Skip to content Skip to navigation

Stalin did not want an Iron Curtain to descend, Stanford historian says

Norman Naimark

(Image credit: Rod Searcey)

In the immediate years after World War II, Josef Stalin sought a more flexible, geostrategic approach to advancing Soviet interests abroad, according to Stanford historian Norman Naimark.

BY MELISSA DE WITTE

To many historians considering the aftermath of World War II, the division of Europe was inevitable, because, they believe, Soviet leader Josef Stalin was eager for communism to sweep the continent. But Stanford historian Norman Naimark disagrees.

Stalin didn’t plan to have an Iron Curtain descend across Europe, Naimark said. Instead, the Soviet premier sought a more open and flexible approach to his foreign policy, even with neighboring countries such as Finland, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

But Stalin’s diplomacy failed as often as it succeeded, said Naimark who has recently published a new book reassessing Stalin’s postwar foreign policies, Stalin and the Fate of Europe: The Postwar Struggle for Sovereignty.

And it was the failures that brought down the Iron Curtain.

Stanford News Service recently spoke to Naimark, the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor in Eastern European Studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences, about his research on the postwar order in Europe.

What was Europe like after World War II?

Europe was poor, devastated, full of displaced and disaffected people, and morally, physically and spiritually spent. It was something of a miracle that Europeans got themselves back on their feet as quickly as they did.

How did Stalin view Europe post-World War II?

Certainly after the war, Stalin saw Europe with the eyes of an ultra-realist, meaning he saw opportunities he could exploit for expansion and influence. But he was also wary of getting the Soviet Union in any kind of clash with the Americans and British on the continent. Thus, he frequently discouraged the more radical aims of European communists.