Iron Curtain

What is the iron curtain?

The Iron Curtain or Iron Curtain is a term popularized by former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1946. Churchill used this expression to refer to the political division in Western Europe after the end of World War II.

On March 5, 1946, during a speech delivered in the city of Fulton, Missouri, in the United States, Churchill said: “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” It made reference to the iron military, political and economic influence exerted by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.

Iron curtain or steel curtain

Map of Europe divided by the so-called Iron Curtain

It was an imaginary insurmountable barrier that the USSR erected under Stalin to isolate itself from the center and east of the continent together with its dependent allies. In this way the borders between democratic Europe and socialist Europe were clearly delimited.

On the western side were the capitalist countries that signed the pact that created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, while on the central and eastern European side were the member countries of the Warsaw Pact (communist) in 1955.

In this scenario, there was the exception of Yugoslavia – which, even though it was a socialist, remained outside the conflict – and other non-communist countries such as Finland and Austria.


Iron curtain or steel curtain

Sir Winston Churchill.

The most distant antecedent of the term “iron curtain” is located in 1920, when the British writer and suffragette Ethel Snowden used it in her book Through Bolshevik Russia . She used this analogy to critically and negatively describe the violent face of communist Bolshevism.

To characterize the geographical and political border that separated Russia from the rest of Eastern Europe, Snowden wrote: “We were behind the ‘iron curtain’, at last.”

Later, at the end of Nazism in Germany, the term was also used by the propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. It appeared in a magazine article and in his private diary in February 1945. Later, the Nazi Finance Minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk used the term “iron curtain” during a radio broadcast on May 2, 1945.

The two German officials argued that in each country that the Soviet army was occupying, an iron curtain fell. Their purpose was to commit war crimes and not be watched or controlled by the rest of the world.

For both ministers, the “iron curtain” was part of the European occupation of communism resulting from the Yalta agreements in 1943.

Goebbels made an analogy with an iron curtain in a theater (with which he was very familiar). The notion he wanted to convey was that behind the scenes events are invisible and inscrutable to the public.

Causes of the iron curtain

– The iron curtain had its origin in the spheres of influence created by the Second World War with the distribution of territories between the victorious countries. After the Yalta agreements, Europe was divided into two great ideological blocs, economic and military. Each bloc tried to expand its influence over the other.

– On the death of Russian leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, the situation within the Iron Curtain in the socialist countries relaxed a bit; But as of 1961, with the lifting of the Berlin Wall, the separation of German society and the socialist world from the capitalist world became more felt.

– The imaginary border barrier traced by the Iron Curtain became a real physical wall.

– By the 1950s the Soviet Union became an economic and military empire, and it intended to spread its influence throughout Europe. Western European countries at that time were coming out of WWII and were left very weakened from a military and economic point of view.

Alliances and fears of the Soviets

– Each power bloc on either side of the Iron Curtain had its own economic alliances. The communist bloc created the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). This plan devised by Stalin had the purpose of completely blocking the economic relations of its satellite countries with the West.

– The Comecon was implemented in opposition to the Marshall Plan of the United States for the reconstruction of Europe in the postwar period.

– On the other hand, the Soviets raised the iron curtain because they feared that the American way of life ( American way of life ) or Western would affect the socialist world. Therefore, they decided to block and isolate Eastern Europe from its influence, not only in terms of economic relations, but also in the cultural and media-informative field.

– They also feared for their own safety, since during the 20th century Russia had been invaded and about to be defeated on two occasions. Being surrounded by democratic countries with liberal systems of government, the socialist states felt more vulnerable.


– Among the most visible consequences of the imposition of the Iron Curtain in the socialist countries was the hardening of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. This war, which sought to increase the power and influence of the then two military superpowers in the world, lasted until the 1980s.

– The advance of communism in the world and the establishment of the Iron Curtain generated much concern in Western Europe and the USA.

– The United States and the allied countries reacted to the imposition of the Iron Curtain with a containment strategy that invoked the Truman Doctrine. Through this state policy an attempt was made to block the spread of communism, as well as to keep Europe and America protected from Soviet influence.

– The blockade created by this ideological-political barrier isolated all countries from the Soviet orbit. The repression and economic backwardness then increased. The weakness of the socialist bloc, a product of the Cold War and of the production model, became clear during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

– While the countries of the West advanced, the socialist states were progressively impoverished.

– The arms race between the US and the USSR was unleashed, which has put it in serious danger on more than one occasion, such as the missile crisis in Cuba in 1962 and other events. Hydrogen bombs were invented and long-range missiles were perfected. Nuclear tests began and other countries developed atomic energy.

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