Winston Churchill knew about the theatre of war. After all, he was a great political orator who led Britain through most of World War II.

But his theatrics during a peacetime speech in the United States in 1946 would go down in history as one of his most famous and important performances, serving as the opening salvo of the Cold War.

Seventy-five years ago this month, Churchill took to the stage at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and declared in a statement called 'Sinews of Peace' that an 'Iron Curtain’ was falling - a major divide separating the communist world from the west.

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe," he said on 5 March, 1946, with US President Harry Truman by his side.

Churchill had an inkling that these anti-Soviet remarks during peacetime would be picked up around the world, and as he left the auditorium he told the president of Westminster College that he hoped the speech would start "some thinking that will make history".

Giving birth to the central metaphor of the Cold War would indeed stand the test of time and develop in ways unimaginable to the former British prime minister.

Remains of Iron Curtain near the border of Czech Republic

The term, originally used for fireproof theatre curtains in the 19th century, wasn’t new.

Russian writer Vasily Rozanov wrote about "an iron curtain" being lowered, "creaking and squeaking, at the end of Russian history" in 1918. However in 1946, the words hit differently as it was a world that was attempting to restructure after great devastation.

This Iron Curtain symbolised another uncertain future as the Soviet Union inched closer to sealing itself off from the west and other non-communist areas.

Churchill would no doubt relish in knowing that the term started people thinking - and that it has kept people thinking for the last 75 years - with volumes of notes and comments about its significance, development and modern day adaptation.

From that moment in 1946, the Iron Curtain would go beyond political and ideological differences between the communist east and the west, becoming also a byword for the physical and militant borders on the ground.

"Europe had been moving towards being a single entity in the late half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century was now irrevocably, it seemed at the time, split in two. The natural contacts that should exist between people were prevented form happening," said Neil Robinson, professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Limerick.

Construction commenced on the most symbolic physical structure of the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall, almost 60 years ago in August 1961.

The Berlin Wall being built in 1961

Over the decades, thousands tried to move from one area to another by swimming across the Berlin’s Spree River, digging tunnels or travelling in a hot air balloon. Hundreds died trying to do so.

An Irishman in Germany, David Florczyk, who previously worked as a tour guide in Berlin, said in today’s world, tourists are shocked by the level of division.

"There is an area called the Bernauer Straße, which is a monument that runs for over a kilometre. This shows where the wall was. This is a part of the city where it actually cut down through the middle of some buildings.

"It actually cut through a parish so there’s a church and buildings on each side of the street that were originally only a 100 yards apart... from a Sunday morning to a Monday morning, there’s barbed wire, there’s armed police who have been ordered to shoot anyone who tries to cross the street. That’s quite shocking for people," he said.

With the free movement of people across the European bloc today, Churchill's famous phrase is difficult to visualise and grasp to those born after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Prof Robinson.

While cracks started to appear in the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s, three decades after its fall, a legacy lingers on.

His students at the University of Limerick, most born in a different millennium, weren’t around for the fences, minefields and watchtowers that divided western and eastern Europe.

He said it’s not the big political issues or the realities of the eastern bloc’s surveillance and stories of repression that connects them to its history, but the differences in quality of life.

"Simple stories about queuing up for three hours to buy a kilo of potatoes, half of which were rotten. You know, surviving on things such as bread, yoghurt and fried potatoes for a few weeks.

"Those kind of simple stories about material conditions in which people lived are very revealing of the differences that existed between the two systems," he said.

Checkpoint Charlie in west Berlin in 1960

While cracks started to appear in the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s, three decades after its fall, a legacy lingers on. For David Florczyk, who has been living in Germany for the past 16 years, he thinks there is still a lot of silence about the time.

"People don’t like to talk about it. For a lot of people, it’s not just history for them, they lived it, they were born in it, they had bad or maybe even good experiences through it," said the Dún Laoghaire native.

"For many people, not everyone, the fall of the wall wasn’t necessarily a good thing for them … in their lives, in their work, their savings, their jobs ... the fall of the wall was a catastrophe. They woke up one morning in a new country, new system, new schools and for many, much of that stuff is still quite alien," he said.

Remnants of the Iron Curtain aren’t just found in memories, either. The term’s meaning has changed and resurfaced time and time again, as Europe faces new, different challenges.

Fears are growing about the emergence of a new ‘Digital Iron Curtain’ - that politicians in Russia, Asia and parts of Europe are turning to an old playbook to limit information flowing through print, television and radio.

Analysts point to the conflict surrounding Chinese multinational technology company Huawei, internet blackouts in Belarus during political protests and Russia's attempt to slow Twitter’s speed.

Hungary, which was the first to put up a physical section of Iron curtain in 1949 and the first to show cracks by opening the border in 1989, has also been criticised for behaviour that limits free speech during Viktor Orbán’s time as leader.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Already this year, questions have been raised over the country’s decision not to renew an opposition-leaning radio station’s licence in February while the Hungarian government had harsh words for Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), which has begun producing material in Hungarian for the first time in decades, driven by concerns at declining media plurality and press freedom.

"DW is deeply biased and has been fuelling irrational Orbanophobia for years. If that’s what you call German ‘public service’ media, then we are deeply concerned about media pluralism in DE (Germany)," a Hungarian government spokesperson told Reuters.

The United States’ Radio Free Europe, another post-war initiative designed to spread Western values through information to those living behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, also resumed Hungarian services.

These moves are reminiscent of the Cold War heyday of international broadcasting, when government-backed international stations from both sides of the Iron Curtain competed to spread their view of the world.

It is a debate that made its way to the European Parliament this week as MEPs discussed attempts by "Polish, Hungarian and Slovenian authorities to silence independent media".

Winston Churchill's yearning for his Iron Curtain words in 1946 to be cemented in history has come to pass.

Among the contributions in the European Parliament was Hungary’s far-right MEP Márton Gyöngyösi, who told the parliament that "in the past decade, the Hungarian ruling party Fidesz adopted salami-Communist tactics - a complicated mix of legislative administrative means and corruption to centralise media and kill pluralism step by step."

Poland’s plans to impose a levy on media advertising revenue to support healthcare and culture were also criticised as disproportionally targeting independent outlets while the treatment of Slovenian journalists was under the microscope.

"Public media have now become an instrument of Europhobia and attacking the opposition… if we are in a position to lecture Russia, China and Belarus on free media, we should have it inside [Europe] above all," claimed Polish MEP Radoslaw Sikorski.

Preserved section of the Berlin Wall

Countries which were behind the Iron Curtain have made "fantastic strikes towards democracy and undergone massive economic change," according to Prof Neil Robinson, but he warns that the process is not over.

"There is this problem of democratic backsliding … because people’s experiences are different and they are still dealing with the legacy of communism… and the legacies of post communist collapse.

"There have been limits put upon freedom, there are attempts ongoing in places like Belarus and Russia to control access to the internet and to draw an ‘Information Iron Curtain’ down across these societies," he said.

All of this was slammed by France’s Nicholas Bay MEP, from the far-right Rassemblement National Party during the European Parliament debate.

"A debate on Poland and Hungary and this time you are adding Slovenia - it seems your inventiveness has no bounds," he said.

"A simple tax on the media in Poland, no broadcasting licence for a radio that doesn’t actually respect the law and an ironic tweet putting a journalist in place in Slovenia - your accusations as usual are grotesque and politicised," the MEP declared.

"Brussels is not interested in the freedom of the media, they are trying to attack democratically elected governments that do not accept progressive globalising propaganda," Mr Bay added.

Winston Churchill’s yearning for his words in 1946 to be cemented in history has come to pass. Seventy-five years on, the term the ‘Iron Curtain' carries much weight in people’s memories, with reminders of its realities embedded in historical monuments and behaviours in social and political life.

When the British prime minister pushed to popularise the phrase, little did he know the longevity his words would enjoy and that they would appear regularly and be interpreted differently during Europe's turbulent story of unification and identity.