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Constantine Pleshakov, a distinguished historian of the Cold War, focuses his informative account mostly on international factors: Soviet–US relations and the role of John Paul II. The anti-Communist commitment of the Pope, who had experienced both the Nazi occupation and the Stalinist dictatorship, converged with Ronald Reagan’s conviction that the Soviet Union was the embodiment of evil. The Pope’s vision found its counterpart in the American President’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, when Reagan urged Gorbachev to tear down the Wall. At the time, this request sounded utopian. Two years later it became fact. Pleshakov refers extensively to the diary of the Pope’s confessor, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz, who documented John Paul’s conviction that there was a connection between the Marian apparition at Fatima in 1917 and the demise of Communism. For the Pope, bringing down Communism was a divine imperative. For Pleshakov, the revolutions of 1989 were first and foremost a series of domestic events. In these conflicts of rulers and ruled, international actors served to catalyse rather than determine the denouement. John Paul’s role was paramount precisely because he was a Polish Pope, whose words and actions influenced political actors in his homeland. As for Mikhail Gorbachev, whom many scholars credit with encouraging dramatic changes in the region, Pleshakov’s conclusion is acerbically dismissive. He describes the Soviet leader as “the husband of all wives and the wife of all husbands”, a reformer who did not anticipate, and most likely did not wish for, the disintegration of the empire. There can be little doubt, however, that the arrival in the Kremlin in 1985 of this Marxist revisionist dramatically altered the rules of the game, the threshold of expectations and what might be seen as the structure of revolutionary opportunities. As the late Rita Klimova, a former Charter 77 activist, once told me, Gorbachev was a necessary, but far from sufficient, condition. Renouncing the Brezhnev doctrine expressed both Gorbachev’s belief that socialism was powerful enough in the former satellite countries to defend itself without direct Soviet intervention, and the loss of imperial impetus among Soviet top elites. Unbeknownst to his Politburo colleagues, Gorbachev still cherished some of the ideals of the Prague Spring, and he tried to rejuvenate Marxism-Leninism by resuming Alexander Dubcek’s search for a more humane version of socialism. All this was a godsend for East Central Europe and a self-defeating strategy for Gorbachev, who lost the outer empire and unleashed forces within the USSR that were to destroy Lenin’s inheritance. In their books, the journalist Michael Meyer and the historian Stephen Kotkin offer further challenges to the dominant explanations of the revolutions of 1989. In The Year that Changed the World, Meyer examines struggles within the Hungarian elite before the collapse. He focuses on what he sees as the decisive role of a small coterie of anti-Communist Communists (the Harvard-educated Prime Minister Miklós Németh and maverick Politburo member Imre Pozsgay) in devising the policies that led to the mass exodus of East Germans via Hungary in the summer of 1989 and the final demise of the GDR. For Meyer, Hungary’s decision to open its border with Austria was the final blow to Soviet-style Communism in the region, a strategy that Gorbachev came to tolerate, if not directly to endorse. It is a provocative hypothesis, but not wholly persuasive: there was a democratic opposition in Hungary, the Free Democrats, who were not a trade union, as Meyer writes. Its leaders, centred on the philosopher János Kis, had formulated a post-totalitarian agenda which called for a “new social contract”. Another proto-party, FIDESZ, led by Viktor Orbán and his “MTV democrats”, as the dissident Miklós Haraszti once called them, was not just a bunch of romantic youths. They had studied law in Hungary and in England, and wanted to re-create civil society, Rechtsstaat, and a vibrant market. In Uncivil Society, an illuminating and bracing study, Kotkin argues that what happened in 1989 was not an explosion, in the manner of the Budapest revolt of 1956, but an implosion. Supported by Jan T. Gross in his chapter on Poland, Kotkin refutes the civil society paradigm in his interpretation of Communism’s collapse, stressing that civic movements, grass-roots organizations, and informal associations were embryonic and seemingly powerless in most countries of East Central Europe. He accepts that Solidarity represented an alternative to the Communist hegemony, but finds little to compare it with in the cases of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany, and still less in the Balkans (all these books leave Yugoslavia and Albania to one side, which is understandable, if not entirely justified). Kotkin offers “a narrative of global political economy and a bankrupt political class in a system that was largely bereft of corrective mechanisms”. Like Meyer, he thinks that Communist magnates, galvanized by Gorbachev’s reformist course, engaged in dismantling decaying regimes. International economic crisis made the survival of the old planning devices increasingly improbable, a fact that ruling elites could not ignore. In Kotkin’s analysis, the nomenklatura was the real gravedigger of the Communist regimes, from which it re-emerged as the main beneficiary of predatory privatization (“from tanks to banks”, as the saying went), consigning former dissidents to increasing irrelevance. To what he describes as civil society reveries, Kotkin opposes an approach that highlights the tribulations of the power-holders in the nomenklatura. He calls this class “uncivil society”. Accustomed to the perks and privileges of patron–client relations, it treated the people as a malleable mass, subject to ideologically driven experiments in mandatory happiness. Explaining the mystery of this group’s political suicide is the true puzzle Kotkin tries to solve. It had complete control over resources, weapons, and the means of communication, yet it surrendered power without violent repression (Romania, of course, was the exception). Among scholars, the proponents of the “civil society” explanation have included Andrew Arato, Garton Ash, John Keane, Jacques Rupnik and me. Among dissidents, Havel and Michnik championed this line of thought. None of us saw it as the sole reason for the collapse. We simply insisted that, with the ideological erosion of Leninist regimes, society experienced a slow but unstoppable re-awakening. In countries which had a neo-Marxist, revisionist tradition and in which critical intellectuals played a prominent role, this process developed faster. Furthermore, pace Kotkin and his co-author Gross, civil society was not only a political fantasy devised by idealistic dissident philosophers, but a political myth capable of mobilizing the public and of inspiring independent reflection and mass protest. Political myths are to be judged not in terms of their truthfulness, but of their potential to become true: speaking about civil society led to the emergence of civil society. In East Central Europe, exhilarating new ideas, such as the return to Europe, destroyed obsolete ideas. People took to the streets in Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Budapest and Timi£oara convinced that the hour of the citizen had arrived. This had been the thrust of dissident movements ever since the 1970s, whether in Havel’s path-breaking essay “The Power of the Powerless” or Adam Michnik’s “The New Evolutionism”, with their emphasis on the restoration of civic dignity, the repudiation of duplicity, and the construction of islands of human autonomy that would eventually subvert the establishment. So how are the tumultuous events of 1989 to be remembered? Kotkin starts his book with a detailed discussion of the Romanian film 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), whose original title translates as “Was It or Was It Not?”. The film presents a television talk show devoted to what really happened in December 1989 in a small provincial town. Two guests remember the time quite differently, one claiming that he had protested before the dictatorship’s end, the other saying that he took to the streets only after he had heard the regime was finished. Brilliantly directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, the film addresses some thorny questions. To what extent was the revolution a reality in areas where people started to demonstrate only after the dictator had fled the Central Committee building? Was the revolution stolen, and if so, by whom? What is one to make of the return of former secret police bosses as successful businessmen, a phenomenon described as the conversion of the nomenklatura? In the final scene, a woman phones in to say: “I’m just calling to let you know it’s snowing outside. It’s snowing big white flakes. Enjoy it now, tomorrow it will be mud . . . . Merry Christmas, everybody!”. Nicolae and Elena Ceau£escu were executed on Christmas Day following a judicial farce; the Romanian Revolution took a toll of over 1,400 victims; and the new leaders, headed by the former ideological apparatchik Ion Iliescu, pretended to embody the antiCommunist rebellion while stifling the beleaguered and fragile civil society. And yet, to the extent that they replaced one form of political, social and economic system with another, the revolutions of 1989 were unequivocally genuine. Yes, there were many masks and myths involved in the events that took place in Bucharest, Prague or Sofia. In most countries, the resilience of the old elites prevented a radical coming to terms with the Communist past. On the other hand, those who took to the streets, the thousands and thousands who were ready to die because they wanted to be free, did not act as the puppets of uncivil society. They believed in civility, decency and humanity, and they succeeded in rehabilitating these values. This is the most significant lesson of 1989.

They wanted to be free

A new map
HANS KUNDNANI Patrick Salmon, Keith Hamilton and Stephen Twigge, editors
DOCUMENTS ON BRITISH POLICY OVERSEAS Series III, Volume VII: German Reunification 1989–1990 592pp. Routledge. £90. 978 0 415 55002 4

he role of ideas in the demise of Communist regimes can never be stressed too much. These “ideocratic partocracies”, in Martin Malia’s phrase, could not outlive the death of their utopian underpinnings. Societies in East Central Europe, the Soviet Union and elsewhere had been rebuilt according to ideological blueprints: the command economy, the New Man, universal surveillance over mind and body. By the 1980s, the time of the true believers had passed, even if many retained their Party cards. It was the revolt, and the revival, of the mind that killed the Communist Leviathan, not just among dissidents, but also among disenchanted Communist intellectuals, who had become increasingly convinced of the system’s decrepitude. Sickness, however, can be an excruciatingly long process, and in the mid-1980s, Timothy Garton Ash, an astute interpreter of Central European politics, used the predictive metaphor of “Ottomanization”. Later, the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski insisted that while everyone (even the leaders) had known that Communist regimes could not last forever, hardly anyone foresaw when the debacle would occur. The German Democratic Republic continued to be praised for its alleged economic achievements, and in 1987 Erich Honecker was received with state honours by Helmut Kohl. The events of 1989 showed clearly the essential unpredictability of revolutions. Their logic is quite distinct from the “normal” logic of adaptation, survival and conformity. They fuel passion, idealism and high expectation, and they tend to be followed by frustration and disappointment (a cycle anticipated by the late Ralf Dahrendorf in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, 1990). Despite their apparent immortality, the Leninist tyrannies succumbed ingloriously to the rise of alternative movements, parties and ideas. The upheaval that swept them away astounded long-time observers of the region: movements from below, usually perceived as short-lived and insignificant, had proved crucial. The revolutions were self-limiting and refused to establish new ideological constraints. They repudiated official mythology in the name of human decency and freedom. They were anti-utopian, anti-teleological, anti-eschatological. Their goal was neither to “reshape” human nature, nor to erect scaffolds for the losers. The most important step along the path to 1989 was the emergence in 1980 of Solidarity, a self-governing trade union inspired by a vision of liberty rooted in truth and respect for human dignity, a vision articulated most influentially, as all these books emphasize, by Pope John Paul II. With its passionate defence of individual rights, Solidarity was, as Victor Sebestyen argues in Revolution 1989, the first real workers’ revolution of the twentieth century. When Martial Law was proclaimed in Poland in 1981, many were ready to write Solidarity’s obituary; yet the movement survived beneath the ice, and when General Wojciech Jaruzelski allowed Solidarity to form the government in August 1989, the decisive threshold was crossed. Sebestyen quotes the reaction of the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze to the


of the revolutions to the crises of world Communism: the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968, and the birth of Victor Sebestyen Solidarity. He also connects events in East REVOLUTION 1989 Central Europe to the struggle for power in The fall of the Soviet Empire the Kremlin and the Red Army’s humiliating 451pp. Orion. £25. defeat in Afghanistan. The Soviet reluctance 978 0 297 85223 0 to intervene in Poland in 1981, when Solidarity was clearly turning into an alternative Constantine Pleshakov centre of power, badly dented the confidence THERE IS NO FREEDOM of local satraps. WITHOUT BREAD! Sebestyen provides a vivid portrait of the 1989 and the civil war that brought Stalinist leaders and their endless cynicism: down Communism the frantic womanizing of the apparently 304pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26. Spartan Erich Honecker; the murderousness 978 0 374 28002 7 of Erich Mielke, the Stasi chief who cut his teeth assassinating Trotskyists and anarchists Michael Meyer during the Spanish Civil War; the pathologiTHE YEAR THAT CHANGED THE cal vanity of Nicolae Ceau£escu; and the WORLD narrow-minded slyness of the Soviet lackey The untold story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall Todor Zhivkov who, when asked whether he 254pp. Scribner. $28. had remained a committed Marxist-Leninist 978 1 4165 5845 3 until the end of his thirty-five-year rule of Stephen Kotkin, with Jan T. Gross Bulgaria, replied: “Do you take me for an idiot?”. Unimaginative and arrogant, these UNCIVIL SOCIETY leaders had lost all trace of the egalitarian 1989 and the implosion of the Communist creed of their youth. Socialism in one family, establishment Romania’s contribution to Marxism, was 197pp. Modern Library. $24. more the experiment of a Sultan than an effort 978 0 679 64276 3 to create a classless utopia. Sebestyen also writes convincingly about the delusional Polish breakthrough, as told by his chief universe of Ceau£escu’s cult of personality, adviser: “He took it calmly. There was no though some corrections are needed: two way he was going to take any action. He said: prime ministers mentioned in the book, ‘Forget about it.’ We remained on the beach Manea Mánescu and Ilie Verde[, were not in and started talking to ourselves in our swim- fact related to Nicolae Ceau£escu, and the ming trunks. ‘Do you understand what is dictator’s eldest son Valentin was not going to happen?’ he said. ‘We are going adopted. Ceau£escu’s regime was a form to lose our allies, the Warsaw Pact. These of dynasticism in the making, a scenario countries will go their own ways. Yes, we which suited the top apparatchiks very well will suffer. We will lose our jobs’. It was no (Zhivkov imitated it, and it was later perfected problem to project the collapse of the empire. in North Korea). State socialism died because Our empire was doomed. But we did not of the lies at the heart of the political system think it would come so soon”. itself: lies about economy, society, culture. As Revolution 1989 is a superbly written and the late Kolakowski once put it, “the lie is the impressively documented chronicle of the immortal soul of communism”. For Václav year John Paul II described as an annus Havel, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuro± and other mirabilis. Sebestyen rightly traces the origins dissidents, truth had a revolutionary power.


The Warsaw Solidarity leader Maciej Jankowski marching among protesters at an anti-government rally, 1991

argaret Thatcher admitted in her memoirs that her policy on German reunification was an “unambiguous failure”. Although she had welcomed the democratic revolution in East Germany, she was alarmed by the possibility of German reunification that suddenly became very real in the weeks that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. She believed Germany’s “national character”, as well as its size and position in the centre of Europe, made it an inherently “destabilizing rather than a stabilizing force in Europe”. She also worried, with some justification, that rapid reunification might undermine Mikhail Gorbachev’s position in the Soviet Union. However, with President Bush all for German reunification and Gorbachev unable to stop it, Thatcher became almost completely isolated over the next few months. It has long been known that tensions existed between Thatcher and the Foreign Office, including her Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. To coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the FCO has published a set of documents from its and the Cabinet Office’s archives that would normally have been released under the thirty-year rule. They illustrate the full extent of those tensions for the first time. Although Britain had a long-standing commitment to German unity through selfdetermination, which Thatcher had herself reiterated in 1985, some mandarins appear to have had views on Germany that were not so different from the Prime Minister’s. The collection opens with a note from Sir Christopher Mallaby, the British ambassador in Bonn, which is almost Thatcherite in its analysis of German pathology (the Germans, he says, are “always yearning for something”). But during the course of 1989, the FCO became increasingly concerned about the possible effect of Thatcher’s reaction to events in East Germany on relations with Britain’s other allies. Sir Patrick Wright, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State in the FCO, worries at one point that “the Prime Minister’s views, if they became known, would raise eyebrows (at least) both in Germany and in the United States”. On November 10, Wright cautions Stephen Wall, Hurd’s Private Secretary, that Thatcher might be feeling “under siege” from her advisers. The documents illustrate how quickly events in East Germany began to move after November 9. On November 27, Mallaby describes how the theme of reunification, “though still shunned by Kohl and [Foreign Minister HansDietrich] Genscher, is becoming more prominent in political debate”, and says a growing


number of Germans believe that it will take place within ten years. The following morning, his counterpart in East Berlin, Nigel Broomfield, reports to Hurd that a growing number of East Germans are now demanding immediate reunification. Later that day, Kohl announced his Ten-Point Plan in the Bundestag without consulting the British beforehand. Mallaby sends Hurd another telegram at the end of the day after finally being briefed by Kohl’s adviser Horst Teltschik, who has told Mallaby that even Kohl’s plan “could be overtaken by other views before long”. So it proved. The documents also raise some questions about the complex and possibly duplicitous role of the French in the negotiations. Thatcher, who kept a map showing Germany’s 1937 borders in her handbag, and took it out in meetings to illustrate the “German problem”, saw in President Mitterrand a potential ally who might help her stop or slow German reunification. However, although Mitterrand shared some of Thatcher’s fears about Germany, he came to see European integration (and in particular a single European currency) as a possible solution to the “German question”, whereas Thatcher thought it would only exacerbate the problem. According to most accounts, including Thatcher’s own, the shift in Mitterrand’s position was complete by the time of the crucial meeting at the Elysée Palace on January 20, 1990. But according to the account of the meeting kept by Charles Powell, Thatcher’s Private Secretary, Mitterrand told Thatcher that he still “shared her analysis” of the situation at that point and feared the Germans, who were acting “with a certain brutality”, might attempt to regain territory they had lost as a result of the war and “might make even more ground than had Hitler” (the French Foreign Minister at the time, Roland Dumas, has subsequently denied Mitterrand made such a remark). By February, however, the die had been cast. From then on, as Hurd focused on arrangements for the “Two Plus Four” negotiations, Thatcher became even more openly anti-German, culminating in the infamous seminar on Germany at Chequers in March (the minutes of which, written by Powell, are attached as an appendix). These documents suggest that by this point British officials were working constructively on what Mallaby calls “the modalities of unification” without any real influence from her. In fact, they played a crucial role in working out the detail of the Two Plus Four negotiations (apparently they possessed the only laptop at the talks, allowing them to control the text as it was updated). This diplomatic diligence rescued Britain to some extent from what Patrick Salmon, calls its “isolated rearguard action”, even if it failed to change the public perception of British negativity towards reunification. In the end the problem, as Salmon notes, was that Britain had no leverage. Where Mitterrand was quick to adjust his strategy to secure further European integration, Thatcher was slow to grasp the inevitability of German reunification. But even if she had been more realistic, it is difficult to see what she might have got as a quid pro quo for her acquiescence – except, perhaps, greater popularity in Germany.

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