This chapter provides historical context to the theme of censorship. The country cases chosen are all different in timing and extent. Some were in power for decades, while some where short-lived. In all cases we see the people in power use the state for censorship as a means of repression. In providing the historical context for these cases, the materials in the next chapters can be better understood. It is important to see the country cases in their own historical context, but sometimes clear parallels can be seen.
This unit has been made by the team working on the project "Silencing Citizens through Censorship. Learning from Europe’s 20th Century Dictatorial and Totalitarian Past”. The project has received funding from the European Union within the framework of Europe for Citizens Programme. The content of this unit reflect only the authors’ views and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
This module is published under the CC BY 4.0 licence.
The country cases chosen have all been captured in timeline of ten essential turning points, or key moments. By showing these key moments in a comparative timeline, students are able to look at developments across different places and times, and draw conclusions on connections between certain events. The timeline may seem like a good overview of the 20th century history, but it is important be aware that only several countries are included in this timeline. This is because of the type of project which has supported this unit. The country cases collected here provide us with a good basis of understanding, but in the end, are only examples. The multistranded timeline can alternatively be accessed in the browser- version following this link: <https://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/821083/The-rise-and-fall-of- totalitarian-regimes-and-dictatorships-in-a-comparative-timeline/>
After WWII along with many other Central and Eastern European countries, Hungary became part of the Soviet bloc, and the Cold War began. After a short democratic period (1945-47) in September 1947 the Cominform declared the new directives, i.e. the acceleration of the pace of Communist takeover in Central and Eastern Europe. By 1948, a Communist one-party system had been built, and all the other parties had been made powerless and in the end dissolved.
By creating a "New Yugoslavia", and a new governmental structure in Yugoslavia after World War II, a single-party political system was established, where all decisions concerning politics, economy, culture, education and other parts of social life were decided inside the tight circle of the ruling Communist Party. The Communist Party wanted to sustain a one party system that the Party itself had established, as its enduring legacy. This would be possible only if it was to eliminate all the different opinions and movements in the country.
During the German occupation, censorship was led by the Nazi authorities. However, the Vichy collaborationist government also took initiatives in this domain: as early as October 1940, Jews and Communists were the main targets, just as all the political opponents: patriots, Gaullists and free-masons. The Petainist ideology was reactionary, anti-communist, anti-Semitic and promoted traditional family values of "ordre moral" ("moral order"), like Francoist Spain or Fascist Italy.
At a very early stage the government in Nazi Germany restricted the political rights of its citizens. Four weeks after the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933 the Reichstag (The Parliament building) was burnt. The government took this event as an occasion to launch a presidential decree which limited fundamental civil rights like the freedom of press, freedom of speech, the secrecy of the post and telephone or the right of free public assembly. The upcoming elections on March 6 were also influenced by this. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act ("Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich"), which abolished the legislation by the parliament from March 1933 is seen as the legislative base of the dictatorship.
The censorship in Italy had existed in a sporadical and unstructured form since before the birth of the unified state, when the limitations to the freedom of press were listed in the Albertine Statute of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1848), which formally remained as the basic law also for the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946). Ruling the country from 1922 to 1943, the Fascist National Party brought the censorship apparatus to its highest level. From 1925 onwards, a series of government acts put all the voices of dissent out of the law, closing newspapers, syndicates, and trade unions, also forcing other political groups into working in secrecy.
Censorship began in Spain at the beginning of the Civil War, following the coup d’état (September 1936) and lasted until the death of Franco on 1 st of December, 1977 when it disappeared officially by a decree of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. During this period different rules, laws and decrees censored all publications or cultural expression through groups of censors close to the regime and the Catholic Church.
The level of censorship in Communist Poland was strongly dependent on the time period of post war Poland. But despite of its level of strength it was always present and had a strong impact on everyday life. After The Second World War Poland became a part of the so-called Eastern bloc under the strong influence of The Soviet Union. The Communist party took the power using non- democratic methods and from 1948 the whole country was firmly controlled by The Communists. The Polish United Workers’ Party was ideologically based on Marxism- Leninism theories. In theory, and according to the Constitution which was promulgated in 1952, the Parliament was the main political body in Poland, but in practice every important decision was made by The Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. Its Politburo or Secretariat was strongly influenced by The Soviet Union.