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Moving Beyond the Iron Curtain

For a number of years I have been pondering the role and effects of the Iron Curtain1 that separated Eastern and Western Europe for almost fifty years. I have lived behind the Iron Curtain and have seen some of its effects. We all need to start discharging about it if we want to create a society based on something other than capitalism.

I want to thank Julian Weissglass2 and all the other people in the East and West who have worked tirelessly to create the conditions for Eastern Europeans to be liberated and for Co-Counsellors of Western European descent to start discharging on their oppressor material.3 

I have discharged a lot on being an Eastern European and on living in England for almost half my life. I have also discharged on being a “Western European” in relation to my family who still live in Eastern Europe and to more recent Eastern European immigrants.

the origins of the Iron Curtain

I now understand that the origins of the Iron Curtain go back to before 1945. Soon after World War I, the governments of Great Britain, Germany, and other Western European countries went to considerable lengths to ensure that the left-leaning4 politics in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution did not “infect” Western Europe. The rise of the Nazi Party was due partly to the fear that swept Europe at that time. Many Western governments preferred to have the Nazis in power rather than let the German political space be occupied by people who would help or promote communism. The Romanian politicians were so scared of our country being overcome by communism that they agreed to side with the Nazis against Russia. Since the end of World War I, people in Western countries have been systematically separated from people living in Eastern Europe in order to ensure that the Western world stay away from communism, even at the expense of its own survival.

At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Stalin,5 Roosevelt,6 and Churchill7 met to hammer out a peace deal among the victors of World War II. They agreed that the Soviet Union could have full influence in Eastern Europe on the condition that it drop its support for communist movements in Western Europe and the United States. This seemed to give Western governments full permission to weaken and persecute the communists that lived in their own countries, such as what occurred during the McCarthy era8 in the United States. Thus the anti-communist pattern became even more entrenched, and even took a physical form in what we know as the Iron Curtain.

My experience

What I mainly want to talk about is how I, as a young person growing up in Romania under communism, experienced the Iron Curtain, and what work we all have to do to discharge its effects on our lives and our thinking.

Seen from Romania, the Iron Curtain enforced the separation of East and West, but it allowed the influences and resources that supported the dominance of capitalism to pass through:

* Material resources. I experienced the Iron Curtain as solid in allowing material resources to go from West to East but porous in allowing them to go from East to West. Goods from the West never made it through the Iron Curtain to reach ordinary people in the East. We in the East were literally starved of food and clothing. When the internal market in Eastern Europe malfunctioned, there was no recourse to another market.

However, resources flowed freely from East to West. I grew up next door to a factory that made shoes for export. Everyone knew that they were destined for Western Germany. People in Romania had no access to them. (This was at a time when capitalism had started to struggle because the resources that the Western countries had previously stolen from colonies in Africa and Asia were not as plentiful as before.)

* Human resources. With human resources, the Iron Curtain was, similarly, solid from West to East but porous from East to West. Although Westerners were allowed to come to the East as tourists, they never came to live and never contributed to the Eastern economy. On the other hand, the Western nations “bought” people from Eastern Europe to use in their economies, with the “understanding” that everyone wanted to leave the communist bloc and only those who were stupid or corrupt enough would remain. In my hometown of Timisoara, German people and Jewish people were enticed to leave Romania for Germany and Israel respectively. Friends and acquaintances were suddenly spirited away in an atmosphere of secrecy, never to be seen again. We later heard that they had “built a better life” in the West. They did not return to the East. This “brain drain” depleted Eastern European countries of their human intelligence.

* Cultural influences. In terms of cultural influences, the Iron Curtain was porous the other way. Information travelled freely from West to East, in spite of big efforts by the Romanian government to stop it. My friends and I knew everything there was to know about Western Europe and the United States. We wore Western clothes, listened to Western music, knew all about the various trends and fashions in the West, and learned the history of Western Europe in great detail. We avidly pounced on any scrap of information from the West that came our way. We thought Westerners were gods and could do nothing wrong. It is my impression that Westerners knew next to nothing about Romania or the other countries behind the Iron Curtain.

The current situation

This situation has not changed, in spite of the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. Human and material resources continue to flow from East to West. Cultural influence travels from West to East, so that people in the newly opened markets of Eastern Europe keep buying the products of the West. Eastern Europe is discredited, and learning from the communist experiment is discouraged. This keeps Westerners from entertaining any thoughts of communism or left-wing9 politics and allows for the continued development of capitalism as “the only system possible.”

Along with being stripped of assets, Eastern Europe has lost its best minds to the West. In 1989, Romania had about 23 million inhabitants. Now it has about 18 million. The rest live in the West. There’s not a single family in my hometown that doesn’t lament the fact that one of its members lives in the West and is rarely or never seen anymore.

Because of complex patterns set up during the Cold War, the Eastern Europeans I know struggle with relating to the resources from the West: either they cannot make themselves use or accept them, or they will sell their souls10 to get access to them (I am in the second category).

Beyond what a tourist needs to know, it is difficult for Western Europeans to learn about Eastern Europe, including learning its languages. A “blank” has been installed to keep Western Europeans from being infected by communism. This resulted most infamously and dramatically in the war in former Yugoslavia—a war caused in part by the Western world’s neglect and misunderstanding of that region and by Westerners arrogantly hammering out peace deals without an understanding of the complicated historical background.

The Iron Curtain exists in all our heads. It stops us from relating to a big part of the world’s population in a helpful and rational way. It keeps us from imagining another world is possible. (Whenever people, in the East or the West, think about what could come next after capitalism, their thinking stops at the mention of communism.) It prevents us from working toward another system than capitalism. (This is partly due to discouragement left by the collapse of the little-understood system that existed in Eastern Europe after World War II.)

What we can do

I think the time has come for all of us in RC to start discharging on these issues. We now have the relationships, the understanding, and the maturity to begin this work. Here are some suggestions, from my experience, for how to do it:

If you are a Westerner, try answering these questions:

* How much detail do you know about the history of a country like Bulgaria, for example? Can you name any of its kings or queens?

* What did you know about Eastern Europe when you were growing up? How much detail did you learn about people who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain?

* Can you name a few important trends that you follow that originated in Eastern Europe?

* How many of your heroes are Eastern Europeans?

* Where did your food come from during the Cold War? Did you have plenty?

* Do you know any Eastern Europeans? If they live near you, how did they get there? What is their history?

If you are an Eastern European, try answering the same questions in reverse:

* How much detail do you know about the history of a country like France, for example? Can you name any of its kings or queens?

* What did you know about Western Europe when you were growing up? How much detail did you learn about people who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain?

* Can you name a few important trends that you follow that originated in Western Europe?

* How many of your heroes are Western Europeans?

* Where did your food come from during the Cold War? Did you have plenty?

* Where are your relatives? Do they live in Eastern Europe or in the West? For that matter, where do you live? If you live in the West, how did you come to be there?

I think we all need to start discharging on these kinds of questions if we want to build a society based on something other than capitalism. We need to free our minds to notice that several such societies were already created and then undermined by capitalism until they failed. We have a lot of grieving to do, and a lot of fear to get rid of, to be able to think afresh.

I would love to hear from you, but it would be good if you could have at least a couple of sessions before you reply. I would love it if Eastern European RCers could write back before Western Europeans do.

Violeta Vajda

Formerly from Timisoara, Romania, now from London, England

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 171, April 2013)

10 “Sell their souls” means compromise themselves.

Last modified: 2017-04-06 22:53:11+00