I recently finished the book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer winning author of Gulag.
It discusses how at the end of WWII, the Soviet Union was able to (more or less) turn several disparate countries into an ideologically and politically homogenous region. She also focuses on what day to day life was like for those living in the Eastern Bloc countries.
Applebaum suggests that unification was achieved through four main channels: 1. the creation of local secret police forces who would selectively target political enemies and take control of ministries of the interior (the ministry that determines land redistribution); 2. Take control of the era’s mass media, particularly radio; 3. Ban most independent organizations (e.g. women’s leagues, church groups and trade unions) and control youth organizations; 4. Displace people from the areas where they had lived for generations, making them disoriented and more easy to control.
In addition, there is an interesting discussion on how the Western Allies sat down with the Soviet Union and carved up post war Europe between them, with a devastating economic effect on Eastern Europeans; once among the most affluent countries in the world these nations now were forced to pay reparations to the west, while at the same time watching their resources exported to Russia.
The book is comprised of almost entirely original research, both of interviews and declassified government archives. As a result, it is a very heavy read and it took me some time to finish, but was well worth it. I picked up this book because I was working on my family history and was interested in more insight of this period of time in Hungary; but there is as much information on Poland, Germany or most of the other affected nations. This book is also particularly interesting considering current border disputes between Russia and former Soviet territories Ukraine/Crimea, Moldova (Transnistra) and Estonia, and increased NATO presence along Russian borders with Poland, Romania and the Balkans.