The Iron Curtain

The extent to which geographical variables influence political discourse, history and daily living has always been a topic of interest. In particular, the concept of boundaries as geographical variables, is one that is frequently examined and offers salient insights into the daily lives of border communities. As demarcations of space, borders are physical manifestations of segregations amongst these communities. The ‘Iron Curtain’, one of the most enduring Cold War symbol, is a prime example. In this blog post, we shall examine the geopolitics of the ‘Iron Curtain’, in terms of what it entails and whether the cause for divide among border communities is  geopolitics per se or psychological factors.

 

What is the ‘Iron Curtain’? The ‘Iron Curtain’ is the physical line (1393 km long) separating the former Soviet Eastern bloc of Europe and the democratic Western bloc from the end of World War 2 to the end of Cold War.

ironcurtaintrailmap

Figure 1.The Iron Curtain.[1]

This term became popularized after  Churchill used it as a euphemism to denote the ideological differences between the Communist Eastern Bloc and the democratic Western bloc in his Sinews of Peace speech, 1946.

 

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”[2]

 

‘Iron’ illustrated the idea that these differences were strikingly contrasting and irreconcilable, while ‘curtain’ signified that activities within each bloc were unbeknownst to the other-hidden from sight. Alternatively, just as theatrical iron curtains were designed to prevent the spread of fire from stage to the audience, this iron curtain was drawn to prevent the spreading of contagious ideologies from the East to the West and vice versa.[3]

 

But was this curtain truly made of ‘iron’?

ee130f023b558d28f8c4868e85c69610

Fig 2. Cartoon on the Iron Curtain[4]

 

Interestingly, at the time of Churchill’s speech, this physical barrier was largely porous, rather than ‘iron’. Civilians could cross over with little deterrence. Their willingness to engage in cross-border activities signified that the two communities were not that divided yet.

 

However, as economic conditions contrasted sharply, East Germans began to migrate to the West rapidly and by 1961, they fled in droves of 2500 per day. In order to retain the population, the Soviet ordered for the overnight building of the Berlin wall on August 13, 1961. Concurrently, massive kidnapping across borders also propelled both parties to heighten border control.[5]

 

This meant that the physical barrier between the 2 blocs became increasingly concretised. Yet this concretisation and subsequent growing disunity was not due to the existence of the initial barrier, but was propelled by the fears of citizens. It was the mentalities of these citizens, which gave the boundary physical form. Rather then serving as a catalyst for divide between the 2 communities, the border was merely a continuation of the physical manifestation of the mental divide amongst the two.

 

Undeniably, inhibited interactions amongst the 2  further intensified their differences as each lived under different political doctrines and lacked the platform for understanding each other’s perspective. In fact, even after the celebratory fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seems as though differences still persist, which is why we often hear the following: “Germans’ ‘wall in the head’ has famously outlasted the physical barrier.”[6]

 

[1] Gripped Publishing Inc.(2013). A segment of the Iron Curtain Bicycle Trail. Retrieved March 9, 2016 from http://cyclingmagazine.ca/sections news/iron-curtain-bicycle-trail-10-000km-history-culture-politics/

[2] Churchill delivers Iron Curtain speech. (2010) Retrieved March 9, 2016, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/churchill-delivers-iron-curtain-speech

[3] Twirling the tassels of the Iron Curtain. (2007, October 25). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3668788/Twirling-the-tassels-of-the-Iron-Curtain.html

[4] J.N. “Ding” Darling Foundation. (2010) We Tried Everything but Dynamite. Retrieved March 9, 2016 from http://www.dingdarling.org/cartoons/dynamite.html

[5] Sheffer, E. (2013) Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain. Oxford University Press.

[6] Ibid.

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