Post Cold-War Europe, Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia was a contentious area long before the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent Yugoslavian revolt.  From Turkish defeat of the Yugoslavian area in 1389 and its five hundred year domination thereof to the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914 that set off WWI by a Serbian nationalist, the area has long been contentious with violent undertones.[1]  In addition to the pressing problems already inherent in Yugoslavian politics, the rest of Europe and the United States were slow to react to both political and ethnic problems in the region, further destabilizing and already unstable area in the Balkans and making a potentially problematic area even worse.[2]

With the disarray of the politics in the Yugoslav Communist party already in disrepair, the secession of Slovenia further chipped the resistance to centralized control, and Slovenia was recognized as the first independent state from region in 1991.[3]  The next state to bid for independence was Croatia, which saw itself as more in line with Central Europe than their view that Serbia was more in line with Old Russian politics and ideals.[4]  Growing nationalism and racist ideology by Croatia’s leaders further widened the gap between Croatia and Serbia and fostered opposing nationalistic sentiments in Serbia as well.[5]  The resulting wars in the Balkans harbored many human tragedies including ethnic cleansing and human rights violations of both sides throughout the region.[6]  Apart from the unspeakable human tragedies that plagued the area in the Balkan wars, the destruction of beautiful and historical monuments was another blow for the Balkans throughout the wars, with countless buildings that had withstood centuries of strife destroyed within moments through bombardment.[7]  Ultimately a truce was brokered between Serbia and Croatia, which finalized Croatian independence and required peacekeeping troops to be deployed to ensure the settlement’s survival.[8]

Peace was not to survive in the region, however, with more human atrocities carried out in the name of ethnic cleansing against the non-Serbian residents of a newly declared independent Bosnian-Serb state, the Republika Srpska.[9] The beleaguered city of Sarajevo held out, however despite no help arriving from either the US or Western Europe, who declared that the Balkans was ripe with ethnic strife and that the conflict would blow over once both sides decided to stop killing each other.[10]  The West, however, ultimately had to intervene to stop the population of Sarajevo from starving to death and the potential of further ethnic cleansing in other cities throughout the region but its intervention did not manage to stop the worst war crime since WWII which occurred in Srebrenica despite the presence of Dutch peacekeepers.[11]

Ultimately the United States had to step in with military force to stop the conflict in the area resulting in the Dayton Accord.[12]  Unfortunately the Accord was not to last, and almost immediately the violence began again.  The Region remains contentious, with ethnic and religious minorities still facing sporadic persecution, and the Balkan region still does not know lasting, genuine peace.

[1] Felix Gilbert & David Clay Large, The End of the European Era 6TH edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company , 2009) 578-589.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

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Feminism in Post-War Europe

The reality of life during WWII enabled women, even in societies like Germany who wanted women to remain in the home, to venture out into the workforce by necessity.  Postwar Europe began to reflect this shift in attitudes towards females in society, allowing women to accept positions outside of the home in larger numbers, but the situation did not necessitate equality.

Although in most European countries women were granted the right to vote either before the war or soon after, there was a huge press towards progress in both social and economic positions once the war had ended.[1]  Women who gained the right to vote in a lot of European countries tended to vote more conservatively, which accounted for the stagnation of social and economic equality that many of the more radical members of the feminism movement desired.[2]  Across Europe, however, women were no longer confined to the home, expected to bear and raise children and to stay out of the workforce.  The life expectancy of women increased while the birth rate decreased in many of Europe’s nations, encouraging migration for work and birth control in the form of the pill became more readily available despite influence against it from the Church.[3]

Women in the workforce, however, did not have wage equality with their male counterparts, and the jobs available to them were typically female industries such as teaching, typing, nursing and sewing.[4]  While more and more jobs were available to women who desired to work outside the home, there was little opportunity for advancement, and opportunities were limited.[5]  Women who did choose to work outside of the home were still expected in large part to come home and take care of the household, and in many areas men still failed to contribute to chores and household responsibilities.[6]

It took until the late 1970s and beyond for women to gain a place in European politics, most notably Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979.[7]  Encouraged by the women’s liberation movement in the United States, European women began to push for more social and economic equality in the 60s and 70s, asserting that women across Europe were oppressed by their male counterparts whether or not they chose to acknowledge it.[8]  The push included abortion rights and more control over their own bodies, refusing to accept the idea that the woman’s true place was either at home or in bed.[9]

While huge strides have been made worldwide for gender equality in social, economic and political aspects, there is still a lot of work to be done before the gender wage gap and societal equality and recognition are truly reached, and the world is facing various setbacks by various religious and political groups.  Great progress has been made, and it’s advancing rapidly, but in order to achieve true equality the work needs to continue.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era 1890 to the Present sixth edition, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) 451-455.

[2]Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Perspectives on the Cold War

The US and Russia as the superpowers in the Cold War had an almost comical (at least in hindsight) series of misconceptions and missteps throughout the Cold war period. It was anything but comical at the time, however, and my parents remember practicing for potential bombings as well as earthquakes as they were growing up in California.

Given the state of Europe at the end of WWI, it’s unsurprising that conflict would be evident between the two genuine remaining superpowers of the United States and Russia. Unlike Britain, France, Poland and many many countries in between, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, the global war had avoided American soil entirely, and the US did not need to focus its resources on rebuilding.  Russia sustained heavy losses in WWII, but came out victorious and were eager to see their position strengthened both economically, industrially and politically.

When the Western Allies proposed that the replacement governments for the defeated Axis powers be representative of the people and democratic in nature, it is obvious that this proposal would be distasteful to the Soviet Union. The Western world wanted greater influence over Eastern Europe, insuring the basics of democracy and representative governments and Russia was unwilling to give up influence to the poison of capitalism that easily.[1]  Ultimately the two spheres of influence lingered after the peace negotiations dubbed the “iron curtain” by Winston Churchill.[2]

As agreements and diplomacy began to break down, the way that the US viewed Russia’s hesitance was seen much differently than the way that Russia viewed the conflict. The United States, under the leadership of President Truman saw Russia’s attitudes and behavior after WWII as a play for the expansion of Communism throughout Europe, as Communist parties in other countries had gained popular support towards the end of the war since they contributed to Nazi resistance.[3]  Stalin’s brutal leadership over Russia, and Russia’s aggressive military policies had been understated during the war and minimized in order to make allying with them palpable, and after the war all of the atrocities of the Soviet regime started to come to light.[4]

Russia, unsurprisingly, saw things very differently. More than anything, Russia feared a German resurgence, and sought to make a strong border and buffer zone between Germany and Russia that would provide a safeguard of a repeat offensive of Hitler’s march on Russian soil.[5]  They were not particularly interested in going into another war after the defeats they suffered in WWII – especially against their Western Allies.  They also wanted a buffer between Russia and creeping Western influences like capitalism and democracy who sought to threaten the soviet ideals that they had fought to maintain.[6]  Russia viewed the United states was poised to embark on an aggressive expansionist plan throughout Europe and Asia, and wanted to limit the United States democratic and capitalistic ideologies so close to Russian soil.[7]

Although both Russia and the United States were anti-colonialism, they found themselves on opposite side of the Asian questions due to the US’ alliance with both Great Britain and France, leading to repeat conflicts in China, Korea and ultimately Vietnam before the Cold War finally came to an end. Thought it’s easy to see why these two nations’ perspectives on the Cold War came to be, it is difficult to understand that two opposing powers such as these could have such vastly different ideas about each other – enough to prompt a divide between the Eastern and Western spheres for decades after WWII was over.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European era, sixth edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009, 354

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 357

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 359

[7] Ibid 359.

Consequences of WWII

Although the textbook this week on WWII did not go into a lot of detail about the subject, I think that unarguably the biggest consequence of WWII has to be the Holocaust, and the systematic extermination of over 6 million people throughout all of Europe with the primary focus being on those who were Jewish.  The Jews were not the only target for Nazi extinction, however, and political dissidents, gypsies, homosexuals and several other minority groups were targeted as well.  Overall, the death of millions of people has to be considered one of the biggest crises of the 20th century, and has far-reaching implications that continue to the present day.  Those numbers combined with the total number of military causalities makes the total death count in WWII at over 66 million, which made up about 3% of the world’s population in 1940.[1]  The effect of the Holocaust, however, did not end when the camps were liberated.

Anti-Semitism in Europe was hardly a Nazi invention.  The Jews had been persecuted throughout Europe all through the middle ages and through the Renaissance, and lingering sentiments of anti-Semitic ideals outlived the Nazi regime.  Many Jews liberated from the numerous concentration camps faced persecution, rape, abuse and murder at the hands of their liberators – and the Russians were notorious for their mistreatment of now-displaced Jews throughout Germany and Poland.[2]  In addition, many liberated Jews were afraid to return to their homeland due to lingering sentiments against them.  Poland especially was the site of many anti-Semitic pogroms, with riots breaking out in several cities including Kielce.[3]

Recent studies have also analyzed the lingering effect that the Holocaust had on the Russian areas that were most affected by mass deportation and anti-Jewish pogroms.  Surprisingly, although the Jews were a minority in Russia and were also victims of Anti-Semitic pogroms led by Russia itself, the Jewish people made up a disproportionate slice of the Russian middle class, and areas in Russia that were the most affected by Jewish displacement have lingering economic and political implications up through modern times.[4]

Ultimately the displacement of European Jewry led to the founding of the state of Israel with allied – especially the United States – support.  The United States also allowed for emigration to America for up to 28,000 displaced Jews from the European continent.[5]  The effect of the Holocaust not only on the Jews but on European society and its effect on the world at large cannot possibly be overstated.  Nationalistic ideals that allow and create genocidal programs as policy cannot be allowed to be formed.  Not only are the people targeted in danger, but the rest of us are in danger as well – whether actively participating or passively allowing mass genocide to occur, the result and its effect on society at large are detrimental and dangerous and cannot be condoned under any policy in any nation at any time.

[1] “By the Numbers: World Wide Deaths” The National WWII Museum, Web, Accessed 27 November 2016, available from http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/ww2-by-the-numbers/world-wide-deaths.html

[2] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Aftermath of the Holocaust” The Holocaust Encyclopedia, Web, accessed 27 November 2016, available from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005129.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Steve Bradt, “A Rippling Effect of the Holocaust” The Harvard Gazette, Web, accessed 27 November 2016, available from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/06/a-rippling-effect-of-the-holocaust/

[5] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.