One of the most exciting areas of inquiry in cold war studies relates to Eastern Europe. Archival materials are becoming more plentiful, and historians have begun to conduct meaningful oral interviews, examine some party archives, and peruse selective yet valuable personal manuscript collections. Charles Gati was one of the first scholars to do this work and his analysis of immediate postwar developments in Eastern Europe in general and in Hungary in particular has been pathbreaking.
Gati stresses the importance of indigenous developments. He illuminates the legacy of the war and the popular clamor for land reform and social justice. He explores the tangled web of political intrigue, the differences among Hungarian Communists, and the relationships between the latter and the men in the Kremlin.
Gati shows that Stalin was in no hurry to communize Hungary. Within Eastern Europe the Kremlin pursued a differentiated policy. In Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria the Soviets clamped down immediately. In Hungary and elsewhere in East-Central Europe (for example, Czechoslovakia) there was a so-called “Democratic interlude,” a two- or three-year span when there was considerable fluidity and openness. Readers should reflect on both why Stalin permitted such an interlude in the first place and why he decided to bring it to an end in the autumn of 1947. Readers should also think about how this argument reinforces or conflicts with some of the points put forward in the MccGwire and Reynolds essays. For example, was Stalin motivated by his perception of threat and his fear of US initiatives, or by ideological concerns, or by dissension within his own bloc? And when comparing developments in Eastern and Western Europe, readers should seek to identify the reasons why the Soviet Union could not forge a consensual hegemony similar to the one established by the United States in Western Europe.