This Week in World History, 15-21 February, 1945 & 1990: The Aftermath: Yalta, Budapest, London & Pretoria   Leave a comment

1945 Yalta, Budapest and London

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The Yalta Conference ended on 11 February 1945.The decisions taken there would, said Roosevelt’s heard-headed Admiral Leahy, make Russia the dominant power in Europe, which in itself , which in itself carries a certainty of future international disagreements and the prospects of another war. Lord Cadogan wrote that he had never known the Russians so easy and accommodating… Joe has been extremely good. He is a great man, and shows up very impressively against the background of the other two ageing statesmen. 

For the most part, the Western Allies were pleased with what had been accomplished at the Yalta Conference. In the immediate aftermath Yalta there was an increased belief amongst many in power in the West that Stalin could be relied upon to fulfil his promises. There was, at least in public, a growing illusion that the ideological gap between the West and the Soviet Union was closing, with apparent mutual respect.

The British historian Laurence Rees has asked whether the Western powers at Yalta could have bargained more effectively. He has come to the conclusion that they could almost certainly have done so. The Americans did not use their considerable economic power to pressurise the Russians to be more accommodating over Eastern Europe. Yet, neither the issue of the credit the Soviets wanted from the US, nor that of the extent of German reparations were discussed at Yalta. The participants expected that, as at Versailles in 1919, there would be a formal peace conference to settle all these key issues once and for all. It didn’t take place.

The flawed agreement at Yalta was spun enthusiastically throughout February in Britain and the US, The Soviet comment on Yalta was that it was as far from the pompous and diffuse language of Wilson’s fourteen points… as heaven is from earth. On 17 February Pravda emphasised that the word ‘democracy’ meant different things to different people, and each country could now exercise ‘choice’ over which version it preferred.

Churchill, more than the other two members of the Big Three, faced a particular problem about selling the Yalta agreement on Poland’s n borders, which had been made without the consent of either the Polish people themselves or the Polish government in exile in London. Although Stalin had agreed to ‘democratic’ elections taking place shortly in Poland, General Anders, the Polish commander in London was outraged by the agreement, which he saw as a mockery of the Atlantic Charter and was determined to confront Churchill on the matter when they met on 20 February:

“You are not satisfied with the Yalta agreement,” said Churchill.

“It is not enough to say that I am dissatisfied,” replied Anders, “I consider that a great calamity has occurred.”

“Our soldiers fought for Poland,” Anders went on, “fought for the freedom of their country. What can we, their commanders, tell them now? Soviet Russia, until 1941 in close alliance with Germany,  now takes half their territory, and in the rest of it she wants to establish her power.”

Becoming annoyed with Anders, Churchill retorted, “It is your own fault.” He said that if the Poles had settled the eastern border earlier, “the whole matter would now have been different.” He then added a remarkably hurtful remark, given the sacrifices made by the Poles in the British armed forces and coming just six months after he had made emotional promises to them in the wake of Monte Cassino:

“We have enough troops today. We do not need your help. You can take away your divisions. We shall do without them.”

This brief exchange reveals how much Churchill’s reputation now rested on the way that Stalin chose to operate in Poland and the other Eastern European countries. In order to preserve his own wartime record he had to hope that Stalin would keep his ‘promises’. Unfortunately, this hope was already being destroyed by the action of Soviet troops and agents in the territories they now occupied. In Budapest, widespread rape of women and girls by Red Army soldiers continued unabated, as testified to by surviving victims. Anders talked afterwards with Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and told him that after having been a prisoner, and seeing how Russians could treat Poles, he considered he was in  better position to judge what Russians were like than the President or PM.

1990 Pretoria

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Four Days after the release of Nelson Mandela, on 15 February, the Conservative Party of South Africa, which had broken away from the National Party over the issue of the of the abandonment of apartheid in 1982, held a rally in Pretoria. It was the biggest demonstration the Right in South Africa had ever managed to stage. At least fifty thousand people turned out. Most were obviously Afrikaners, large, heavy-built figures in pale blue or green safari suits or khaki shorts, with blond hair and moustaches. Many others were English-speaking whites, usually but not always from the lower economic groups who stood most to lose from the rising economic power of the Africans. There were plenty of supporters of the neo-Nazis, the AWB. Their swastika flags and SS symbols appeared in the crowd, though the Conservative Party preferred to dissociate itself from them and their violent tactics, and at one point the organisers asked those carrying Nazi symbols to leave.

There remained the flags of the Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, founded by the Voortrekkers who wanted to get away from the Cape in the early nineteenth century, and its British missionaries who preached equality of the races. The Conservative Party was the last constitutional party for those who wanted a return to apartheid in all its forms. They had not always used constitutional means in defending the principles of the 1948 apartheid state. Dr Andres Treunicht, its leader, had once used ‘guerilla’ tactics within the National Party in order to do this. When he stepped onto the platform in City Hall, with the statue of Kruger outside, and began his speech by saying the Afrikaner people would rather fight than submit to a government of blacks, there were shouts of “shoot them!” and the AWB began to chant “Kill Mandela! Kill de Klerk!” from the Kruger statue.

Sources:

Laurence Rees (2008), World War Two: Behind Closed Doors; Stalin, The Nazis and the West. London: BBC Books.

John Simpson (1990), Dispatches from the Barricades: An Eye-Witness Account of the Revolutions that Shook the World, 1989-90. London: Hutchinson.

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