Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Iron Curtain
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Iron Curtain

   
The Iron Curtain is a term used in the West to refer to the boundary line which divided Europe into two separate areas of political influence from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War.

During this period, Eastern Europe was under the political influence of the Soviet Union, and the direct political control of either the Soviet Union or national communist régimes. Western Europe was under the politcal influence of the United States, and the direct control of national democratic régimes, enjoying sufficient freedom to allow them to oppose United States policies.

The term comes from a long speech by Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri: After the fall of the Berlin Wall a section of it was transported to and erected at Westminster College.

"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."

The phrase had been used a year earlier, in an article on "The Year 2000" by 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 term iron curtain here refers to a fire rescue device in theatres seperating stage and auditorium by means of a removable water-cooled metal wall. Due to frequent stage fires, this had been obligatory in Austrian and German theaters since the end of the 19th century.

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.

It was Churchill's speech, however, that popularized the phrase and made it known to much of the public.

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. A variant, the Bamboo Curtain, was coined in reference to Communist China.

As the standoff between the Free World 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.