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  • Selling (Balkan) Europe by the Pound March 2, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Beach has pioneered for some time his WIBT (‘wish I’d been there’) series. Those moments in the past where any historically-conscious person would just LOVE to be a half dead bluebottle on the windowsill watching the great men and women conspiring to create history. It is a nice idea, of course. However, as most of history is emphatically about bad things: then the WIBT moments tend to involve great men and women making things worse rather than better.

    Now on that very subject…

    9 October 1944, two men meet in Moscow. One, an obese Briton with a drink problem, writes some words down on a piece of paper and hands it to a serial killer with a handlebar moustache sitting on the other side of the table. The serial killer looks at the written words and taking a blue pencil ticks the piece of paper.

    The two ‘heroes’ of this tale are, of course, Churchill in his last year in office and Stalin. And the piece of paper – that survives in British public records (with the serial killer’s tic) and the Russian archives – the ‘naughty paper’ as Churchill called it, marked the division of the Balkans (plus) between the opportunistic democratic Allies (the UK and the US) and the murdering Communist allies (the USSR).

    The paper reads as follows

    Rumania           Russia 90%

                            The others 10%

    Greece             Great Britain 90%

                            (in accord with the USA)

    Yugoslavia       50%-50%

    Hungary           50%-50% [this would later be changed to ‘75% Russia’]

    Bulgaria           Russia 75%

    And so less than a year before the end of hostilities millions of Europeans were condemned to the gulag and 40 years in the twilight.

    Of course, Churchill’s supporters defend his actions. Churchill was trying to guarantee freedom for as much of Eastern and Central Europe as possible. He was in this perhaps more realistic than the Americans who said that such matters should be discussed at the end of the Second World War. And Churchill did manage to wrestle at least Greece free from the trap: when the British put down a communist insurrection there Stalin actually had the temerity to wink at Churchill!

    Others might point out that the paper had little effect anyway. Did the western democracies really have 10% influence in Bulgaria or 25% in Hungary in 1950? Poland, which was mentioned at the meeting, but was too far from the Danube to appear on the paper, got dragged kicking and screaming into what would, with German rearmament, soon become the ‘Warsaw’ Pact: ditto Czechoslovakia.

    Tito and Yugoslavia had contempt for Stalin and Churchill and he rightly decided that neither would risk their manpower in the hills and river valleys where his partisans had so bloodied the Wehrmacht.

    Still the paper was given the nod and formed the basis for further discussions between the louche Eden and the haggler Molotov. And Stalin, who generally and perhaps curiously respected signed agreements, did take this as the outer limits of his action in the Balkans.

    And, yes, Greece at least was spared a generation in the Stalinist version of Disney Land. God knows what Churchill would make of the pictures of the Greek middle classes reduced to rooting for food in dustbins and German politicians instructing Greek politicians to postpone elections… Another reason for hoping there is no afterlife.

    On this merry note Beach should say that he is always on the look out for WIBT moments: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Perhaps particularly happy ones?