At the end of World War II, the Red Army occupied Eastern Europe. Iron Curtain describes in great detail how the Soviet Union and Eastern European communists imposed Soviet-style totalitarianism in the countries of Eastern Europe. I found the first half of the book interesting but bleak. The second half of the book is more uplifting and left me thinking highly of the book and giving it five stars on Goodreads.com. Much of the second half describes how people resisted the constant and pervasive indoctrination and propaganda. No one except the true, die-hard ideologues were deceived. People recognized the obvious – that the public rhetoric was far from reality and that Eastern Europe was falling rapidly behind the West.
I was surprised to read that very soon after the war, the communists held relatively free elections. Not because the wanted to give the people a voice, but because the truly believed that they would win. When, to their embarrassment, the did not win, they started clamping down. The result – during the period called High Stalinism that lasted until Stalin’s death in 1953 – was a harsh totalitarianism in which nothing existed independently of the party or the government.
A lesson that is relevant for us today is the extent to which fundamentalist ideologues can ignore facts and reality in order to cling to their beliefs, not in an cynical way, but because they are true believers. Think of American conservatives who twist and turn mightily to avoid evolution and global warming, Think of neo-Nazis and certain Iranian presidents not believing that the Holocaust ever happened.
Well, I’m rambling a bit. If you are at all interested in this period of history or in the nature of totalitarianism, check this book out. You will enjoy it.