Iron Curtain

Missing image
In the summer of 1989, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, ceremoniously cut through the border defences separating their countries.

The Iron Curtain (Eiserner Vorhang in German, Железный занавес, or Zhelezniy zanaves in Template:Ll) is a Western term referring to the boundary which divided Europe into two separate areas of political influence and ideology from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War.

A variant of the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain, was coined in reference to the People's Republic of China. As the standoff between the West and the countries of the Iron and Bamboo curtains eased with the end of the Cold War, the term fell out of any but historical usage.


Political, economic and military realities

East of the Iron Curtain

While the Iron Curtain was in place the countries of Eastern Europe and many in Central Europe (except West Germany, Switzerland and Austria) were under the political influence of the Soviet Union. Indeed the Central European states to the east of the Curtain were frequently regarded as being part of Eastern Europe, rather than Central Europe.

Many of the states were members of the Soviet Union itself (the Soviet Socialist Republics), while with two exceptions the neighboring countries of the Eastern bloc were ruled by pro-Soviet governments, kept in place by the threat of military force. The two exceptions were Yugoslavia which retained its independence, and Albania which escaped Soviet influence in the 1960s and aligned itself with China, though both were ruled by communist ideology and, like the Soviet bloc, operated under a planned economy.

To the east of the Iron Curtain, the states developed their own international economic and military alliances, COMECON and the Warsaw Pact.

West of the Iron Curtain

To the west of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Western Europe and Southern Europe, along with Austria, West Germany and Switzerland, operated market economies. With the exception of a period of fascism in Spain and Portugal and military dictatorship in Greece, these countries were ruled by democratic governments.

Most states to the west of the Iron Curtain - with the exception of neutral Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Ireland - were allied with the United States within NATO. Economically, the European Community and the European Free Trade Association were the Western counterparts to COMECON.

Origins of the Iron Curtain

Winston Churchill popularized the term "The Iron Curtain".
Winston Churchill popularized the term "The Iron Curtain".

The term "The Iron Curtain" was first coined by German Chancellor Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of World War II which he had picked up from Joseph Goebbels anti-Soviet speeches, however its use was popularized by the former British leader Winston Churchill, who used it in a long speech on March 5, 1946:

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an "iron curtain" has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."

Churchill made his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. After its fall, a section of the Berlin Wall was transported to and erected at Westminster College. Although the phrase was not well received at the time, as the Cold War strengthened it gained popularity as a short-hand reference to the division of Europe. The Iron Curtain served to keep people in and information out, and the metaphor eventually enjoyed wide acceptance in the West.

In the Soviet Union, the speech was seen by Stalin as reinforcing his view that a future conflict with the West was inevitable. Over the following months, through a mixture of persuasion and purges of those holding contrary views, the Soviet Union did indeed come to see the West as a threat, rather than the ally they had been during World War II. The Cold War had begun in earnest.

Antagonism between East and West

The antagonism between the Soviet Union and the West that led to Churchill's speech had various origins.

Britain, France, Japan, Canada, the United States and many other countries had backed the White Russians against the Bolsheviks during the 19181920 Russian Civil War, and the fact hadn't been forgotten by the Soviets. In the build up to World War II and in the face of the Western appeasement of Hitler the Soviets signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany, one of the intentions being to divide the border states between them to form a buffer zone. Following the war Stalin was determined to acquire a similar buffer against the West with pro-Soviet states on its border, leading to strained relations at the Yalta Conference (February 1945) and the subsequent Potsdam Conference (August 1945).

In the West, there was not only opposition to Soviet domination over the buffer states, but the fear grew that the Soviets were building an empire that might be a threat to them and their interests. And, in particular, Churchill was concerned that the United States might return to its pre-war isolationism, leaving the exhausted European states unable to resist Soviet demands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had announced at Yalta that after the defeat of Germany, US forces would be withdrawn from Europe within two years (Antony Beevor Berlin: The Downfall 1945, p80).

See also Cold War (1947-1953) and its origins

Earlier usages of the term

There are various earlier usages of the term "Iron Curtain" pre-dating Churchill. Some suggest the term may have first been coined by Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians1 after World War I to describe the political situation between Belgium and Germany, in 1914. An iron curtain, or eisener Vorhang, was an obligatory precaution in all German theaters to prevent the possibility of fire from spreading from the stage to the rest of the theater (english: "the fire curtain"). Such fires were rather common as the decor often was very flammable. In case of fire a metal wall would separate the stage from the theater, secluding the flames to be extinguished by firefighters.

Joseph Goebbels coined the term "Iron Curtain" in anti-Soviet propaganda, which was adopted by German politician Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk who referred to the 'Iron Curtain' coming down.

A year prior to Churchill's 1946 speech, the phrase was used in an article on "The Year 2000 (" by the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels:

If the German people lay down their weapons, the Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, would occupy all of East and Southeast Europe along with the greater part of the Reich. An "iron curtain" would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered. The Jewish press in London and New York would probably still be applauding.

Allen Dulles used the term in a speech on December 3, 1945, referring to only Germany:

It is difficult to say what is going on, but in general the Russians are acting little better than thugs. They have wiped out all the liquid assets. No food cards are issued to Germans, who are forced to travel on foot into the Russian zone, often more dead than alive. An iron curtain has descended over the fate of these people and very likely conditions are truly terrible. The promises at Yalta to the contrary, probably 8 to 10 million people are being enslaved.


Iron Curtain in popular culture

The Iron Curtain is a superweapon that gives invulunerability to vehicle units in Command & Conquer: Red Alert series.

External links

da:Jerntppet de:Eiserner Vorhang (Politik) es:Teln de acero eo:Fera Kurteno fr:Rideau de fer it:Cortina di ferro he:מסך הברזל nl:IJzeren gordijn ja:鉄のカーテン pl:Żelazna kurtyna ro:Cortina de fier sk:Železná opona fi:Rautaesirippu sv:Jrnridn zh:铁幕


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