Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War by Robert Gellately - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

The Curtain Falls

Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War


Oxford University Press 464pp £25

When in the late 1980s Russian historians found the doors to their archives opening, their publishers no longer afraid of the censors and parts of their public ready for revelations, they first unmasked the crimes of Lenin and Stalin; then they began recovering the names of the victims of Soviet terror and analysing the machinery that had destroyed them. However, it was not until the end of the 1990s that historians were able to discover the more embarrassing story of how Stalin’s Russia had manipulated, murdered and enslaved the citizens of eastern and central Europe. The Russian authorities were especially reluctant to release documents about the Katyn murders of some 22,000 Polish officers (though today there are few gaps left in our knowledge). It was only in 2002 that four female specialists in eastern Europe – Tatiana Volokitina, Galina Murashko, Albina Noskova and T A Pokivailova (academic women in Russia are largely excluded from the historians’ high table, but may dine with the philologists) – published Moscow and Eastern Europe: The Establishment of Communist Regimes of the Soviet Type, a dense chronicle of the process by which Moscow between 1949 and 1953 wrung every advantage it could out of the Yalta agreement to ensure that all eastern Europe and much of central Europe came under totalitarian control.

The process was well prepared: in the wake of the Red Army came the Soviet secret police, bringing with them puppet rulers, survivors of the required nationalities from Comintern. These Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Czechs were in some way even more dehumanised and determined than their Stalinist masters: they

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