Saturday, February 16, 2008

Post War: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Review

I recently finished reading Tony Judt's excellent book on the history of Europe after WW2. It's a well written overview of the events that shaped modern Europe and describes in detail how the rise of the EU and it's institutions came to be.

It also delves deeply into the conditions and events in Eastern Europe and how they shaped (or failed to shape) the rest of the continent. The first couple of chapters were of particular interest to me, the short period after the war and before the Cold War set in was a precarious time for all of Europe. Security and economic uncertainty was everywhere and a lot of decisions were made with the assumption that Germany could one day rise to threaten the world again.

There were a number of interesting sections that discussed Estonia and its directs neighbors and events that I was either unaware of or found interesting, some of those sections I'll mention here.

Early in the book the author discusses the effects of collective farms and farm quotas on the local populations and how out of touch they were:

The Baltic States, fully incorporated into the Soviet Union itself, were even worse off than the rest of eastern Europe. 1949, kolkhozes in northern Estonia were required to begin grain deliveries even before the harvest had begun, in order to keep in line with Latvia, four hundred kilometers to the south. By 1953 rural conditions in hitherto prosperous Estonia had deteriorated to the point where cows blown over by the wind were too weak to get back on their feet unaided.

Another section that discussed Sweden and the successful social democratic model they employed also mentions various eugenics programs (attempts at racial improvement that usually involved sterilization) that were by run by Uppsala university. I had no idea that such programs existed and continued to exist until 1976.

The chapter on the 1960's discusses some of the reforms that Krushchev tried to undertake, one of which was a small attempt at private farms which apparently worked a little too well.

"By the early sixties, the 3 percent of cultivated soil in private hands was yielding over a third of the Soviet Union's agricultural output."

When discussing centralized planning in East Germany there are some comedic references to the strict nature of quotas that existed.

"It was announced that Book-holdings in the libraries are to be increased from 350k to 450k volumes. The number of borrowings is to be increased 108.2 percent".

In the section about the creation of a common EU currency the author mentions how Germany pushed hard for stringent rules to ensure that the new currency would mimic the policies of the old Deutchmark. This is of particular interest for Eesti as they have been unable to meet the criteria to join the Euro zone simply because inflation grew as the economy heated up.

"The German negotiators - wary of the profligate tendencies of 'Club Med' countries like Italy or Spain - imposed draconian conditions for membership of the new currency."

Overall I thought the book was one of the most readable history books I've read and provided me with a good base for understanding a lot of current EU (and Russian) issues. So if you're looking for a nice 800+ page book to cozy up with next to the fireplace on a wintery night I highly recommend it.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Wv Sky said...

Just bought the book. They say it's a tough read, but a great read non the less. That's for bringing it to our attention.

By the way, here's a webpage of mine you might want to see:

http://www.mywvhome.com/est1939

Ole tubli!

10:44 PM  
Blogger Andres said...

i didn't find the book that hard of a read, but then again i often read history and economics books for fun.

8:35 AM  

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