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History 557 Lecture Notes
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Lecture Notes no. 19 A.

The Path toward 1989, and the Collapse of Communism in E. Europe

A. Toward Collapse, 1982-88.


The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe was not unexpected by specialists on the region, but its suddenness and speed came as a great surprise. Of course, the roots of the 1989 revolutions can be traced as far back as the unrest/revolts that took place in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1953, Poland and Hungary in 1956, followed by liberalization from the top in Czechoslovakia in 1968, then workers’ revolts in Poland in 1970 and 1976 and the dissident movements in Poland 1976-80. The direct and most important root, however, was the Solidarity period in 1980-81.

What is often neglected, is the period between the crushing of Solidarity in December 1981 and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 --yet it was the years between that saw the development of similar kinds of peaceful opposition, along with similar goals of peaceful democratization and reform, in both Poland and Hungary. They were accompanied by smaller movements in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, while brave individuals risked their lives to protest the system in the Balkans, especially in Romania.

We must also bear in mind the role of favorable factors outside the region:

(a) The economic reforms and political liberalization pursued by Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the USSR, in 1988-89 encouraged reform communists and - although unintentionally - dissident movements in Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary, and to a lesser extent until late 1989, in Czechoslovakia. In fact, Gorbachev and the "reform communists" in the first two countries supported a gradual, controlled liberalization which was to preserve  communism. Gorbachev and his supporters believed that the CPSU should not longer dictate policy to the "fraternal" parties, which were to be treated as equals.But they did not expect the collapse of communist regimes that took place all over Eastern Europe in 1989 -- and in the USSR in Dec. 1991. *

*[The best studiy of the Gorbachev's policies toward East Central Europe is Prof. Mark Kramer's article, "The Demise of the Soviet Bloc," The Journal of Modern History, v.83, Dec. 2011, pp. 788-854.]

(b) The support for Gorbachev and his policies of good relations with the United States and peaceful change in both the USSR and Eastern Europe, first by President Ronald Reagan (from 1985 on), and then by President George W. H. Bush. * *

**[For a very interesting discussion of Gorbachev's policy, its reception in East Central Europe. of Pres George W.H.. Bush's. policy toward the USSR and East Central Europe, with selected documents for the period March 15, 1989 to April 13, 1990, see Svetlana Savranskaya, Thomas Blanton, and Vladislav Zubok,eds., Masterpieces of History. The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (CEU Press, Budapest, New York, 2010).

Vice-President George W. H. Bush and Walesa at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church,Warsaw, Sept.29, 1987; Bush at the same church with Father Popieluszko's parents, Sept. 28, 1987.

[Pictures from: The Road to Independence. Solidarnosc 1980-2005 by Antoni Dudek et al., translated Robert Strybe, Oficyna Wydawnicza Volumen. Komisja Krajowa NSZZ 'Solidarnosci,' Warsaw, 2005 (Photo credits, back page).

1. Poland 1982-1988: Underground Solidarity and Civic Society. Economic Crisis and the Gorbachev Factor.

General Jaruzelski allowed the Polish legislature to end Martial Law in July 1983. The "interned" leaders were gradually released - although some were re-arrested later.

 An interned Lech Walesa showing Solidarity V for victory sign: [Miroslawa Marody, Dlugi Final (The Long Finale]

The other leaders and activists stayed underground. They carried on press, radio, and sometimes even TV action against the government by breaking into the government radio and TV network. At the same time, an extensive underground Civic Society developed in Poland in the years 1982-89. Its members, mostly intellectuals, were organized in various interest groups, held underground seminars, staged plays, poetry readings, art exhibits, and above all, published newspapers, periodicals, and books. The underground press, especially the Tygodnik Solidarnosc (Solidarnosc Weekly) edited by Tadeusz Mazowiecki *, kept its readers informed of what was going on in the country and in the underground. It should be emphasized, that the underground press, especially the regional Tygodnik Mazowsze, (Mazowsze Weekly - Mazowsze is the Warsaw region), was run by determined women journalists and distributed by women. They were not doing this as feminists - the movement was virtually unknown in communist-ruled countries -- but as Polish patriots, just as women had supported Polish resistance to foreign rule in the past, especially in World War II. **

* (b. 1927, Mazowiecki was a founding member of KIK (Catholic Intelligentsia Club); member of parliament in the Catholic group ZNAK. 1961-72; founder and editor of the periodical, Wiez;; spokesman for KOR in 1976, adviser to Solidarity in 1980-81; imprisoned 1981-82; later member of the S executive and moderator in the Round Table, talks; Prime Minister 1989-90; ran unsuccessfully for President 1990)

**[On the role of women see Shanna Penn, Solidarity's Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland, Ann Arbor, MI, 2005.]


"The Voice of Conspiracy".

Two pieces of paper covered with very small print do not make a special impression todya, but that is how the weekly "Mazowsze" looked. It was the most popular newspaper of undeground Solicrity. Its first number appeared on 11 Feb. 1982. This picture (taken from Polityka, no.2847, for 22 - 28 Feb. 2011), shows the editorial group in 1988, giving their names from left to right.


Books and specialized periiodicals were also published underground without government permission.

Underground literature book and periodical covers, 1981,1983

(Translation clockwise: Independence, a political monthly; Historical Notebooks; Report on Martial Law continued; Power Numbed with Fear.)

[from: Marody,Dlugi Final].

Democratic ideas were developed in underground groups, also ideas on the establishment of a free market economy - although Solidarity leaders assumed the Welfare State would exist alongside it. (This proved an illusion).  Individual dissidents were often harassed.

Various underground groups -- mainly Solidarity --organized mass demonstrations on key anniversaries in Polish history: May 3, the anniversary of the May 3 1791 Constitution; September 17 th, date of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939; also November 11- prewar Independence Day. Solidarity also organized counter-demonstratons on official holidays, e.g. May 1, the European Labor Day and Communist holiday. In most cases, all these demonstrations were dispersed by riot police using clubs and water cannon.

Official May 1 demonstration,1982 Solidarity counter-demonstration

[Warsaw, 1982, from: Miroslawa Marody, Dlugi Final].

Padraic Kenny emphasizes anti-government activity by various groups, mainly students, who demonstrated in protest against the murder of a colleague, or against threats to the environment. (The students in Gdansk had joined Solidarity in its strike in Aug. 1980). He believes that, by showing the public that open protest was possible, these activities, especially the social protests, formed the link between the underground Solidarity leadership and the majority of the Polish population. He was particularly interested in the high jinks of Wroclaw students, who dressed up as clowns and played nonsense games to the general amusement of the town population, though not the police.*

[*See Padraic Kenney, "Framing, Political Opportunities and Civic Mobilization in the Eastern European Revolutions: a Case Study of Poland's Freedom and Peace Movement," in Mobilization, vol. 6, no. 2, Fall 2001, pp. 193-210. See also Padraic Kenney, Carnival of Revolution. Central Europe, 1989, Princeton, 2002 and reprints.]


For an overall surveyof the 1980s in Poland, see: A.Kemp-Welch, Poland under Communism. A Cold War History (Cambridge, England, 2008), ch. 12-15. From a Polish point of view: Andrzej Paczkowski, The Spring Will be Ours. The Poles from Occupation to Freedom,(Univ. of Pennsylvania Press 2003); also Padraic Kenney, as above.

On the Polish underground society of the 1980s see:

(1) Stanislaw Baranczak, Breathing under Water and other East European Essays, (Cambridge, Mass, & London, England, 1990) - a study of Polish intellectual and literary life by a poet and translator, then the holder of  the Alfred Jurzykowski Chair in Polish Language and Culture, Harvard University. (2)  Maciej Lopinski, Marcin Moskit, Mariusz Wilk, KONSPIRA. Solidarity Underground, translated by Jane Cave, Afterword by Lawrence Weschler, (Berkeley, CA.,1990) - by three journalists, members of Solidarity; (3) Michael T. Kaufman, Mad Dreams, Saving Graces. Poland: A Nation in Conspiracy, (New York, 1989) - An American journalist, son of a Polish-Jewish communist, writes of his experiences in Poland, 1984-87; (4) Adam Michnik, Letters from Prison and Other Essays, translated by Maya Latynski, (Berkeley, CA., 1985) - fascinating letters and essays by one of KOR’s leaders, later in Solidarity, and an important political player in 1989, since spring 1989 editor-in-chief of the leading Polish daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza; see also (5) essays by Ewa Kuryluk and Adam Michnik in: William M. Brinton and Alan Rinzler, eds., Without Force or Lies. Voices from the Revolution in Central Europe in 1989-90, (San Francisco, CA.1990), pp. 211-222, 239-252; (6) Andrew Nagorski, The Birth of Freedom. Shaping Lives and Societies in New Eastern Europe, (New York, 1993. Nagorski is an American journalist of Polish descent; while chief of Newsweek’s Warsaw bureau, 1980s, he was in touch with Polish, Czech and Hungarian dissidents; (7) Janine Wedel, The Private Poland, (New York, 1986). Wedel, an American Anthropologist, writes of life in Poland as seen in visits and interviews between 1977 and 1986. She gives an excellent view of every day Polish life in those years; (8) Padraic Kenney, Carnival of Revolution. Central Europe, 1989, Princeton, 2002.]

Of course, the vast majority of the Polish population did not belong to underground organizations or read their press. They retreated into private life and tried to limit their interaction with state institutions as much as they could.

By mid-1988, however, the economic situation was going from bad to worse. Continuing price increases forced many people to go without. Many urban dwellers turned to gardening on small plots -- available in cities --to provide vegetables and fruit, while the more enterprising thrived in the "Second Economy," that is, the Black Market.

Gen. Jaruzelski and his administrations tried to reform the economy. Taking a cue from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s "perestroika" (reconstruction), in October 1987, the P. government went further than the USSR. It announced  extensive economic reforms, especially a price increase, even though a 450% increase had taken place in January 1982 and others after it. This time, a referendum was held in November 1987, which showed that the 60% of the voting electorate preferred a gradual price increaseto a one time increase.

In the same referendum, people were asked whether they supported a "Polish Model" for democratizing political life, that is, strengthening self-government, extending the rights of citizens, and increasing their participation in political life. Two fifths of the respondents supported the "government program" -- which, in fact, had been outlined by Solidarity in 1981. At the same time, unofficial opinion polls showed that only about 25% of the population supported the regime. It is not surprising that General Jaruzelski’s "Patriotic Movement of National Rebirth," (Patriotyczny Ruch Odrodzenia Narodowego, PRON), created in July 1982, did not enjoy much support, although it included some respected public figures.

As prices continued to rise and goods became ever more scarce, social services deteriorated and the standard of living continued to fall, it is not surrprising that criticism of the government increased. Meanwhile, its economic "reforms" were largely bureaucratic. They consisted of reducing the number of ministries by combining them, also theoretically allowing state enterprises more freedom in production plans and use of foreign currency earned; making enterprises self-financing; reducing central planning, and making efforts to extend self-management by workers.

All these points, along with one other - open discussion of economic questions by various institutions including parliament - were listed in the "Reformed Economic System" as worked out by Solidarity economic advisers in 1981 -- but the government had rejected most of them as unfeasible in 1982.*

*[For the Solidarity experts’ proposed "Reformed Economic System" see: J.F.Brown, Surge to Freedom. The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe, (Durham and London), 1991, p.82].

However, when these reforms - except for free discussion - were adopted  half-heartedly after 1985, they amounted only to tinkering with economic problems, which was also true of Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s economic "reforms" in the USSR. The main problem was always the same -- the party’s fear that economic liberalization would lead to loss of control over the economy, and thus the country. Also, Gorbachev could not proceed with real reforms until he had replaced key hardliners with his supporters, or at least, potential supporters.

Meanwhile in Poland, the underground Civic Society, made up mostly of writers, actors, artists, and other intellectuals, became ever more active, and the underground printing of newspapers and books kept on increasing. How could the Poles develop such widespread resistance, and why did the authorities more or less tolerate it after 1985? Seven interrelated factors can be cited for this state of affairs, listed here in their order of importance as perceived by the author of this text:

Solidarity’s ability to establish an underground resistance network owed much to:

(1) the Polish tradition of underground resistance developed in the 19th century, It was honed under the German occupation in World War II, and was now bolstered by smuggled printing presses and paper largely paid for by the U.S. labor organization IFL-CIO -- whose leader, Lane Kirkland (died 1999), was an ardent supporter of Solidarity *-- and to some extent by contributions from the CIA to various organisations supporting Solidarity. The underground press, run mostly by women, was extremely important in spreading democratic ideas.

*[ See: Gregory F. Domber, "The AFL-CIO, The Reagan Administration and Solidarnosc," The Polish Review, vol. LII, no. 3, 2007, pp. 277-304.

(2) Papal and church support for (a) for the underground Civic Society, (b) the re-legalisation of Solidarity ;

(3) Outstanding intellectual advisers to Solidarity leaders (although they became more important in 1988);

(4) The continuing economic crisis and deteriorating standard of living, which destroyed any remaining popular confidence in the government-party leadership;

(5) Lech Walesa’s  prestige, although he was not  seen publicly between 1983, when he was released and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (his wife received it for him in Oslo because he feared that if he went abroad, he would not be allowed back), and December 1988 (his TV debate with Alfred Miodowicz --pron. Myodovich -- see below);

(6) The liberalizing policies in 1988-89 of Mikhail S.Gorbachev elected by the Central Committee as lst Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985, and for Gorbachev.This factor, plus the bad economic situation in Poland made the Polish governmen tolerate more or less open opposition, such as the student demostrations described by Padraic Kenney in his article and book on the revolutions of 1989;

(7) "Reform Communists" within the Polish party leadership who enjoyed Gorbachev’s support. Indeed, Gorbachev and the Polish Reform Communists were key to the liberalization that took place in 1988, and they played a crucial role in the collapse of communism in Poland in 1989 -- although, ironically, neither the Polish nor the Soviet party leadership expected this collapse to take place.

Here it is worth citing a remarkably prescient forecast about Gorbachev and his future policies made by Adam Michnik a KOR-Solidarity leader --who was trained as a historian. In a letter written from Gdansk prison in early 1985, he stated:

The Soviet state has a new leader; he is a symbol of transition from one generation to the next within the Soviet elite. This change may offer an opportunity, since Mikhail Gorbachev has not yet become a prisoner of his own decisions. No one can rule out the possibility that an impulse for reform will spring from the top of the hierarchy of power. This is exactly what happened in the time of Alexander II and, a hundred years later, under Khrushchev. Reform is always possible, even in the face of resistance by the old apparatus. Leaders of the Kremlin may wish to take on the challenge of modernity; they may begin searching for a new model of relations with Soviet satellites. Polish political thought must be prepared for this contingency. Phobias and anti-Russian emotions provide no substitute.*
*[Michnik’s "Letter from Gdansk Prison" was first published in the New York Review of Books, July, 1985, see also: Adam Michnik, Letters from Prison and other Essays, translated by Maya Latynski, foreword by Czeslaw Milosz, Introduction by Jonathan Schell, (Berkeley, CA.,1985, paperback, 1987), p. 92. Tsar Alexander II, who reigned 1855-82, abolished serfdom and began to reform the administration of Imperial Russia, but was assssinated by a revolutionary student -- a Pole --in 1882. Sergei Khrushchev, head of the Soviet party 1953-64, attacked the Stalinist "personality cult" at the party congress of Feb. 1956 and again in 1961, which led to some liberalization of the Soviet system.]

Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

 Who was this new Soviet leader and what did he want to accomplish?

In comparison with most Soviet leaders, Gorbachev was a relatively young member of the Soviet party elite. Born in 1931, in a village near Stavropol, he was 54 when he became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985. As a young law student in Moscow, he had been greatly influenced by Khrushchev’s 1956 and 1961 revelations of the evils of Stalinism.

It is not clear when he decided on reforming the Soviet economy to make it more productive and so catch up technologically with the West, especially the United States. He realized these aims could not be achieved without ending the Cold War, and thus the arms race with the U.S. He was particularly worried by the American Strategic Defense Initiative ( SDI or Star Wars) which, if successfully developed, would produce missiles capable of shooting down Soviet missiles in space, thus undercutting and perhaps even nullifying Soviet nuclear capabilities. Western scientists did not believe SDI could be implemented in the near future, but the Soviet military was very concerned. In any case, Gorbachev bent all his efforts toward peace and signed a series of important agreements with President Ronald Reagan. (President 1980-88). They included arms limitation and cultural agreements, as well as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.*

*[Russian forces invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 and left in February 1989. However, the USSR, and later the Russian Federation, continued to supply and support the new Communist leader there, Mohammed Najibullah until he resigned in April 1992 and was succeeded by a new Afghani government led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Najibullah found refuge in the U.N. Legation in Kabul, but was murdered with his brother by the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban when they took the city in fall 1996.]

After the terrorist attack on the WTC towers in New York and on the Pentagon, Washington, D.C, Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government sent armed forces to attack and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan,. The Taliban were subsidized by Osama Bin Ladin, a wealthy citizen of Saudi Arabia, who organized the above attacks as well as some previous attacks on U.S. agencies abroad. His followers ran training camps for terrorists in Afghanistan. U.S. forces attacked the Taliban in fall 2001, and a new government led by Hamid Karzai was formed in Kabul after elections in 2004. Bin Ladin, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks, was killed in Pakistan by a team of U.S. "seals " on May 2, 2011. The Taliban and U.S. forces are still in Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda is still active as of this writing, March 9, 2011.

Gorbachev met with stiff resistance to his economic reform plans from hardliners in the Soviet leadership. Therefore, he launched the slogan of "Glasnost," or open discussion. This really meant open discussion of the past, especially the evils of Stalinism, but its major goal was political -- to discredit Gorbachev’s critics, most of whom believed that Stalin was a great, Soviet leader, and opposed any kind of reform.

Gorbachev’s Glasnost policy led not only to open discussion of the past in the Soviet media, but also to increasing liberalization of the media in Poland and Hungary in the late 1980, especially in 1988-89. In those two countries, controlled political liberalization was supported by "Reform Communists." Indeed, in Poland, one of their leaders, Mieczyslaw F. Rakowski (1926-2008), wrote in a confidential memo in October 1987, leaked to the press: "In practice, we have already recognized the opposition as a lasting element on the country’s political map."*

*[cited in: Timothy Garton Ash, "The Opposition," New York Review of Books, October 13, 1988, p. 4, note 9.]

Communist Liberalization in Poland.

    Examples of liberalization included a relatively lenient policy toward the underground, although a few of its lesser known members were murdered, while well known members were harassed. In the late 1980s, the government allowed meetings between U.S. diplomats and Polish opposition leaders, notably Lech Walesa. In fact, Vice-President George H.W. Bush met with him when he visited Poland in 1987, * as did Pope John Paul II, who was also allowed to see him, although not in Gdansk. The Pope’s third visit to Poland in June of that year, again lifted people’s spirits. He had come first in 1979 and for the second time in June 1983, when he pushed for amnesty for political prisoners, granted in July, and for the re-legalization of Solidarity, not granted. Now, he made these demands  again.

*[On President G.W.Bush in Poland, 1987, and contacts between the U.S. Embassy and Solidarity leaders, see the excellent article by the U.S. ambassador to Poland at that time, John R. Davis Jr., "Postwar Relations: The Long Climb From Yalta and Potsdam to Gdansk and the Round Table," The Polish Review, vol. LIV, 2009, no. 2, pp. 195-228.]

At the same time, foreign dignitaries, including President George W. H. Bush, began pay their respects at the grave of Father Jerzy Popieluszko (pron. Yezhy Popyelooshkoh,1947-1984), a popular Warsaw preacher who conducted special monthly "Fatherland Masses" attended by people from all over Poland, and supported Solidarity. Popieluszko  was murdered by Polish security police in October 1984. His death provoked such outrage that the government was forced to mount a public trial in which the three policemen directly involved were condemned to prison. (We still don't know if there was an order to kill Popieluszko,or if he was killed accidentally when struggling with one of the policeman who kidnapped him. In any case, one of the policemen admitted to killing him and got the longest prison sentence).

    Thus, the liberalization of life in Poland was the result of many factors, among which Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost was very important, as well as the support he gave to Polish Reform Communists (the hardliners had the support of Gorbachev's enemies in the Soviet Communit Party). * There was also church support for Solidarity and the civic society; the continuing economic crisis, and the government’s desire to have the U. S. Government lift the economic sanctions imposed by President Reagan as punishment for Jaruzelski’s martial law in December 1981. (They were gradually lifted as the Polish government relaxed restrictions. West European NATO members did not apply strict econ. sanctions to Poland.)

*[On Gorbachev's role in Polish, East German, Hungarian and Czechoslovak political change and its effect on Gorbachev policies in the USSR in 1989, see Mark Kramer article cited above.]

Economic Crisis and Worker Unrest.

  However, as the 1980s drew to a close, the endemic economic crisis was made even worse by Poland’s huge foreign debt. In 1970, it had amounted to $1 billion, but in 1989 it stood at $38 billion, most of it owed to West Germany and the United States. Thus, the Polish government exported as much as it could, which food products, thereby making staple meat products such as sausage and ham, more scarce and expensive at home than ever before. Even so, the money earned by the exports could not even cover the yearly interest on the debt. At the same time, the price of Soviet oil had gone up six-fold since 1970 and in the late 1980s the USSR began to demand payment in dollars. It is true that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescheduled the Polish foreign debt, but this did not make the domestic situation any easier.

    As prices continued to climb and scarcity continued, public opinion polls showed that people were growing ever more critical of the government, which was blamed for beggaring the nation. It was also blamed for not responding adequately to the fall out from the April 1986 Chernobyl  nuclear plant explosion in Ukraine, which affected north-eastern Poland.

    The economic situation sparked new worker unrest. There were two waves of workers’ strikes, in May and August 1988, in which young workers - children in 1980-81 - demanded both higher wages and the re-legalization of Solidarity. This was also the demand made by the Pope and the U.S. government since Dec. 1981.

In late August and mid-September, there were talks between representatives of the government and Solidarity leaders with the participation of high churchmen, but they did not yield immediate results because the two sides were still too far apart.  Also, there were conflicts between hardliners and reform communists within the party leadership, while some Solidarity leaders -- mainly outside of Warsaw-- rejected any kind of talks with the government. Here we should note that Gorbachev encouraged Polish communist leaders to negotiate with Solidarity. As Mark Kramer shows Gorbachev aimed to avoid violence in Poland at all costs. He did not want to have to repeat the "Khruschev Dilemma" of being forced to send troops into a one of the satellites as Khruschev did into Hungary November 1956. *

*[For Prof. Kramer's study, see citation above.]

Walesa re-emerged into public view in late November 1988.

The Polish government made a great mistake by allowing a TV debate on November 30 1988, between Lech Walesa and the leader of the government-controlled, national trade union, Alfred Miodowicz. The government assumed that the latter, an experienced politician and a good debater, was sure to win in a studio setting, where Walesa would not have a crowd responding to him. However, Walesa, already known as a charismatic speaker, obtained some extra coaching from film directors -- including Andrzej Wajda and others -- won hands down. His victory was seen on TV by some 20 million Poles, many of whom saw him for the first time.

Walesa was then allowed to go to Paris in early December, for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (pushed through by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948). He was received in France like a head of state. Meanwhile, he and his supporters had organized a Civic Club to prepare for political action.

[For developments in Poland, 1989, see Lec.Notes 19B]

2. Hungary, 1981-1988.

Gorbachev sanctioned political liberalization in this country as well, but here, too, there were disagreements within the Party leadership on what policy to follow.

Debates and changes in Hungarian Party leadership.

One of the "reform communists" in the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (HSWP), Imre Pozsgay, talked of restoring political pluralism. By this he meant the participation of some opposition parties in a government still dominated by Communists (which was the aim of the reformers in the Polish party leadership). In April 1988, he proposed a "reform program" with himself as the leader of a "reformed" party. However, his program was watered down at party meetings. Also, Kadar’s proposal to replace one third of the Central Committee and approve his (Kadar’s) candidacy for continued leadership, was rejected in May 1988.

Kadar agreed to resign in return for a guarantee that (a) he would not be made the scapegoat for Laszlo Rajk’s execution 1949, (b) he would not be prosecuted for his role in the 1956 revolution, the subsequent persecution and execution of its participants, especially Imre Nagy and associates, and finally (c) that he would not be held responsible for the unsuccessful economic reforms of the 1970s.

    Kadar's conditions were approved by the party leadership. With Gorbachev's approval, Karoly Grosz now emerged as both party leader and Prime Minister. He and his supporters rejected Pozsgay’s "democracy package plan." This plan called for far reaching constitutional and legal reforms, including freedom of assembly, press, trade unions, minority rights, human rights, plebiscites, local self-government, and a new constitution. Poszgay, a Politburo member who controlled the media, was at this time the most popular party leader, but Grosz was the designated no.1.

In June 1988, however, Grosz lost out as party leader to a collective HSWP (Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party) Presidium of three reformers and a conservative: Miklos Nemeth, Rezso Nyers, I. Pozsgay  plus Grosz. This collective leadership lasted until the party congress on November 9, 1988

Economic Crisis.

    Meanwhile, the economic situation had been deteriorating from the mid-1980s. Much as in Poland, this was due to a combination of factors: the drastic increases in the price of Soviet oil between 1970 and 1989, as well as Moscow's demands that it be paid with dollars. Hungary also had a huge foreign debt, and worst of all, inflation.

At the same time, there was a growing gap between the rich and the poor, and older people were unable to live on their fixed pensions. These factors led to increased rates of divorce, alcoholism, and suicide, the latter being particularly noticeable.

The economic crisis strengthened the opposition groups -- as did unestricted travel to neighboring Austria. Due to cooperation between Pozsgay and Prince Otto von Habsburg, the barbed wire along the frontier went down on August 19 1989, leading to the exodus of thousands of East Germans who had gone to Hungary for holidays and then for escape to West Germany via Hungary and Austria. Prosperous Austria became the yardstick for judging the Hungarian party-government leadership, showing up its failures. Meanwhile the West German government cooperated with the Hungarians by allowing the refugees to proceed from Austria into West Germany.

Finally, the authorities were also blamed for not standing up for the Hungarian minority in Romania (Transylvania), whose members were being viciously persecuted by the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.


It should be noted that by the end of 1988, there were 22 political groups in Hungary whose names included the words: society, league, association, or front. There were also resuscitated embryos of two old parties:"The Independent Smallholders’ Party" and the "Socialist Party."

Hungarian dissidents were most visible from 1985 onward.  In mid-October 1985, the Hungarian authorities organized a "European Cultural Forum" in the swank Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest. At the same time, Hungarian dissidents grouped in the "International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights," organized a parallel, unofficial forum of their own. They invited western writers including Susan Sontag from the U.S., Magnus Enzensberger from West Germany, and some E. European writers living in the West, to a conference-- also to be held in the Intercontinental Hotel-- to discuss topics such as: "Writers and their Integrity," and "The Future of European Culture." When the authorities refused to let them have a conference room in the hotel, the symposium adjourned to a private apartment - belonging to a writer who supported censorship but happened to be in West Berlin. A good time was had by all. *

*[see: Timothy Garton Ash, "A Hungarian Lesson," first published in the New York Review of Books, Dec. 5, 1985, reprinted later in his book: The Uses of Adversity. Essays on the Fate of Eastern Europe, (New York,1989), pp.143-156; see also: Gale Stokes, ed., From Stalinism to Communism. A Documentary History of Eastern Europe since 1945, 2nd edition, (Oxford, 1996), pp. 232-241, also essays by Tomas Aczel and George Paul Csicsery in: Without Force or Lies, pp.283-304.]

By the end of 1988, the political situation in Hungary was in a state of ferment.

3. Czechoslovakia 1981-1988.

As in Poland, so too in Czechoslovakia there was a  steady growth of "Samizdat" - the Russian word for self-publishing without government permission. However, unlike Poland (where printing presses were used) but like the USSR, these "publications" were produced on typewriters. Each recipient would make several carbon copies and pass them on, so this activity affcted a very small number of people.*

*[see: H. Gordon Skilling, Samizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe, (Columbus, Ohio, 1999). This is an excellent overview of independent publications in the USSR, Central and S.E.Europe. On Czech Samizdat, see: Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz, ed., Twenty Years of Czechoslovak Underground Writing, (Evanston, IL., 1992), this adds more detail to that given by Skilling. See also essays by Josef Skovercky and Vaclav Havel in: Without Force or Lies, pp. 253-283].

 However, most of the Czech and Slovak population was not interested in dissent. There were three main reasons for this state of affairs:

(1) The Czechs had -- like the Germans and Russians -- a tradition of cooperating with authorities; (2) the Slovaks had more autonomy since the Prague Spring of 1968, so they were not rebellious; (3) the economic situation in the country was much better than in Poland. As one dissident writer, Vladimir Kusin, put it, Gustav Husak (party leader since January 1969) had a successful policy consisting of three Cs: "coercion, circuses, and consumerism." Indeed, the Czechs had more cars per head than other satellite countries, except East Germany, and more sausage and beer than the East Germans. Many professional people had small country cottages, where they could retreat on weekends and on summer holidays. All could also enjoy good entertainment, including music -- even jazz, though it was frowned on and finally repressed by the authorities.

   There was negative economic growth in 1981-82, but the government’s "intensification" reforms, mainly cutbacks and savings, led to an upswing in 1983-85 and the foreign debt was very small. In 1986, reforms in agriculture reduced obligatory deliveries by collective farms to grain and slaughtered animals. At the same time, there was a reduction in price subsidies for agricultural goods in order to use the savings for subsidizing the prices of high-quality products. In general, the average Czech or Slovak was not discontented with life until late 1989, and this meant little support for dissident movements.

 Still, it should be noted that religious dissent had appeared in the mid-1980s. On the 1,100th anniversary of the death of St.Methodius in 1985,* 150,000 Czechs and Slovaks engaged in a peaceful demonstration. This heralded pressure to rectify injustices to the Roman.Catholic church and demands for its independence from the state, also for the appointment of more bishops.

*[For a long time, Cyril and Methodius were credited with  bringing Christianity to Bohemia from Constantinople, but  scholars now believe it came from Rome.]

A retired railway worker, Augustin Navratil, who had agitated for religious freedom in the past and had been incarcerated in a mental hospital, now collected thousands of signatures for the appointment of more Catholic bishops. The government made three more appointments, but Navratil was committed again to a mental hospital.

Czechoslovak leaders reject reforms.

    Unlike Poland and Hungary, but like East Germany, the Czechoslovak communist leaders rejected Gorbachev’s policies of "Glasnost" (open discussion) and "Perestroika" (economic reconstruction) . Indeed, Vasil Bilak (one of the hardliners who had invited the Soviet leaders to launch an invasion of his country in 1968, and had always supported copying the Soviet model), now opted for "a national path" as distinct from the new Soviet path. He and his colleagues touted it to oppose even gradual political liberalization along the lines of Gorbachev’s Glasnost, fearing this would lead to the breakdown of the system and the loss of their privileged position in another "Prague Spring."

Gorbachev did not insist, and when he visited Czechoslovakia in 1987, he did not openly condemn the Warsaw Pact invasion -- which would have discredited the Czechoslovak party leadership.

Pressure for reform from outside the party.

However, social pressure for political relaxation and reform became evident in 1988. In August that year, many Czechs demonstrated, for the first time since 1969, in memory of the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. They were put down by the police.

The Czech leadership remained deaf to Gorbachev’s strong hints at reform. When he visited the country in summer 1988, his spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov was asked: what  was the difference between Gorbachev’s reforms in USSR and those in Czechoslovakia in 1988. Gerasimov answered: "Twenty Years." Opposition circles took this to mean that Gorbachev saw the Prague Spring of 1968 as a possible reform model for the USSR, and it seems that he did.. Worse was yet to come for Czech hardliners.

In November 1988, Czech dissidents led by Vaclav Havel tried to hold an international symposium to discuss the importance for Czechoslovakia of the years ending in 8: 1918, 1938, 1968, 1948, and 1968. The British expert on Central.Europe, historian Timothy Garton Ash, was asked to attend, but the authorities canceled the symposium. *

*[See Garton Ash, "The Prague Advertisement," New York Review of Books, Dec. 22, 1988, and same author, The Uses of Adversity, pp. 228-241].

In December 1988, Moscow officially condemned the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968, but in January 1989 a demonstration led by Vaclav Havel in memory of Jan Palach -- who had immolated himself twenty years earlier in protest against the invasion -- was put down by the police. So, Czechoslovakia remained "frozen" until the late fall of 1989. This was largely due to the the Czechoslovak leadership's fear that any reform or relaxation would lead to their overthrow. *

*[ On Czechoslovakia, see J.F. Brown, Surge to Freedom, ch. 6; for a detailed account,see: Bernard Wheaton & Zdenek Kavan, The Velvet Revolution. Czechoslovakia, 1988-1991, Boulder, CO., 1992, Part One].

4. East Germany - the "German Democratic Republic" (GDR, German abbr. DDR).

 East German party leaders also feared liberalization; not because they had weathered anything like the "Prague Spring" or the 16 month "Solidarity" era in Poland (1980-81), but because they felt threatened by the freedom and prosperity of West Germany -- which could be seen by the East Germans every night on their TVs.

The GDR has been aptly described as "the state without a nation." It was part of the German nation, which had been divided into eastern and western occupation zones by the victorious allies of World War II, who then entered the Cold War against each other and created two German states. The Germans were even more drastically separated in August 1961 by the Berlin Wall, erected to stem the mass flight of East Germans to West Berlin, and thence to West Germany.

The GDR was a police state in which the "STASI" ( abbreviated German name for the security police) penetrated society more than in any other Soviet style state except for the old, Stalinist USSR. But the other penetration, was of a different sort; it was increased travel between the two Germanies in the 1980s, and above all West German TV, which the communist leader Erich Honecker (1912-1994) allowed East Germans to watch it freely in the 1980s, in the  belief that they were fully satisfied with their lives.

This was, of course, patently untrue for the East Germans constantly compared their standard of living with the much higher one in West Germany -- which even subsidized the GDR with special trade preferences... Indeed, by 1989, the German Federal Republic was subsidizing the GDR at the rate of 6-7 billion Deutschmarks per year as part of its policy of developing better relations between the two German states, seeing them as steps toward unification. The Soviet Union was giving the GDR subsidies of roughly the same amount, but the East German economy was still a deficit operation. *

*[see:"How East Germany Came to the Brink of Ruin," in: Legters, Eastern Europe, pp. 408-411]

Still, open expressions of discontent were rare. East German writers were allowed a brief interlude of freedom in 1972-1976. However, in November 1976, the ballad writer Wolf Biermann was deprived of his citizenship while traveling in Western Europe. Twelve leading East German writers wrote a letter of protest to the government and a hundred more signed it. The regime punished all the signatories in various ways, especially by a publication ban. The writers responded in one of two ways: by an "inward emigration," or by an outward emigration to the West.*

*[For a leading East German writer, see Reiner Kunze in: Without Force or Lies, pp. 145-169].

The Evangelical [Lutheran] Church and Dissent.

This state of affairs began to change after the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth in 1983. From this time onward, the outwardly loyal Evangelical (Lutheran) Church was given more freedom. It used this freedom to oppose certain aspects of life in the GDR . Thus, it opposed increased militarization and supported the right to conscientious objection and alternative service. It welcomed Gorbachev‘s policy of "Glasnost" --open discussion-- while the East German authorities opposed it.

In the late 1980s, small groups of dissidents met in church buildings to discuss their ideas for a reformed, liberalized, but socialist East German state. The first manifesto of the "Democratic Opposition" was drawn up by 21 leading Communist activists and addressed to the 11th Congress of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei, SED, the ruling GDR communist party) in April 1986. It contained strong criticism of the economic, ecological, educational and political situation. and a plea for real, as opposed to propaganda, work for peace by demilitarizing the GDR. In 1988, the chief dissident organization was "The New Forum," which demanded justice, democracy, freedom, and ecological safeguards. The NF did not aim at the unification of Germany, but at a democratic, socialist GDR.

The S.E.D, led by Erich Honecker (in power 1972 - late 1989), rejected Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika because open discussion, and the free market threatened its very existence. Indeed, Soviet newspapers could not be sold in East Germany.
Gorbachev tolerated this situation, but advised reform -- advice that he was to give openly and in person on the 40th anniversary of the GDR’s founding, October 6, 1989. It was, indeed, high time because thousands of GDR Germans were emigrating to West Germany via Hungary and Austria.

[NOTE: for the background to the collapse of communism in the Balkan States see Lec. Notes 19 B].