Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts
Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts
Q: Some of the terrible things that people construe from having happened at Yalta was that Eastern Europe came under the rule of Stalin….
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Yes.
Q: But in fact the Red Army was in possession. What more could the Western allies have done to establish democracy in their Western sense?
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: In – in the East, in the East of Europe you mean?
Q: Yes, yeah.
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, I think in a war, of course, you are rather dependant on what the armies have achieved, and one has to remember that Stalin would liked to have had a much bigger voice in Italy and equally had ambitions even as far West as Tangier and in Libya, but of course there it was – and in Greece, but there of course these were within the Western military sphere of success. And we didn't give way to him in those areas. But of course in the whole of Eastern Europe it was the Red Army which had – which had- as they would have said liberated, or now would more probably be said, occupied, all these – all these countries in Eastern Europe. Now, of course, again. We had a special concern with this because Poland – we had gone to war after all for Poland, I mean as a result of the Polish alliance and although I'd been dealing with this right thorough the war and we were always very worried as to whether the Russians would permit a really independent Polish government like the one in exile to ever go back and set itself up in Poland. And we thought that could only really be done if we did it before the Russians had successfully occupied Poland. So we went to Yalta in a very weak bargaining position, and all the weaker, you see General Sikorski died some time before. The one Polish Prime Minister, Mikolajcik who was prepared to work with the Russians had – had had to resign from the Polish government in exile, and the Poles in exile were not really anxious to work with the Russians. Again the Home Army inside Russia, inside Poland, again didn't want to work with the Russian army, so it wasn't a very – a very easy thing to organise. However, you say what more could we have done. We got at Yalta two diplomatic documents which on paper were perfectly satisfactory. I mean there would be a coalition government in Poland including people from the West, we would decide who they should be, and there would be free elections in Poland. And then there was a declaration covering the whole of Eastern Europe called the Declaration on Liberated Europe, which again was to be rebuilt on the basis of democracy and free elections and all the rest of it, phrases which the Russians used but interpreted rather differently. And when you say what else could we have done, well, I think there were only two – three – well, there were three things could have happened, we could, I mean the West, could have threatened Stalin with withdrawing economic assistance at the end of the war and the period after the war. But that wouldn't have worked because point of fact after the war Stalin was first of all offered by the Americans the continuance of … aid and he turned it down, he said he didn't want it. Secondly, when we came to the Marshall plan in 1946 which was aid for Europe, it was offered to Russia and to the Eastern Europe countries as well as to the West, and the Poles and the Czechs came to the first meeting, and so did Molotov, but then Stalin said no, he didn't want to be involved in all that and insisted on the Poles and the Czechs withdrawing er, because he didn't want to be involved in any kind of organisation which was American controlled, which he thought it would be if it was dependant on American economic aid. So the economic weapon would not have been any good because he refused it afterwards. The other thing we could have, in theory, was threatened him with the Atomic bomb which he hadn't then got. But I mean it was – you only have to mention it to show how impossible it was. I mean the Russians at that time were regarded as our gallant allies who were doing most of the fighting against Hitler. The mere concept of threatening them with an Atom bomb, I mean no government in the West could conceivably have done it. So you're left with the only other alternative which was to say, well, we'll have nothing to do with all this, we won't sign these Treaties. Well, the Treaties in themselves were perfectly all right. And again, Eastern Europe, important though it was, was only one of many other things, first of all winning the war and then occupying Germany, secondly seeing to the war against Japan, thirdly the post war arrangements. So, I mean there was a limit to the threats. And again, and I must say I had this feeling very strongly when we were doing all this at Yalta, we were all very skeptical about what was going to happen, but that it was better to have the Russians committed to the right kind of principle because at least if they didn't carry them out you could hold them to their promises and say you're letting the side down. And we did get some success by that, because after Yalta the Russians were showing signs of er, not allowing any of the Western Poles who we suggested to go back, they said each of them was a fascist and so on, and in the end we had to take a very strong line and say no, there was an agreement and you've got to let the people go back. Without the agreements they wouldn't have been able to. And the best, I think, example I can is that of Mikolajcik himself who was leading the Pole to go back, he had been the democratic Prime Minister, Poland in exile, who I'd got to know very well. After Yalta I saw him and I said I was worried about his going back, I wasn't sure it was going to work, and he said no, I'm very grateful that you got me this opportunity to go back, without the Yalta Agreement I couldn't have. I want to go back and show that at least we can have one free election, which they did get, and he did well in it. After that, of course, they saw to it that there was never to be another free election.
Q: You talked about the – the agreements, there were to be a coalition government in Poland.
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Oh, free elections.
Q: Free elections.
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: And a coalition government, yeah.
Q: Do you think that the West was naïve in the definition of what democracy was?
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: No, I mean we weren't naïve, I mean we – well, I mean some people may have been, but we, the diplomats, we knew perfectly well what the Russians interpreted as democracy and all that, but often we were allies fighting a war together. We couldn't very well say to Stalin now we are going to write down our interpretation of Western democracy and you've got to sign up and say this is your interpretation, it wasn't possible.
Q: How did it come about that gradually the whole of Eastern Europe went from some sort of nominal kind of free elections to one party system controlled by Moscow.
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, it went – it happened because the Russians were in occupation, they were in military occupation of all these countries. I mean that was the main thing behind it all. But of course the Russian system of making changes was – was not at once putting communist governments in power, there weren't enough communists, there weren't enough communists, there weren't very many communists in Eastern Europe. And even in Poland Stalin had murdered in 1936 nearly all the Polish communist leaders, and indeed the leaders of all the other countries of Eastern Europe who happened to be taking refuge in Russia from the Germans. And there were very few - the government of Poland, without our people from the West, consisted largely of a few people like (name) and (name) and (name) who were in fact Russian Poles. I mean they'd been in Russia and were brought back with the Red Army. The only native communist Polish leader was Solhulka and he was very different from the other that I discovered when I met him in Russia. But in general, you see, there weren't a lot of genuine communists in that part of the world. So the Russian method was to insist on coalition governments in which the socialists were usually the most numerous but also agrarians and what we call centre parties. But they always saw to it that the communist had the key posts for running the new system, the police , justice, interior, in all the governments. And then gradually, of course, throughout that they got control of the country. They had the armies there anyway. We, theoretically you see, had a voice in all of this, and leaving aside Poland which got its – eventually after a lot of arguing, got its coalition government. But in the other countries, of course, they were allied control authorities which included the British and the Americans, but our voice was very small compared to that of the Russians because the Russians had the army and they had these key people in the governments. And so gradually as time went on… But even in – in East Germany when 50 years later it finally broke down, there was never a communist party so called, it was the Social Unity Party so called, with the stooge socialists in it. And usually the stooge socialists were the Prime Ministers, as – as in East Germany at the beginning, and certainly in Poland.
Q: You were actually in Moscow in '45, '47, in that immediate post-war period how much was Stalin concerned with building up a monolithic block at the expense perhaps of sufferings of his own people, not expecting aid from outside?
Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, Stalin, er, I mean living as we were in Moscow we saw first of all what Stalin's attitude was in foreign affairs and to us, and then we saw what he was doing inside his own country which was very important, so I'll take those separately. You see first of all his attitude on foreign affairs; Stalin had always been a very cautious leader, and Stalin had always insisted on, you know, we must get our communism settled in Russian before we start involving ourselves in dangerous adventures outside. That was his quarrel with Trotsky which he had won. So after the war, of course, Russia was very – was much weaker economically but not militarily, and therefore he was not in a position to carry out rather adventurous policies overseas as Khrushchev later on did, and Russia was much stronger. But before the war was over George Keenan was the American minister there, and I, and we were working very closely together, we were running an Anglo American sort of war together on the other side. We were told by one of our – our friends, who later on – he was The Times correspondent at the time but he later on became the Daily Worker correspondent, that they called them the agitators, but they were in fact the lecturers who went around Russian factories and institutions giving the – what the government meant to be lead, you see, on how people should think. And already in – the war ended in May, this was in April, they were going around and the theme was that the Russian people must realise that although in the war they'd fought the war with the Americans and British as allies against the Germans and the French and later the Japanese, and the Italians and later the Japanese, that in fact they were not to regard the Americans and the British as their friends now that the war was over, we were capitalist enemies also, and they must get out of the habit of thinking of us as gallant allies. Well, that was a pretty clear indication of how Stalin saw the future relationship. Then of course, we the British, of course, found gradually Stalin was supporting what they call National Liberation Movements all over the place, and of course one of our main problems after the war was converting the Empire in to a Commonwealth gradually, so this wasn't going to be very easy for us. In Germany we did co-operate reasonably well in the beginning, but it got more and more difficult as time went on. And in – in the Middle East, as Stalin didn't want to make life too difficult for us because he wasn't strong enough to take our place and he didn't want the Americans to take our place, as happened eventually. So –but nevertheless in places like Iran we had great difficulties first of all getting the Russians to leave Iran as they eventually did. But – but everywhere there were problems, there were difficulties. It wasn't a nice easy alliance at all. Then of course internally which is much more important…..