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What Was the Iron Curtain?

A sign commemorating the Berlin Wall, which was built during the Cold War.
A mural on the Berlin Wall.
Prague, the capital of what is now the Czech Republic, was the site of the anti-communist movements known as the "Prague Spring" and "Velvet Revolution".
A map of the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain divided European countries controlled or heavily influenced by the USSR and those with democratic governments.
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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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"Iron Curtain" is a term used to describe the boundary that separated the Warsaw Pact countries from the NATO countries from about 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The Iron Curtain was both a physical and an ideological division that represented the way Europe was viewed after World War II. To the east of the Iron Curtain were the countries that were connected to or influenced by the former Soviet Union. This included part of Germany (East Germany), Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania (until 1960 when it aligned with China). While Yugoslavia was Communist politically it was not considered to be a part of the Eastern Bloc or behind the Iron Curtain. Josip Broz Tito, the president of Yugoslavia at the time, was able to maintain access with the west while leading a communist country. The other countries to the west of the Iron Curtain had democratic governments.

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Although the term "Iron Curtain" was used in literature and politics earlier, it was made popular by Winston Churchill, who used it publicly in a speech in March of 1946. The term was first used to refer to the actual metal barrier that cut the continent in two, but it soon became a reference to the ideological barrier also. When Churchill first referred to the barrier he wasn't trying to emulate the words of others. In a telegram directed to US President Harry S. Truman, Churchill spoke about the European situation and said "An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind." This was his first official mention of the term Iron Curtain.

The Iron Curtain fence stretched for thousands of kilometers to separate Eastern and Western countries, and it was especially strong in Germany, where the Berlin Wall became an unmistakable symbol of the Iron Curtain division. In certain regions, the Iron Curtain was nothing more than a plain chain link fence, when in other places it was a highly guarded area which only people carrying special government permissions could approach.

There are Iron Curtain monuments that stand as a reminder of a long-gone era. One is located in the Czech Republic and includes an original guard tower with signs explaining the origins and reasons for the Iron Curtain. The second monument, a simple tribute, is located in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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Discuss this Article

anon924784
Post 34

I'm doing an NHD project and I need more info on No Right To Leave The Berlin Wall.

anon357783
Post 33

I remember living in West Germany while my father was stationed there with the Army from 1987 to 1992.

We lived in Schweinfurt and made many travels around the country and one was to Berlin the day the Berlin wall came down and was a part of that historic day hacking away. Shortly after that day, we went to go back but instead of stopping at the first check point, we got out of the car where the border was and walked around looking at the Iron Curtain. It was a sight I won't forget. It was a hard, cold, metal fencing made of iron (covered in rust and what looked like blood in some areas) that separated East and West Germany and if anyone was caught trying to cross it, they would be shot on sight, not to mention the towers being deserted. It was a little uneasy knowing they used to be there.

We cut a section of the Iron Curtain (and put it away with our piece of the Berlin Wall) and proceeded to drive towards Berlin and decided to drive off the main road and travel where we were never allowed to go. We came to a village where it looked like the early 1900's never left. The look that we got from the Germans that day was astounding. My father decided to get the video camera and record everyone's reaction seeing Americans with bright colored clothing walking around in their village.

anon266539
Post 27

It was a wall a real wall between west and east berlin, I think.

anon261420
Post 24

A phrase coined by Winston Churchill, the Iron Curtain was a physical, political, military and ideological barrier that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea that was erected right after World War II. It consisted of barriers, barbed wire and guard posts manned by Soviet forces. The purpose of this barrier was to separate east from west and to separate the USSR from the non-communist areas.

anon253246
Post 21

It wasn't an actual wall like the berlin wall! It was just an idea that europe was being divided by this 'iron curtain' that Churchill came up with. Communism was spreading and the countries to the west didn't want to be influenced.

anon164056
Post 17

that is pretty cool. i saw videos about it. it was harsh and not fair.

anon133000
Post 15

Pretty cool! How far did the physical Iron Curtain stretch? Like all across Europe from top to bottom? or just in certain parts?

anon131850
Post 14

origin of the iron curtain early 1920's? I have documentation from that time. Any earlier?

anon127788
Post 13

so you're saying its just a mental barrier that people had in their minds about west and east civilisation.

anon125815
Post 12

It was actually both physical and ideological. While there was the idea of ideology separating the world. The iron curtain become physical the moment the Berlin Wall was created, thus separating East and West

anon118783
Post 11

@anon89777: It was both! It literally divided countries, but it also was meant figuratively, as in the West and East already were so divided.

anon107079
Post 10

The conservatives of America are trying to build a complete iron curtain across the Mexican border. While whining about the iron curtain across the eastern bloc nations dividing the west from the socialists, they want one here. What is that all about?

anon103982
Post 9

Great article. I think a lot more information should be here. But this site gives a good summary of the post World War II history.

anon90045
Post 8

This is a really interesting article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this topic and hope that many generations to come will respect it.

anon89777
Post 7

I am so confused! Was it an actual physical wall or barrier?

mentirosa
Post 6

That was really a sad time in the history of man. Many people, mostly young people lost their life in the attempt to escape to the West. There was no freedom in the Iron Curtain countries.

Not only was population missing material goods, but what was worse was the lack of freedom of expression. There was only one way, the one and only party way.

Religion was forbidden, so people in general, with the exception of some old people, were not permitted to attend church services.

pixiedust
Post 2

Perhaps one of the main characteristics of the iron curtain countries is that the people in those countries were completely shut off from the west.

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