general strike, the authorities, which had allowed travel to the West, abolished provisions guaranteeing the ruling Communist party its leading role. President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-Communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned, in what was called the Velvet Revolution.
Romania had not had any de-Stalinization. Following growing public protests, president Nicolae Ceaușescu ordered a mass rally in his support outside Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest. But mass protests against Ceauşescu proceeded. The Romanian military sided with protesters and turned on Ceauşescu. They executed him after a brief trial three days later.
Even before the Bloc's last years, all of the countries in the Warsaw Pact did not always act as a unified bloc. For instance, the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia was condemned by Romania, which refused to take part in it.
Terminology and other countries
Use of the term "Eastern Bloc" generally refers to the "communist states of eastern Europe." Sometimes, more generally, they are referred to as "the countries of Eastern Europe under communism". Many sources consider Yugoslavia to be a member of the Eastern Bloc. Others consider Yugoslavia not to be a member after it broke with Soviet policy in the 1948 Tito–Stalin split.
"Eastern Bloc" was sometimes used interchangeably with the term Second World, and was opposed by the Western Bloc. The Soviet-aligned members of the Eastern Bloc besides the Soviet Union are often referred to as "satellite states" of the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, "Eastern bloc" was used to refer to a loose alliance of eastern and central European countries.
Other countries that were not Soviet Socialist Republics, not Soviet Satellite States or not in Europe were sometimes referred to as being in the Eastern Bloc, Soviet Bloc, or Communist Bloc, including:
- The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978 to 1992)
- The United Arab Republic (a concatenation of Syria and Egypt 1958 to 1961)
- The Republic of Iraq (1968 to 1992)
- The Republic of Cuba from 1960
- The People's Republic of China before the Sino-Soviet split of 1960
- The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) from 1945
- The Mongolian People's Republic
- The Socialist Republic of Vietnam from 1954
- The People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979 to 1990)
- Hirsch, Donald; Kett, Joseph F.; Trefil, James S. (2002), The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 316, ISBN 0-618-22647-8,
Eastern Bloc. The name applied to the former communist states of eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia and Albania, as well as the countries of the Warsaw Pact
- Satyendra, Kush (2003), Encyclopaedic dictionary of political science, Sarup & Sons, p. 65, ISBN 81-7890-071-8,
the countries of Eastern Europe under communism
Janzen, Jörg; Taraschewski, Thomas (2009). Shahshahānī, Suhaylā, ed. Cities of Pilgrimage. Iuaes-series 4. Münster: LIT Verlag. p. 190. ISBN 9783825816186. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
Until 1990, despite being a formally independent state, Mongolia had de facto been an integral part of the Soviet dominated Eastern Bloc.
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The other Eastern bloc states – except Romania's fellow mavericks Albania and Yugoslavia – reacted to the breakthrough between Bonn and Bucharest by coordinating their own stances towards the Federal Republic.
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Nevertheless, the Eastern Bloc countries, including Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, argued that UNSCOB had been constituted illegally
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80 Yugoslavia is perhaps the most international of the Eastern Bloc countries.
- Ryan, James; Mastrini, Hana; Baker, Mark (2009), Eastern Europe, John Wiley and Sons, p. 651, ISBN 0-470-39908-2,
Tito played his cards right and – unlike other Eastern Bloc countries – Yugoslavia enjoyed a fairly open relationship with the rest of the world
- Stanilov, Kiril (2007), The post-socialist city: urban form and space transformations in Central and Eastern Europe after socialism, Springer, p. 362, ISBN 1-4020-6052-1,
During the socialist period, Yugoslavia was marked by a system of socialist self-management, which place greater importance not he development of market-type relations in the economy than any of the other socialist countries of Europe. This strategy was a significant factor in achieving a higher standard of living and a lower level of under-urbanization compared to other members of the Eastern Bloc.
- Hawkesworth, M. E.; Paynter, John (1992), Encyclopedia of government and politics, Routledge, p. 1244, ISBN 0415072255,
The processes of change in the Eastern Bloc affected Yugoslavia as well, although this country, having been outside the bloc since 1948, had evolved specific political, economic and federal systems of its own.
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- "Photographs of Russia in 1967". Archived from the original on 31 January 2008.
- Candid photos of the Eastern Bloc September–December 1991, in the last months of the USSR
- Photographic project "Eastern Bloc" "Eastern Bloc" examines the specificities and differences of living in totalitarian and post totalitarian countries. The project is divided into chapters, each dedicated to one of the Eastern European countries—Slovak Republic, Poland, ex-GDR, Hungary, Czech Republic and ex-Yugoslavia.
- RFE/RL East German Subject Files Open Society Archives, Budapest
- The Lives of Others official website
- RFE Czechoslovak Unit Open Society Archives, Budapest
- Museum of occupations of Estonia – Project by the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation
- Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity
- Gallery of events from Poznań 1956 protests
- OSA Digital Archive Videos of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
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- Chronology Of Events Leading To The 1968 Czechoslovakia Invasion
- Solidarity, Freedom and Economical Crisis in Poland, 1980–81
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- "Berlin 1983: Berlin and the Wall in the early 1980s". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
- The Lives of Others official website
- The Lost Border: Photographs of the Iron Curtain
- "Symbols in Transition" Documentary film regarding the post-89 handling of the political symbols and buildings of eastern Europe