By William Mills
With the EU referendum approaching let’s look at how the map of eastern Europe changed during the 20th century, and ask is its future really a concern for the UK?
A useful starting point of the modern era is with the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815.
It’s worth noting that French Emperor Napoleon recruited a large chunk of his cavalry from the Polish population of Eastern Europe.
Map of Russia and Germany in 1914
After his empire ended in tatters, what is now modern day Poland was divided up between Germany and Russia as they were on the winning side along with Britain.
We can see this in the map below. Our map of 1914 shows the territorial boundaries which had lasted since 1815.
Poland was part of the Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas. The Hapsburg Empire of Austro-Hungary is depicted in yellow.
In 1917 during the First World War Russia collapsed into revolution and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany giving independence to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Finland.
Germany also acquired parts of the Ukraine. The Germans’ policy was to keep the Russians as far to the East as possible.
Great War 1914-1918, Treaty of Versailles 1919- Changing Map
However in 1918 the Western Allies, Britain, France and USA, defeated Germany and at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 forced starving Germany to surrender territory.
The French felt they had a debt to the Polish from a hundred years earlier so pressed for the creation of Poland.
The Russians promptly invaded this new country but were driven back by French artillery supporting the Polish fighters.
The allies also made Danzig a ‘free port’ shared by all, which in turn was a red rag to Hitler’s newly rearmed Germany.
Map of 1921 -1938
Second World War
On 1 September 1939 Germany attacked Poland.
Britain and France declared war two days later but could do little militarily to help.
On 17 September Russia who had signed a secret treaty with Germany( called the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact) attacked Poland from the East.
In November the Soviets, as the Russians were also called, attacked Finland which put up a spirited defence and although allied to Germany later in the war managed to retain their independence after 1945.
Not so for the poor Baltic states which Russia overran in June 1940.
Map of Early Germany and Soviet Gains 1939-1940
By 1942 Germany had achieved its initial war aims of controlling vast amounts of Russia.
They had hoped to destroy the Russian Army and force them to agree to surrender the territory shown on the map below.
The idea was to have a buffer zone to where they could deport people they didn’t like and permanently keep from Reval(now called Tallinn) in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
According to various historians this new empire would be treated in the same way as Germany’s former African colonies.
The locals would be little better than slave/serf labourers with ethnic Germans encouraged to settle and form a new ruling class.
Map of Greater Germany 1942
Berlin April 1945
It didn’t work out for the Germans. They couldn’t stop the Russian tanks which reached Berlin in April 1945 ending the war in the West.
The Russians had succeeded in pushing their boundary all the way to the line between the Baltic and the Adriatic.
All to the east of this line were called Soviet satellites and Russia ruled the poor Baltic states like colonies.
Everything of value was stolen or destroyed and Russians arrived to set up shop as the new rulers helping themselves to the best of everything thing.
Federal Republic of West Germany
Germany was broken into two. However what was called the Federal Republic of West Germany recovered and built up its financial strength once more.
Map of Communist Eastern Europe 1945-1991
The Communist controlled East had a much lower standard of living than that of the West.
The Russians tried to keep the truth hidden but with the advent of radio, television and more travel, their lies got less believable as time went by.
Eventually Communism collapsed into ruin and the peoples of Eastern Europe finally won their freedom from Russia and communism.
Below, the dark red line to the left of the map is the ‘Iron Curtain’.
It runs from Stettin in the north, to the Adriatic in the south, and the phrase was first used by Churchill in his famous post war speech.
All to the east of this line was controlled by the Soviets in Moscow.
Map of Eastern EU 1991
From 1991 onwards it seemed to some as if Germany had finally won their aims which they fought the two World Wars to achieve.
Domination of Europe and the Russians pushed back as far eastwards as possible. Only now it was called the EU.
By 2012 the Baltic States are part of the EU along with Poland and Romania. However for the German plan to work Belarus and Ukraine need to join the EU as well.
The German plan is sadly unravelling. Firstly Belarus is looking increasingly eastward and behaving like Putin’s Russian gangsters and not like a Western democracy should.
Ukraine is too big to be easily absorbed. The German plan for the peripheral countries to provide a colonial type market has backfired.
The young of these countries are flooding into the West. Many EU members are crying; ‘Enough! We are swamped.’
The British Government has promised to give its citizens a referendum over membership of the EU.
A significant number in the UK feel it should depart and leave Germany to sort out its aspirations by itself.