No part of the world escaped the effects of the Cold War. But up to 1949 the Cold War was mainly confined to Europe and the chief arena was in Germany.
(1) Return to Parliamentary Democracy in the West:
When the Cold War began, relations between the East and the West became critically strained. Both the United States and the Soviet Union tried to tighten their control over their ‘satellites’ within their own spheres of influence.
In April 1947, the Communist Party was declared illegal in West Germany. In May 1947, the communist ministers were dismissed from the coalition governments in Italy and France.
In April 1948, the United States government intervened in the Italian election. The American diplomats urged the Italian voters to support the Christian Democratic Party and threatened that if the Communist Party won the election, America would stop her financial aid to Italy. The result was that the Christian Democrats won most of the votes in the election and became the ruling party.
(2) Soviet Control of Eastern Europe:
In the meantime, Stalin also intervened in the domestic politics of the eastern European countries. In May 1947, Ference Nagy, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Hungary, was forced to flee for his life.
In June 1947, Petkov, a leading opponent of Soviet domination in Bulgaria, was arrested and hanged. One month later, Bulgaria was declared a People’s Republic. In October, Mikolajczyk, leader of the democratic Peasant Party in Poland, was forced to flee to the west in November 1947.
(3) The Berlin Crisis – the Climax of the Conflict between the East and the West in Europe:
While the western nations were anxious about their own security, Russia stopped all land traffic between Berlin and West Germany. The western nations took this move as the first of a series of Russian attempts to force them to withdraw first from Germany and then from Europe. They were determined to resist and war nearly resulted. This was the well-known Berlin Crisis.
The Berlin Crisis marked the climax of the conflict between the East and the West. The origins of that conflict can be traced back to the year 1945.
(i) Early conflict (1945)
The Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Conference had laid down some principles concerning the immediate post-war treatment of Germany; but as soon as these principles were carried out, the western nations and the Soviet Union came into conflict because both sides had different interpretations of the principles.
In accordance with the Potsdam agreement Germany was treated as a single economic unit. Russia would obtain as reparations a proportion of the industrial products currently produced by Germany industry in the western zones; and in return the Russian-controlled eastern zone would deliver food and raw materials to the western zones. (The eastern zone was an agricultural region.
The western zones were an industrial region. Russia was to receive the industrial products in the western zones because German armies had destroyed the Russian industries severely.)
But Russia wanted to exploit the economic resources of the eastern zone as much as possible and did not supply the western zones with food. So the Americans did not deliver any industrial products to the eastern zone. Thereafter the western occupying powers and Russia handled economic affairs in their zones independently.
In accordance with the Potsdam agreement, the 4 occupying powers also agreed to destroy the Nazi system and to prepare the way for democracy in Germany. To the west, denazification meant that only those persons who had taken an active part in the Nazi regime were to be punished.
To the Russians, denazification meant that punishment should be meted out not only to individuals but to the whole bourgeois class, because bourgeois capitalism was regarded as the base for the rise of Nazism.
The western, nations concluded that Soviet Russia was not only punishing the Nazis, but they were creating a new-regime ruled by a new class the workers “the peasants. Because both sides had carried out different policies in their own occupation zones, they became increasingly suspicious of each other’s designs in Europe.
(ii) Economic conflict (1946)
In order to revive West Germany economically as soon as possible, the American and the British governments permitted the West German industries to raise their levels of production. Russia immediately feared that West Germany would re-emerge as a powerful supporter of the western countries.
In December 1946, Russian fear increased when the British and Americans formed ‘Bizonia’ by putting together their two zones for economic purposes. The Americans and the British also intended to cut down the German reparations, expand the German industries, adopt a uniform system for railway and other services and restore the German industrial production to the pre-war level.
(iii) Increasing suspicion (1947)
With enunciation of the Truman Doctrine and the launching of the Marshall Plan, (The United States declared to include West Germany in the Marshall Plan.) the Russians felt the U.S. was launching an anti-communist campaign against Soviet Russia.
(iv) Diplomatic conflict (1949)
In February 1948, Russia responded to the pressures of the Cold War by putting forward her claim for the whole of Berlin within her zone. The Russian claim met with a strong reaction in the West. The United States, Britain, France -and the Benelux countries made a London Agreement in June 1948.
They declared that they would form a democratic West German Government in the western zones. In the eyes of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was trying to make West Germany an anti-Soviet military spearhead against her.
(v) Confrontation over Berlin (June 1948)
The hostile relations between the Soviet Union and the United States before 1948 had made the Berlin crisis, inevitable. The currency reform carried out by the western powers in 1948 immediately produced the Berlin crisis.
The aim of the western powers was to introduce a new currency in order to revive the Germany economy. (Since the end of the war, shortage of food and other necessities led to inflation in Germany (i.e. selling of food and other scarce goods at inflated prices).
The amount of money in circulation rose enormously in the post-war years, and the German marks became valueless. Currency reform was an essential step to recreate financial stability in Germany.) The Soviet Union thought differently.
She thought that if the currency reform in West Germany was successful, West Germany would become a strong power, threatening Russia’s position in East Germany.
When the new currency was introduced to West Berlin, the Soviet Union replied by cutting land communications between West Berlin and the western German zones. Thus began the blockade of Berlin on June 24, 1948.
(vi) Significance of the blockade:
(a) It was clear that the western powers would resist with great determination any Russian attempt to dominate Central Europe. They had upheld the Western sectors of Berlin by a vast and costly airlift.
(b) Though Stalin lifted the blockade, the -western -powers failed to obtain Russian recognition of their rights of a land route to West Berlin. This meant that even in moments of defeat Russia was determined to show strength and determination. A repetition of the Berlin crisis was to be expected in the future.
(c) Though both sides showed great determination to control their own zones, they would only go to war as a final resort. Both America and Russia possessed atomic bombs. (Russia had developed her atomic bomb in 1949.) A Third World War would be disastrous to both sides.
(d) Soon after the crisis, it was understood that Germany would not be unified. The following September saw the setting up of a West German Federal Republic through free elections. The Christian Democratic Party won most of the votes in the elections and Adenauer became the Chancellor.
The capital of the Republic was at Bonn. In the following month (October), the Democratic People’s Republic was set up under Russian auspices in East Germany. Ulbricht was the Prime Minister. (East and West Germany were separated by strong fortifications on both sides. Since 1961, in order to stop the East Germans crossing into West Berlin, East Germany built a high wall across Berlin.)
(e) The Berlin Crisis was over but Russian influence over eastern and central Europe was not shaken. The suspicion of the western nations about Russian aggressions remained.