At the close of World War II, nearly all of Eastern Europe came under indirect Soviet rule.
Soviet Satellite States was a term that applied to a group of Eastern European countries that came under communist rule immediately after World War II. They were also commonly known as the Soviet Bloc. They were referred to as Soviet satellite states not only because their form of communism was inspired by the Soviet Union but also because of the heavy influence and indirect rule that Moscow had over these countries. The satellite states were Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Albania and Yugoslavia were often referred to as Soviet satellites but unlike the aforementioned countries, each of whom actually experienced direct occupation by the Soviet Union and became communist countries under Soviet supervision, Albania and Yugoslavia became communist countries without any meddling by the Soviet Union and were never occupied by Soviet troops.
The Soviet Union suffered brutally at the hands of the invading German armies during World War II. Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania aided Germany in its attack against the Soviet Union. Determined to see to it that the Soviet Union would never again be attacked by a powerful Germany, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin decided that his country needed buffer states that would protect the Soviet Union in the invent that Germany rose from the ashes and tried to attack again. As the Soviet army continued its march across Eastern Europe, pushing the Germans back, it took control of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Although Stalin promised his co-victors – the United States and the United Kingdom – that there would be free and fair elections so that those countries could determine their own paths the elections were mostly rigged so that the communists would come to power. The Soviets also supervised elections in its sphere of influence in Germany, which became East Germany. By the end of the 1940’s, Stalin had his buffer zone.
Each of the Soviet satellites had a Soviet-inspired communist form of government. The government controlled the economy and nearly every aspect of its citizens’ lives, including the media. Opposing political parties were banned. No one was allowed to speak out against the government. Citizens were not allowed to travel abroad without permission from the government. The governments frequently used propaganda, portraying the western democracies as corrupt and decadent, to keep its citizens in line. Many of them even incorporated the Soviet trademark hammer and sickle into their national flags as sign of their allegiance to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Although all of the countries were considered sovereign countries, they were frequently subjected to Soviet interference and the Soviet Union exercised a high degree of authority over political decisions in these countries. On two occasions, in fact, the Soviet Union demonstrated just how far it was willing to go to keep its satellites from leaving orbit. In 1956, Hungary tried to introduce political reform and allow opposing parties to freely operate. Moscow sent troops and tanks into Budapest to retake control of the country and expelled the reformist-minded politicians from the government. In 1968, in what became known as the Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia’s communist premier, Alexander Dubcek, attempted reforms, wanting to create “socialism with a human face”. It drew a similar response from Moscow, which feared that it would lose a communist ally.
In the late 1980’s, when Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev began relaxing restrictions on Soviet citizens, the Soviet satellites saw the perfect opportunity to break free of Soviet influence and retake control of their own affairs. One by one, in seemingly rapid succession, each country began holding free elections, ejecting communists from power. By the 1991, each of the Soviet satellites had dislodged communist rule, effectively ending the existence of the Soviet Bloc.