“We and the Americans abandoned Eastern Europe needlessly in 1945,” pronounced Jack Straw in the Saulire cable car cabin. Admiring the snow-covered peaks of the Savoie Alps, I paid no attention. Jack was a friend and a keen military historian. It was March 1985 and we were on a skiing holiday in Méribel with friends. Jack returned to his comment in the evening over an après-ski drink at the Aspen Park hotel bar and this time he had our full attention.
“During a meeting in Moscow, in October 1944, Winston Churchill proposed a secret deal to Stalin, to divide spheres of influence in Europe after the war. Stalin was surprised but accepted. The sell-out of Eastern Europe was finalised by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in Yalta four months later. As in Munich, the affected nations were excluded from the discussions.” Jack’s opinion challenged everything I had previously understood about the post-war order in Europe.
“After the war the Soviet Union annexed large territories of other European countries and turned eleven of them into colonies,” said David, gazing at the glowing logs in the fireplace.
“At Yalta Britain and America became the godfathers to a new colonial empire,” agreed Jack
“Democratic politicians shook hands with dictators in Munich and in Yalta over the heads of the people involved. The saying ‘about us, without us’ could not have been more apt. The injustice inflicted by the three great powers on Eastern Europe lasted for forty-five years,” added our companion Jay.
My perplexity turned to exasperation.
“My homeland didn’t need to be colonised after the war?” I exclaimed. “Our family could have stayed together. My exile wasn’t inevitable,” and I continued with the rejoinder,
“Then why? For what motives?” Jay shrugged his shoulders.
“Roosevelt was too ill to understand. Churchill wanted to save the British Empire with the acquiescence of the Soviets. Stalin was exporting revolution. But who knows?”
For the next few years, I lived with the suppressed pain of injustice. It felt pointless to rail against decisions that could not be changed. Sovietologists persuaded Western public opinion that the communist empire was strong. I was convinced that it would outlive me.
Then, in 1989, rebellions erupted throughout the Soviet bloc. Political and economic forces coalesced, forcing its regimes into existential crises. Jack was ecstatic.
“Western powers have been relegated to the side-lines. The subjugated people are driving events. It’s no longer ‘about us, without us’. When the people demolish the infamous Yalta Doctrine, they will be liberated.” I was keeping my fingers crossed, not sure that the rebellions would succeed.
But Jack was right. The Soviet Empire began to crumble. The world was about to change, and a new history was to emerge. Transformation to the new order was going to be messy and its outcome was uncertain.
My own, ordered and calm family life in London was challenged on 7th December 1989 at 8pm.