World Unity Publications, Australia, 1951
I. The New Life Begins in Poland
II. Background to Titoism
III. Tito's "National Communism"
IV. Hungary – Paradise of the Counts
V. The Cardinal at Home
VI. The Trial of Cardinal Mindszenty
VII. Justice East – Justice West
VIII. American Plots in Bulgaria
IX. The New Hungary
X. The End of Feudalism in Hungary
XI. Co-Operatives in Bulgaria
XII. The Life of Georgi Dimitrov – Part I
XIII. The Life of Georgi Dimitrov – Part II
XIV. The Incredible Story of Laszlo Rajk
XV. Traicho Kostov and Tito's Plans for Eastern Europe
XVI. Liberty in Eastern Europe
As the title indicates this book is about the Peoples' Democracies. It is based on an eyewitness account of the developments there as observed by a correspondent of leading London newspapers, who has been a frequent visitor to Eastern Europe since the end of the war, and who has lived in Eastern Europe for more than a year in 1949-50. Most of the book deals with current events, with an occasional dip into background, where it has a specific bearing on the events described. The author was present at all major political trials in Budapest and Sofia during 1949.
The book covers a period beginning with the Greek elections in 1946 and ending with the funeral of the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Vasil Kolarov, in January, 1950. The author has written mainly about Hungary and Bulgaria, the two countries he knows best.
Events are not necessarily described in the order in which they occurred; sometimes chapters are arranged to make clear parallel developments in these two countries.
Characters described are real people, although in some cases names have been changed.
The book is dedicated to the peoples of the New Democracies in the hope that a long period of world peace will permit them to build the new future, the foundations of which the author has seen firmly laid.
W. G. Burchett
Budapest, April. 1950
Spring came early to Greece in 1946. Snow was still deep on the ground when I left Occupied Germany by an R.A.F. transport plane. Spring had already begun when I arrived in Occupied Greece by RA.F. transport plane, two days later. My assignment was to report on the elections to be held at the end of March. Mr. Bevin had rejected appeals to postpone the elections because he wanted to end the occupation, he said, as soon as possible and withdraw British troops.
Athens in March, 1946, was a city of brilliant sunshine, of china-blue skies, of miserable people and starving children. In Berlin, too, people were starving, but there the shops were empty. When food was available in Berlin, it went straight into the stomachs of the hungry. In Athens stomachs were empty but shops were full. At night, if one were not careful, one stumbled over little figures whimpering with hunger, huddled together for warmth outside shops bulging with food, including U.N.R.R.A. supplies at black market prices, which none but the wealthiest could afford. There was no food rationing.
Two days before the elections, M. Sophoulis, the Prime Minister, who reminded one both by his role and his appearance of Marshal Petain, received correspondents. Like Petain he was an extraordinary vigorous old man. At 85, with neatly clipped white moustache, he stood leaning against a mantelpiece for an hour and a half, pulling at his pipe and answering correspondents' questions.
The left-wing parties had been demanding a postponement of the elections, at least until new voting lists could be prepared. There had also been open terrorism against anti-Monarchist speakers in the countryside. Left-wing and moderate speakers, even members of Sophoulis's Liberal party had been beaten up and election meetings dispersed. Sophoulis surprised correspondents by revealing that he had sent a last-minute appeal to Bevin, asking permission to postpone the elections for two months.
"But," he said, "Mr., Bevin insists that the elections take place as scheduled on March 30. He says he wants to withdraw British troops from Greece as soon as possible, but only after the elections have taken place and we have a new government."
The left-wing E.A.M. coalition ofparties which led the resistance against the Germans had demanded that new voting lists be prepared and foreign troops withdrawn from the country before elections were held. The Fascist gendarmerie, the same which had served the Germans, would never have dared to carry out excesses in 1946 but for the protective presence ofBritish troops in the country. They would not have lasted one week without the new protectors who had taken over the role ofthe Germans in the sense that the gendarmes know any actions against them would bring British troops to their defence.
When the request was refused, E.A.M. decided to boycott the elections. A correspondent asked Sophoulis in view ofthe boycott, how many people he thought would vote. He took a long pull at his big black pipe and answered with acrid humour:
"You may be sure that at least 20,000 dead will vote." Asked to explain, he added, "It is farcical to carry out elections with voting lists which have not been revised since 1935. You can be sure that a vote will be cast for the Monarchists by every person who has died since the lists were drawn up 11 years ago."
The elections were duly held on March 30, but British troops did not leave the country as promised. They remained until 1949, by which time the Americans had effectively taken over the role ofpoliceman.
I went to Salonika, capital ofGreek Macedonia, on election eve to watch the voting. My interpreter and guide there was Grigorious Stachtopolous, who was afterwards sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged complicity in the murder ofan American radio correspondent, George Polk. Salonika, like Athens, was basking in warm sunshine. The streets were lined with baskets full ofglowing golden oranges, crates ofeggs and poultry. There were plenty ofhungry-looking people standing around but few buyers. Stallholders chased people down the street begging them to buy just one orange. The foot-paths at night were covered with hungry, homeless waifs.
The British Information officer, Mr. Coates, assured me that everything was quiet in Salonika. The electioneering, he said, was conducted in an atmosphere ofcomplete calm. Those taking part in the elections held their meetings without interruption, those that opposed them were free to carry out their propaganda. I mentioned M. Sophoulis's statement two days earlier, and asked about the RA.M. supporters who had been arrested in Salonika itself the previous night for sticking up "Apochi" (Abstain) posters. He pretended to be surprised, then shrugged his shoulders: "Of course, this is the Balkans, old boy. This is not a London County Council election."
Among the more lurid posters was that ofGeneral Zervas's party, which showed a red dragon labelled E.A.M., with a sword being plunged into its body. The sword bore the name ofZervas's .party and was a frank expression of the general's electoral program.
By noon on election day in Salonika, polling had been very light, except in the fashionable part ofthe city. By midday too, over a hundred young men had been arrested for distributing "Apochi" leaflets. I was once rounded up myself by mistake with a small group. The police started to use their rifle butts before they .discovered I was a foreigner. We were all taken off to a police station where ten or twelve others were being questioned. The police captain also made a mistake in thinking that I was an official observer. (English, French and American observers were supposed to supervise the voting.) The police captain, in response to my questions, agreed that all parties were free to make propaganda for or against the elections, but said it was prohibited to distribute leaflets on polling day. It was pointed out that at every polling booth, agents ofthe Monarchist parties were handing out leaflets to everyone that came to vote. The captain was sure this must be a mistake, and after some more polite exchanges about the reasons why the other young men were arrested, we were all released.
In the afternoon, the gendarmes and other officials were busy visiting homes and prodding the abstainers out to vote. The threats were varied. To one it would be that his business would be closed if he did not vote; to another that he would lose his job; to others just plain threats ofpolice action against them after the Monarchists won. (The main issue in the elections was the return ofKing George.)
In Salonika however, things were relatively quiet. Truck-loads ofgendarmes dashed about the city, then gendarmes singing chauvinistic songs about marching against Albania or marching against Bulgaria. The observers were mostly concentrated in Athens and Salonika so there was no overt terrorism in these cities. At E.A.M. headquarters, as the day wore on, peasants began to arrive to tell of strange happenings in the countryside. Some of them had been beaten up, one had a bullet through his arm. And, after visits from the gendarmes, many men left Salonika that afternoon and evening for the mountains, because of the threats of the sequel to their abstention from voting. They had fought the gendarmes for years, from the days of the Metaxas dictatorship, through the years of German occupation when the gendarmes acted as the bloodhounds for the Germans. They knew the gendarmes were not idly boasting when they threatened that lists would be prepared of those that had not voted and that action would be taken against them as soon as the results were declared and the Monarchists in the saddle.
A quick tour of the villages near the outskirts of the city was sufficient to confirm the reports being telephoned into E.A.M. headquarters every few minutes that gendarmes were rounding up non-voters and marching them to the polls with tommy-guns poked into their ribs.
In the first village I visited, not ten miles from Salonika, all the men had left the village early in the morning so as not to vote. The gendarmes were said to be lurking in the neighborhood and had threatened to arrest the villagers when they returned. The women described house to-house searches made by the gendarmes and a representative of the Monarchists. But the men had gone. In one case they dragged off a 15-year-old boy and made him vote in his father's name. While we were talking at the entrance to the miserable village, a truck dashed up, ten gendarmes sprang to the ground with tommy-guns at the ready, and surrounded us, the taxi-driver, the E.A.M. representative, my guide, myself and the women. They grudgingly lowered their guns when they found I was a foreign journalist, and eventually went back to their truck when I insisted on speaking to the women without: their presence. They went off mumbling threats.
One black-clad old soul with grey hairs and a .deeply-lined face, wept when she heard I was from an English newspaper. "Please, sir, let them send some British troops here," she said, with a rather touching faith in what she had read of British fair play, "the gendarmes swear they'll shoot down our men-folk when they come home from the hills to-night." Others joined in the weeping as they described the gendarmes' threats.
The gendarmes had thrown a cordon round the next village early in the morning. They arrested two men and wounded a third, when the latter tried to leave the village to avoid voting. (He was the one I had seen at E.A.M. headquarters in Salonika.) The rest of the men were sitting stolidly at home when we called. They were forbidden to assemble in groups of more than two, put had resisted up till then violent threats by the gendarmes to try and get them to the polling station. The latter called every hour or so accompanied by the Royalist headman in the village.
The last village was the most extraordinary of the three 1 visited that afternoon. Clinging to the side of a rocky mountain with miserable-looking vines struggling for life in the hard, flinty soil, it had largely been destroyed by the gendarmes during the German occupation. The inhabitants were suspected of sheltering partisans. Nothing had been done about its reconstruction. Poverty-stricken and neglected like all villages I saw in Macedonia, it made an even more pitiable impression than most, with its broken houses, empty shops and forlorn-looking people.
Lounging on an ancient bench in front of a tavern, were about a dozen peasants in well-patched, sky-blue pants and threadbare shirts; Unshaven, solemn-looking men with deep creases in their faces and calloused hands; men who had taken on the characteristics of the stony, barren soil from which they lived.
At our invitation they followed us into the tavern. We asked about the elections, if everything had been quiet. 'There was no reply. They looked at each other, looked at their boots through which their brown, sockless toes were showing, but no one replied. Have any people in the village voted? No reply. Were people prevented from leaving the village? Not a word. A stony silence and steadfast, stolid glances. In stalked an angry lieutenant of the gendarmerie, a brutal-looking man with a heavy odour of alcohol. He was accompanied by two gendarmes. He wanted to know what was going on, while his two satraps made their guns ready for instant action. He was all silken charm the next moment when he found a foreign journalist had "honoured" the village with his presence.
“Of course everything has been quiet here," he said, and turned to the peasants, "Hasn't it?" Again the quiet, stolid glances and complete silence. It was beginning to get a little uncanny. The faces looked a little grimmer as the lieutenant started to bully them. "Go on," he shouted, "tell this gentleman how things are. That everybody voted by midday, that everything was quiet. Tell them I say." But not a word was spoken. They listened attentively to my questions to the lieutenant at first, but then one by one they slipped out of the tavern. Soon they were all gone. Not one of them had opened his, mouth, but their silence and their glances at the lieutenant, shouted that they were living in mortal fear.
The taxi-driver, who had remained outside, had made a discovery while we were in the tavern. He directed our attention to a square stone building, with iron grilles for windows. Inside we could hear someone groaning. The lieutenant passed it off with a laugh. "It's a drunken peasant who got into a fight with his fellows. We locked him up until he sobers up." It was difficult for him to refuse a foreign journalist's insistence to speak to the man, especially as I was the closest approach he had seen to the observers who were supposed to control the elections. The man, together with another inmate of the lock-up, could hardly stand up, but not because they were drunk, but because they had been beaten so badly by the gendarmes for trying to leave the village.
As our taxi bumped down the rough, dusty track, it was already getting dark. We were startled when a figure jumped out from behind a bush and signalled us violently, to stop. It was one of the silent villagers and he wanted a lift in the taxi. He hardly stopped talking all the way to Salonika as he described the brutality of the gendarmes; the same story of threats and violence we had heard in the other villages and which was confirmed by dozens of peasants we spoke to along the road. He had not voted but was afraid of what would happen next. He had decided to leave the village for a while and hide in Salonika, until he could judge what was going to happen. He explained that the peasants in the tavern had been frightened to say a word to us for fear the gendarmes would hear of it. They were equally determined not to say one word to support the gendarme's claim that everything was quiet, and the elections were being run fairly.
The report that appeared under my name next day in a leading London daily, while it could not contain a tenth of the things I had seen, was sufficient to bring the wrath of the British Consul and the Information Office upon my head, also the wrath of the combined Monarchist press in Salonika. I happened not to be in town the day the storm burst. I had left for a three-day trip to the villages to find out what had happened further afield on election day, also to discover what had happened in the village of Litokhoran, where it was reported that armed bands had wiped out a gendarmerie headquarters.
My guide this time was a Greek poet called Papapericles, who had spent ten years in exile in the Aegean for his writings, and who I regret to say has since either been executed or put back into a concentration camp. A sturdy, sunny, middle-aged man, Papapericles was known in every village and was greeted with tremendous warmth, wherever we stopped.
The whole countryside was in a state of desolation and decay. Roads were unpaved and covered with dreadful potholes, there had been no attempt to repair broken bridges. In one stretch of eight miles we drove through a river fifteen times. Villages burned by the gendarmes for helping the partisans were left unrepaired. Peasants sat hopelessly by the roadside looking at the weeds growing in their fields. It was beautiful spring weather, the peasants should have been sowing, but they had neither animals to pull their ploughs nor seed to sow if the ground were ploughed. Seed grain had been devoured during the winter. Where were the U.N.R.R.A. supplies? Few peasants had even heard of them. They had been cornered by wealthy grain dealers and were stored in their warehouses in Salonika. There was nothing, literally nothing in the village stores. It was impossible throughout our journey to buy even an orange, although they were rotting in Salonika. They came by boat from the islands and their transport to the villages represented too big a problem for the corrupt government. We followed a road which led to Mount Olympus, the mythical playground of the Greek gods. As the road wound up through the foothills, parched fields with occasional dusty olive groves gave way to neat orchards in full bloom. The country looked less desolate but the peasants we talked to by the wayside were just as desperate as those who had no seeds to sow. There would be no way of getting their fruit into Salonika even if the harvest were good.
Eventually we rolled and bumped our way into the craggy village of Litokhoran, perched high up on the slopes of Olympus, with wild, fir-clad, rocky peaks in the background. There had been a miniature battle there a few nights previously. The gendarmerie and tiny army barracks had been wiped out by an armed band which had come down from the peaks and apparently disappeared back into the mountains. Lots of villagers had been arrested on the suspicion that they had helped the attackers, although Papapericles believed the attack was a provocation staged by the Monarchists to justify a full-scale campaign against E.A.M. He declared it was out of the question that E.A.M. had staged the affair, in fact he had been sent by the party to try and find out what had actually happened.
Not long after we arrived in the village, there was great excitement when it was announced that U.N.R.R.A. supplies were to be distributed. A queue of miserably thin and haggard women and children, dressed literally in rags, formed in no time.
It appeared that the local officials had espied far down the winding valley, an U.N.R.R.A. station wagon which could only be headed for Litokhoran. U.N.R.R.A. supplies had been hoarded by the officials for months past and only handed out to a few people known for their Monarchist sympathies. At least that is what the women in the queue told us. A gendarme pushed them aside brutally, to make room for Papapericles and myself to enter the building. When Papapericles protested at his roughness, he replied: "Bah. They're all a lot of worthless partisans in this village." "Partisan," a title used proudly in other countries where the people had fought against the Germans, was still used as a term of abuse by the Greek Fascist gendarmes. (And partisan in 1946 referred only to those who had taken up arms against the Germans. The civil war had not started at that time.)
It was a big day at Litokhoran. Soon after the U.N.R.R.A. inspector arrived and expressed herself shocked at the callous attitude of the officials in withholding supplies that should have been handed out to the women and children months previously, there were more whirls of dust on the road below, and presently two British armoured scout cars arrived, with a red-tabbed British colonel. He was not pleased to see a British journalist. British troops were supposed to be in their barracks, British officers were in Greece in a purely "advisory" capacity. (The British Consul later begged me to delete from my despatches any mention of British armoured vehicles in Litokhoran and other regions where I saw them on my three-day trip.) The Colonel said the many scout cars we had noticed on the road had nothing to do with intimidation at all, it was just a routine matter of "showing the flag."
On the return journey we called in at the gendarmerie headquarters at Edessa. Villagers had told Papapericles that a wave of arrests had started. We were received, after some delay, by a bleary-eyed colonel of gendarmerie, his breath heavily charged with ouzo (the potent Greek spirit with a strong aniseed flavour).
“Everything is quiet in Edessa," he said, hiccoughing furiously and filling the room with ouzo fumes. "Elections were quiet, everybody voted. No fuss at all." Asked .about the rumoured arrests, he said: "Arrests? Nonsense! .Jail's absolutely empty." And at that moment, there was a dreadful sobbing and a sound of something being dragged along the corridor and pushed through a door almost opposite the Colonel's office.
"What's that?" asked Papapericles.
"Ah, that," said the Colonel, very red in the face and furiously angry, "well, that's a relative of one of the soldiers who was killed at Litokhoran. He just heard the news and he's very upset. That's what you heard. He was weeping."
I insisted that we must go into the room opposite. The Colonel said there was nothing inside, but his morale was not very high and he was not at all sure of my status. After all, I represented the occupying power. Before he knew what was happening, we had left his office, turned the key in the door and were in the room. It was a fairly large cell, jammed full of men, many of them with great welts on their faces, some of them half collapsed on the floor. The heat and stench was almost overpowering. The Colonel tried to hustle us out, but sturdy Papapericles stood his ground and we carried out a number of lightning interviews.
There was a college professor, a number of school teachers and journalists, small business people and workers. Mostly however they were intellectuals. Except for a half a dozen, they had not been arrested by the: gendarmes but by groups of armed civilians – Monarchist "vigilantes" who had pounced on them in their homes, beaten them up and dragged them off to the gendarmerie. Many of them were beaten again, interrogated and thrown into the cell. They said their ranks were being swelled every hour; that there was another cell where at least a hundred people were held. One young man dragged out a certificate from his pocket, issued by the British War Office, thanking him for having saved an R.A.F. flyer during the war. They had all abstained from voting and presumed that was why they had been rounded up.
The Colonel in the meantime had disappeared, leaving a lieutenant to look after us with strict instructions to tell us nothing. We tried to find the Colonel in his office, but he had "gone home." We stayed the night in Edessa and called again next morning, but the Colonel was not available. We could get no official explanation of the arrests and had to conclude that it was the beginning of the enforcement of threats against those who did not vote.
In Salonika, the Monarchist newspapers were still fuming over my first election story, which had been cabled back and splashed in the leftist press. One paper, certainly with the knowledge of the British Consul (whose function, by the way, seemed much more that of a political intelligence officer than a consul), stated that the Consul had denounced me as an impostor who would be expelled from Greece immediately. They had sent a journalist to my hotel while I was away with Papapericles, and concluded that I had been thrown out so quickly that I had even left my baggage behind. When I convinced the editor, who happened to be also Reuter's correspondent, by my presence that I was still very much in Greece, he refused to publish a denial of his earlier story. As he quoted me also, excerpts of a story which I had sent to London but which had not been published, it was obvious as I pointed out to him, that he had bribed someone for the privilege of reading my cables at the telegraph office.
I was visited in my hotel room on the evening of my return by a very wrath Information Officer, Mr. Coates, who after he had expressed the most pained surprise at my story, commented at the most monstrous "treachery” of all. "And when you came," he said, "we thought you spoke the same language, old boy." Mr. Coates' comment to all I had seen in the villages and at Edessa was to exclaim, "But, good God! man, how many more times must I tell you. Don't you realise this is the Balkans?" What I did realise was that in the space of a very few days, I had attended the birth of a Fascist state with, to my shame and regret, a British Socialist Government playing the role of midwife.
My course back to Berlin was something of a zig-zag. First to Vienna, grey and sad, despite the blossoming lilac in April. Vienna seemed even more depressed and hopeless than Berlin. It seemed to have resigned itself to its fate. In Athens and Salonika, there was a fierce anger about things, one felt the people would go down fighting or win through. In Vienna one sensed a nation that was prepared to pass out under an anaesthetic.
From Vienna to Belgrade, and there, in late April, 1946, for the first time in post-war Europe, I felt at home. There were cheerful, friendly, optimistic people in the streets. There was poverty as bad or worse than in Berlin, Vienna or Athens, but there was a verve and dash about the people, a feeling of faith in the future that warmed up the city and made one's blood run quicker. A fresh young people, stripped of any elegance or decadence, Yugoslavs felt themselves part of the Slav future. They had fought hard and well, they were cousins of the Soviet Union, the Slav and Communist world was coming into its own. There wasn't enough to eat. Never mind! Next year we'll have plenty and if not next year, then the year after. They worked at a pace frightening to see, as if they wanted to build their new century in six months.
I only stayed a few days, but I felt glad later, to have seen Yugoslavia in 1946. It was the country's happiest year, a happiness not based on any material foundations but on confidence in the future, confidence in her leaders, confidence in her friends and her own will to work.
I had to leave Belgrade a few days later to be in Trieste for May Day. Back into the Fascist wilderness and a real Fascism this time, pure-blooded, and well-trained with the original arrogance and racial hatreds, even the original salute and cries of "Duce, Duce." In Trieste the Americans shared with the British the role of nursemaid to a lusty infant Fascism.
The May Day parade was staged by Slovene and Italian anti-Fascists; good-looking blond young Slovenian peasants from the hills outside the city, Italian workers from the shipbuilding yards of Monfalcone; workers from the city itself. It was a good parade, disciplined and gay, with, lots of banners and transparents. The footpaths were jammed from curb to the shop-fronts with people, whistling, jeering and spitting. The Venezia Giulia police, the pride of the British police-training Mission to Trieste, stood with linked arms to prevent the crowds from overflowing on to the streets. Above their shining helmets Fascist arms were flung out like swords in an honour guard, giving the forbidden salute.
The cry, "Duce, Duce," swelled from one end of the city to the other, as the whole Trieste middle-class demonstrated its race and class hatred. When the Slovene girls who were to take part in a sports demonstration, marched past in their neat sports uniforms, the spitting and shouting reached a climax. "Schiave, schiave" (slaves, slaves) jeered the crowd, using the Fascist corruption of the word for Slavs, whom they had long enough regarded as their slaves.
In the evening, groups of young toughs, twelve or fifteen strong, roamed the streets with bludgeons under their coats and knives in their pockets to attack any individuals or small groups they could outnumber. The streets were still lined with jeering, spitting pro-Fascists who applauded any attacks on the Slovenes, returning to their villages. The police stood by grinning, when girls had their sports slips ripped off their backs.
The demonstrators had charge of the streets in Trieste on May Day, but the Fascists, one could say, had charge of the police and the footpaths.
A strange incident occurred a couple of weeks later which passed unnoticed in the Western press, but which was the direct result of tolerating such scenes as in Trieste on May Day. British press officers were busy day and night handing out stories about new "incidents" provoked by the Communists or Slovenes, but they kept silent about this particular event.
It occurred in Venice. A British cruiser dropped into the canal city, on a courtesy visit. An admiral aboard, hoping to popularise the British flag, arranged for the cruiser's brass band to give a concert in the Piazza San Marco. The Union Jack was unfurled on the highest flagpole in the famous old square. The admiral in dress uniform and the city's mayor in his robes of office, appeared on the tribune, and the concert started. In the middle of the first item, a great mob attacked the band, hauled down the British flag and replaced it with the Italian flag, sang the forbidden Fascist song "Giovanezza" and chased the admiral and his band back to the cruiser where it lay tied up to the wharf. There they threw stones with good enough aim to break the glass house and several portholes, and covered the cruiser's spick paint with mud and filth.
During the evening, mobs chased British sailors in the streets and any Italian girls found with them had their hair lopped off and were thrown into the canals. This was at a time when Mr. Bevin was defending Italy's case tooth and nail against Mr. Molotov over the issue of Trieste. I stepped abroad the cruiser and first asked a young naval lieutenant how it had all happened. "It was a shocking 'do,'" he said, "Fascist ruffians.... Lucky none of our chaps were hurt... but I think, before I say any more, I'd better take you to the commander."
The Commander said, "Very bad show indeed... Time we taught these fellows a lesson... But I think you'd better talk about it to the Captain."
The Captain said, "Well, I think we should forget all about the incident. The Mayor has apologised handsomely... The whole incident was provoked by naval cadets who are annoyed about Italy losing her fleet. After all, wouldn't our chaps be annoyed if their fleet was taken away? Now be a good chap and don't write a word about all this. It will only make bad blood and play into the hands of the Communists."
Such tenderness and understanding for rioters who had attacked His Majesty's Navy, was something new indeed. It was impossible in this case for the press officers to blame the Communists. The singing of the "Giovanezza," the proofs that the incidents were staged by officers and cadets from Mussolini's Navy were overwhelming, so the British had instructions to hush the whole matter up. It would never do for public opinion in Britain to know that this Italy, which was being so stoutly championed by Mr. Bevin, was well back on the road to Fascism which was even taking an anti-British turn. The British press relations officer regarded me almost as a traitor when I .announced my intention of reporting the affair.
On May 30, I was in Czechoslovakia to watch the first elections held there since the war. After Greece, it was as the difference between day and night. I drove from Bratislava through Slovakia to Prague, through well-ordered farm lands, along roads lined with cherry trees laden with black fruit ready for the picking, through neat, white-washed villages where the ravages of war had been repaired. Flocks of plump geese hissed at the car as it passed. Every square metre of land in the rolling hills was cultivated, strips of black freshly-ploughed earth neatly laid between strips of green where maize was already above ground and strips of gold where the wheat was ripening. Roads were in good order, bridges had been repaired. In Catholic Slovakia, stolid peasants clad in their shiny black Sunday best, with their kerchiefed wives in colorful wide skirts and embroidered blouses went to the polling booths, registered their votes and solemnly continued on their way to Church. Polling day, as is usual in Europe, was on a Sunday.
In the afternoon, by the time I had reached Bohemia, many of the village polling stations were already closed, as everybody on the registers had voted. The Czechs are a dour, serious people, without the dash and verve of their brother Slavs in Poland and the Balkans. But there was plenty of gaiety in Prague that night, with spontaneous dancing in the streets outside the Communist Party headquarters in Wenceslas Square, as the results came through to give the Communists 38 per cent. of the votes which made them easily the strongest party in the country. Even the Western Legations, stunned though they were by the results, could find nothing to criticise in the way the elections were conducted.
The results of these first elections, with the Communists in the leading position, were a guarantee that the programme drawn up at Kosice by the Provisional Government in 1944, agreed to by all political parties would be put into operation. It called for expulsion of the Germans, a radical land reform, the nationalisation of industry and the closest relations with the Soviet Union.
The Czech elections were the last item on my programme before I returned to Berlin, after an absence of an instructive two months. In the space of two months, less than a year after the end of the war, I had seen the re-birth of Fascism in one country under Allied control, the fostering of Fascism in a second country under Allied control, the birth of a new type of state, a "People's Democracy" in a third country where the people had been left to choose for themselves the type of state they wanted.
In the years that followed, it was natural if I watched almost with the
eye of a godfather, the developments in this new type of state, of
which Czechoslovakia was a prototype and which came into being all over
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