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9-08-2015, 23:54

THE DEATH OF COMMUNISM IN EASTERN EUROPE

In 1989, a wave of popular revolutions transformed Eastern and central Europe. Communism was swept away. The Soviet Union withdrew. Only ten years earlier the Warsaw Pact and Soviet domination of central and Eastern Europe had still looked solid and unshakeable. There were difficulties, of course. Romania was showing signs of nationalist independence; its communist leader Nicolae Ceaus¸escu was much admired in the West, which courted him assiduously much to its later embarrassment. In Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the communist regimes had proved durable, though the last two countries had to be brought into conformity with tanks and guns. For two generations now the people of Eastern Europe had known nothing but communism, and those aged forty-five years and older had known only different forms of authoritarian rule before the Iron Curtain descended. The communist leaderships had claimed that they had made great social and economic advances; a golden future beckoned; hardship and suffering were only temporary, the means to greater virtue and prosperity. One supposed virtue was that worker and peasant solidarity had replaced destructive bourgeois nationalism. The Soviet alliance, people were told, guaranteed their protection from German revanchism. This seemed to justify the stationing of the Red Army in their countries. Only the Romanians in 1958 succeeded in ridding themselves of their unwelcome Soviet guests. But all the Eastern-bloc national forces relied mainly on Soviet weapons. The economic exploitation of the satellites, a feature of the Stalinist post-war years, had long ceased. Indeed, the Soviet Union was now subsidising the East European economies in the 1980s to a significant extent, at some sacrifice to itself. Oil and raw materials were supplied at less than world prices. The goods manufactured in Eastern Europe, moreover, were of a design and quality that for the most part were unsaleable anywhere else but in the Soviet Union. Of course the USSR, because of its sheer size, dominated trading relationships. It is also notoriously difficult to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the Soviet-led Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) on the basis of price calculations. And if the Eastern Europeans had not found a ready market for their goods and had to find a market in the West, would that not have made them more competitive? In the end they found themselves linked to a collapsing Soviet economy and, when that link was cut, faced economic collapse themselves. Little reliance can be placed on the statistics of economic ‘progress’ published by the regimes, although they were carefully analysed by economic experts in the West. In any event, they show a precipitous fall from the 1970s to the end of the 1980s. What can be measured is the increasing indebtedness of Eastern Europe to the West. With the reduction of East–West tension, loans had become more readily available to accelerate the regimes’ plans to catch up with the West industrially. These, too, failed. The heaviest burdened were the East Germans, whose debt increased from $1.4 billion in 1971 to $20.7 billion in 1988. They were fortunate: their debts were assumed by the Federal Republic. The Poles ($1.1 billion debt in 1971) groaned under a debt of over $48.5 billion in 1991, and the Hungarians suffered from massive foreign debts, the highest amount per head. The only ‘virtuous’ country was Romania. By draconian measures, which drove much of the population below any tolerable living standard, Ceaus¸escu had, by the time of his fall in 1990, paid off his country’s debts, which totalled $10 billion in 1981. Neither he nor his family shared the austerity he imposed on his countrymen: they lacked nothing in the way of imported Western luxuries. In this respect he was only an extreme example of Eastern European communist leadership, all of which did very well out of communism and Soviet protection. The corruption was obvious and open. But the regimes also had a large privileged clientele who benefited from their continuing in power. The host of bureaucrats needed in the central planning ministries, the officers in the army, the secret police and the party, and trade union functionaries, all had a vested interest in upholding the communist state system. Now and then, at worst, one leader might be replaced by another, but in the 1970s and 1980s there were remarkably few changes in the upper reaches of the communist leadership. Poland, in the wake of the Solidarity crisis of 1979 to 1982, was something of an exception. The election of a Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II in 1978 greatly encouraged the Polish people in their resistance to communism. His visit to Poland in 1983 after the suppression of Solidarity prompted a massive demonstration of resistance and independence. But few foresaw the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe much before it happened. The impact of the year of revolution, 1989, was therefore all the greater. With hindsight it is possible to discern the roots of that revolution, the discontent of the masses that boiled over, and the reason why the communist leaders were afraid to resort to bloody repression – why, had they tried to do so, the forces ready to do their bidding were no longer strong enough. It was the mass of the people who rose against the leadership. Not only intellectuals and dissidents but hundreds of thousands of formerly good communists turned on a system they had previously supported. In the face of realities, of oppression and of falling living standards, they became utterly disillusioned. Once they realised they were no longer a small group that could be harried, beaten and imprisoned, the people began to lose their fear of the state. Increasing contacts with the West in the 1970s and 1980s rendered the contrast in living standards even starker. What fanned discontent, however, were not just poor living standards and dwindling hopes of a better future but the growing recognition that their leaders and the whole communist system of repression and economic management were the cause of their troubles. The new thinking stimulated by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union spread to the smaller nations of Eastern Europe with electrifying effect after 1987. The communist leaderships could not adjust themselves to realities. They remained cocooned, brainwashed by their own ideology and propaganda. There is no better illustration of this than Ceaus¸escu’s last appearance on 22 December 1989, on the balcony of his palace, unable to make himself heard over the catcalls of the crowd gathered in the square below. The complete bewilderment of a once all-powerful man, whose only experience for years had been hero-worship and the sound of sycophantic clapping in unison, showed on his face in television pictures beamed around the world. Even on the day the opposition stood him and his hated wife Elena against a wall to be shot, they were both convinced that the people loved them. It was Christmas Day. Absolute power not only corrupts, it also blinds. Until the year of revolution, the communist leaderships had felt sufficiently secure to assert a measure of national independence from Soviet economic and political control. To that extent, the Gorbachev phenomenon was welcome. He promised, in April 1985, a month after coming to power, to accord full respect for the sovereignty of the Eastern European nations that uphold ‘socialist internationalism’. That sounded like a softer version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, not a repudiation of it. The regimes went on believing that the communist state was safe and would, if the need again arose, be defended by the Red Army, as it had been in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. It dawned on them only slowly, if ever, that Gorbachev was ready to abandon them if that was the will of the people. By the time of the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in February and March 1986 Gorbachev had moved on and was urging much more radical political reform in the Soviet Union. By September, he was telling the people of Krasnodar that the ‘essence of perestroika . . . is for people to feel they are the country’s master’. In 1987 and 1988 he reshaped Soviet foreign policy, determined to win the support, trust and economic help of the West. His new foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, gave him his enthusiastic backing and put forward to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1990 an important reason for this revolution in the Soviet Union’s policies: ‘It is only through extensive international co-operation that we will be able to solve our most acute domestic problems.’ Soviet-led repression in Eastern Europe would irreparably harm the more important new Soviet interests. Like other imperial powers, the Soviet Union had reached the point where the burdens of empire, and its negative effects on Soviet relations with the rest of the world, far outweighed the advantages. In the missile age, territorial buffers no longer provided protection; the ‘military imperative’ of the immediate post-war years had vanished too. The prop that had held up national communist regimes in Eastern Europe – the popular belief that their communist leaders were at least better than a Soviet occupation and direct Soviet rule – had been knocked away. In 1989, the possibility of Soviet intervention was no longer feared. And without the Red Army behind them, the national people’s armies of conscripts could no longer be relied on to support the regimes against their own people. One by one the reasons for the revolutions that swept through Eastern Europe in 1989 became clear. The nucleus of a dissident leadership was somewhat uncertainly in place in Hungary, Romania and East Germany; there was a more entrenched one in Czechoslovakia, where the Charter 77 group had a long history of protest; and Solidarity in Poland was already a power in its own right. Crucial also was the disillusionment of the masses with the economic situation and with the whole decaying system. The leadership elite knew that it could no longer save itself simply by changing the man at the top. The revolt began with the young. The feeling, soon all pervading, that the Iron Curtain was full of holes, that it could no longer separate the angry people from the centres of power in East Berlin, Prague, Budapest or Sofia, any more than it could prevent people in the East from contacting the West, was intoxicating. On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall, that potent Iron Curtain barrier, fell before an onslaught of the people. It was as symbolic an event as the fall of the Bastille. The final rot had begun ten years earlier in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdan´sk. The Solidarity movement had spread until it had gained the support of half of Poland’s adult population. With the Gdan´ sk agreement concluded between the Solidarity leaders and the government in 1980, the stranglehold of the Polish Communist Party appeared to be broken. The support for Solidarity had a variety of roots; repeated economic failures during thirty-five years of communist rule, working-class and intellectual resistance to a single-party authoritarian state, nationalism and Catholic rejection of atheistic communism – these together provided a fertile soil for the growth of a broad opposition. Solidarity was a party in all but name, and, in the year during which it was allowed to function as a free trade union movement, recruited 10 million members. The morale of the Communist Party collapsed as communists also switched to Solidarity. As the economy slumped further, General Jaruzelski became the new party leader and declared martial law on 13 December 1981. Fearing Soviet intervention, the conscript Polish army obeyed him. There was some sullen relief, but protest strikes also broke out, harshly suppressed at the cost of a number of deaths and injuries. With the Communist Party now a broken reed, Jaruzelski formed the Military Council of National Salvation. Solidarity was outlawed, hundreds of its members were arrested, including for a short time Lech WaΠe¸sa, and the rest of the leadership was driven underground. Yet the attempt to obliterate Solidarity proved a total failure. The electrician WaΠe¸sa did not sink back into obscurity but was internationally celebrated with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. The oversubsidised command economy failed to respond to economic medications applied by the communists, and US economic sanctions and rejection by the West isolated the regime until 1983. The workforce was not to be inspired by military or communist appeals to work harder. A particularly shocking example of the brutality prevailing under the regime was the abduction and murder by the Interior Ministry’s security forces of a popular radical priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, whose church had become a focus for the opposition. Gradually Jaruzelski relaxed military rule and the majority of Solidarity activists were released from jail. But attempts by Jaruzelski to improve the economy by cutting subsidies provoked new strikes in 1988. The people were not prepared to accept such measures from a regime that kept itself in power by force. The authorities knew that national malaise and economic crisis could not be overcome without the cooperation of the opposition. And so in February 1989 began the ‘round-table talks’ between the military communist regime and opposition groups, including Solidarity. The constitutional reforms agreed by April that year ended one-party rule. Solidarity was permitted to emerge as a political party – that was a far-reaching concession. Czechoslovakia had been invaded in 1968 when Dubcˇek had conceded as much. This time, Gorbachev had made it clear that the Eastern European nations could follow their own road of development. The concession Solidarity made was that in the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, 65 per cent of the seats would be reserved for the Communist Party and only 35 per cent would be contested. A senate was created as well, which would be freely elected, and the Senate and the Sejm together would elect a president. Solidarity swept the board in the elections held in June 1989: of the 161 seats in the lower chamber that they were able to contest, they and their nominees won 160; in the Senate, they won 92 out of 100 seats. It was a triumph for WaΠe¸sa. With their 299 reserved seats, the communist coalition partners still had a majority in the lower chamber. When it came to the election of the president, Jaruzelski made it by one vote, with some help from WaΠe¸sa, who refused to stand against him for fear that this would push the communists and Moscow too far. The compromise was cemented when, in August 1989, Jaruzelski appointed the first non-communist premier, a Solidarity supporter and close associate of WaΠe¸sa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki; he, in turn, with an eye on Moscow, formed a coalition government in which Solidarity ministers formed the largest group but which allocated the crucial ministries of Defence and the Interior to two communists. Because the leading role of the communists had been removed by compromise and negotiation in Poland, vestiges of entrenched communist power, such as the free elections for only a part of the lower chamber, survived until October 1991 when a ‘reserved’ communist majority was no longer an option after the revolutions elsewhere in Eastern Europe during 1989. Poland was also the first communist nation to attempt to transform itself from a planned to a Western-style free-market economy. The new government inherited a ruined economy with soaring inflation and falling production. The finance minister, Leszek Balcerowicz, inaugurated a harsh programme to restore the value of the currency, cut subsidies, deal with a huge foreign debt and make industry competitive and productive once more. The shops began to fill with stocks in 1990, but at prices few could afford. Standards of living fell more steeply than under the communists. The Solidarity alliance grew weaker as the ‘common enemy’ vanished, and WaΠe¸sa began attacking Mazowiecki, blaming his government for the hardships of economic reform because it was not acting energetically and speedily enough. In December 1990, the bewildered Poles came to elect their new president, Jaruzelski’s term having been shortened. A hitherto unknown Polish- Canadian gained more votes than Mazowiecki, and Lech WaΠe¸sa won easily. It would be more difficult to deliver what he had promised. Western aid was relatively small. Without the Soviet market, much of Poland’s industry was uncompetitive. With such poor business prospects, who would buy shares in privatised industries? Polish shock therapy did bring down inflation and saved the value of the currency, but living standards fell. The Mazowiecki government in 1990 boldly set in motion policies to achieve a rapid transition to a market economy. Privatisation took off with almost half of all Poland’s employees working for the private sector by 1992 and nearly all retail business in private hands. There remained a large state industrial sector that no one wanted to buy. In 1990 Poland suffered from soaring inflation of almost 700 per cent, but in 1991 it fell back to a more manageable 60 per cent. Even so, price rises fuelled popular discontent because wages did not keep pace. Unemployment meanwhile exceeded 11 per cent of the workforce and in 1992 was still rising. The Polish disenchantment with democratic politicians was clearly in evidence when at the general election held in October 1991 less than half the Poles bothered to vote at all and those who did returned twenty different parties to the Sejm with none receiving more than 12 per cent of the vote. The unity Solidarity had enjoyed in opposition did not last long after its victory over communism. The shock therapy of economic reform, applauded by the West, which finally helped to reduce Poland’s debt burden, turned the Polish people’s enthusiasm for post-communist freedom into disillusionment. The transition to capitalism was proving hard, even though Poland had started early. By 1993 the Polish economy at last showed signs of recovery with output rising. Nearly half of the GDP was produced by the private sector. Poland was even being governed by its first woman prime minister Hanna Suchoka. In the face of political instability Poland made steady progress restructuring its economy. The steep fall in output from 1989 to 1991 began to be reversed in 1992. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO in March 1999 (Yeltsin finally dropped his objections after meeting Clinton in Helsinki the previous March). Clinton offered some concessions: no nuclear weapons would be stationed in the countries of new entrants and the US would cut its forces in Europe by two-thirds to about 100,000; NATO weapons were already below the limits of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, and no longer posed a threat to Russia. Though Russia was not invited to join the alliance, a Russian–NATO partnership council was established. Just a few years earlier such developments would have been unimaginable. Nevertheless, despite all attempts to disguise the fact, NATO remained an insurance against any future Russian belligerency. NATO has also evolved a rapid reaction force in order to police conflicts such as the war in Bosnia – provided member countries are willing to use it. Poland is by far the most important of the central European countries, with a population of some 39 million. As in other ex-communist countries, politics have taken an unexpected turn. In the September 1993 elections Aleksander Kwasniewski leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, the reorganised Polish Communist United Workers Party, became prime minister in a coalition with the Polish Peasant Party. Although the ex-communists, in their four years in power, have not shown such enthusiasm for drastic market reform as the previous Solidarity coalitions, they have nevertheless continued to make selective changes. Another ex-communist, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewizs, followed as prime minister, but no traces were left of the old communism; the Polish leaders had become technocrats, following not the bankrupt Russian model but the leading light of Washington. The government sought to restrict state spending in order to encourage the private sector. With an excellent growth rate and increasing foreign investment, Poland’s economic performance has been the best in Eastern and central Europe, though high inflation remained a problem in 1996. Solidarity had become wary of the market reforms: the closing of the Gdan´sk shipyard, where the party was born, was a particularly bitter blow. A disparate opposition was welded together by a Solidarity leader, Marian Krzaklewski, into the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and emerged from the elections of September 1997 as the single biggest party, with 33.8 per cent of the vote. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance also increased their support to 27.1 per cent of the vote but the coalition partners, the Peasant Party, which had gained little from market reform, lost heavily. The new AWS, which included elements of the anti-communist right and the religious party, formed an uneasy coalition with the Freedom Union, which is both secular and keenly free-market. Krzaklewski and the compromise prime minister of the coalition will find it hard to keep a government composed of so many diverse elements on a reformist track. In the mid-1990s Poland had forged ahead, earning the title of central European tiger. The pace markedly slowed as the century drew to a close exposing more starkly the problems Poland was still confronting, a health service badly strained, the need for better schools and the infrastructure of roads and railways. With the world economy in slow growth and especially the Germans in the doldrums, the new millennium has been a grimmer time, foreign investment trailed off. What has been remarkable about Polish politics is their broad consensus. The main parties are rooted in Poland’s communist past, the AWS and Freedom Union grew out of Solidarity and Democratic Left Alliance out of the communist Polish United Workers Party. Both adopted pragmatic policies differing mainly in emphasis – agreed on democracy, a pro-Western alignment, desiring US involvement in Europe and support for Poland, in favour of joining the European Union, a market economy, though Democratic Left Alliance aims at a more gradual pace less harsh in its effect on the people. Since joining the European Union on 1 May 2004 Poland’s economy, after three years of little progress, sharply increased. Farm subsidies and higher agricultural prices were a stimulus but prices for consumers also increased and unemployment remained a problem. On the political scene the reeling socialist party split, Leszek Miller resigned and Marek Belka in May became prime minister heading a minority government which struggles on in the absence of a stable coalition. Kádár’s regime in Hungary had since the late 1960s placed economic reforms, rising living standards, more choice and greater freedoms in the forefront of its policies. The softer image of the Communist Party, whose leading role could not be challenged, reconciled the majority of the people to the limited options it permitted. Kádár projected himself as the leader who knew how far he could go without risking a repeat of the Soviet invasion of 1956. The 1968 New Economic Mechanism, as the mixture of central planning and market-oriented policies was called, seemed to work for a while. Four years later, there was some backtracking to a planned economy. Goulash communism was kept going by increasingly heavy foreign credits – and so debts. By the mid-1980s, Hungary’s economy was showing every sign of sickness. Kádár’s reforms were too cautious. Communist Party dominance of economic planning blocked any genuine market-oriented course. Kádár at heart was a communist who wanted to make communism work, not a pragmatic market economist or a believer in democracy. Even so, communist power dragged on. In May 1988, the party itself got rid of Kádár, and the reformist communist prime minister Károly Grósz replaced him. Grósz banked on a more efficient authoritarian communist system to pull Hungary out of its economic stagnation. But, for an opposition within the party led by Imre Pozsgay, this did not constitute any real break with Kádárism. Pozsgay raised the ghost of Imre Nagy, who, he declared, had not led a counterrevolution but had put himself at the head of a national uprising. The issue involved a repudiation of Kádár’s claim to legitimacy and to the party’s claim that Nagy had been wrong to espouse a multi-party political system. In June 1988, the remains of Nagy were reinterred with honour. Henceforth the Communist Party was deeply divided between reformers and conservatives. The opposition parties were equally split between the liberal, urban and intellectually led Alliance of Free Democrats and the populist Hungarian Democratic Forum, which claimed to defend the ordinary man and the small farmers and peasants of the countryside. As in Poland, where antiintellectual and anti-Semitic sentiments during the presidential election were used to discredit Mazowiecki (he was ‘smeared’ as being of Jewish descent, though he was not), so the Democratic Forum denigrated the Alliance of Free Democrats for its supposedly intellectual ‘Jewish’ influences (anti-Semitism has remained a flourishing evil in Eastern Europe). When the free elections were held in March 1990, the communists – now calling themselves the Hungarian Socialist Party – suffered a humiliating defeat, which also sealed the fate of Pozsgay. Thus in Hungary as in Poland, there was a peaceful end to communist rule and a transfer to a Democratic Forum government in May. The prime minister, Forum’s leader Jozsef Antall, stressed that he would follow a gradual route to a market economy. But Hungarian nationalism was reviving, which threatened to isolate Hungary and exacerbate the problems with its neighbours, Slovakia with 600,000 ethnic Hungarians, Serbia with 150,000 and Romania with 1.8 million. In 1993 moderation prevailed and neo-fascist appeals for Lebensraum were being rejected; prosperity came before conflict. Hungary also experienced difficult years in the mid-1990s. Inflation and unemployment were high, relations with Slovakia strained after suggestions from the Slovak leader, Vladimír Mecˇiar, that the Hungarians in his country should be forced to return to Hungary and the Slovakians in Hungary repatriated to their homeland. With other neighbours, however, good relations have been established and Hungary has avoided involvement in the destructive ethnic disputes in the Balkans. Hungary has the most consistently strong economy in Eastern Europe. Its accession to the European Union on 1 May 2004 will strengthen it further. Politically Hungary has become a stable democracy with the electorate polarised between the two major parties. The socialist MSzP won the 1994 election and Victor Orbán, more nationalist Fidesz Civic Party won the election in 1998 only to lose to the socialists in 2002. Undermined by scandals, Fidesz looks to win the elections of 2006. The major parties each head coalitions. As a member of NATO (2003) and the EU, Hungary takes pride in a strong sense of national identity and opposes the federalist trends of the Union. The Czech and Slovak peoples had to acquiesce in Husák’s rule after 1968, with the Red Army troops stationed in Czechoslovakia ready to back it. Stability brought a measure of economic improvement in the 1970s and for a time rising standards of living, but by the 1980s the Czech economy was in deep crisis. As was the case throughout Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia was relying on increasingly outdated factories and methods of production. Once, in previous years, Czechoslovakia had been a model of economic progress in Eastern Europe, comparable to Western countries; now it had been turned into a characteristic Soviet-bloc economy – stagnant, with an over-emphasis on heavy industry, and so unmindful of the environment that industry was creating in parts of the country an ecological disaster, rendering the air so polluted that it made the population sick. But Czechoslovakia had one positive aspect in common with its heavy-handed Soviet mentor: an immensely lively and distinguished group of dissident writers and intellectuals. Their courageous spokesman was a playwright, Václav Havel. The Helsinki Agreements, promising human rights, provided the dissidents with a unifying programme with which to attack the communist regime. In January 1977 they formed the Charter 77 movement, whose manifesto demanded respect for human rights. Its leaders, who met informally in each other’s houses, were arrested, harassed and imprisoned for anti-state activities. But their protests reached a wide audience in the West and kept the spark of resistance alive in Czechoslovakia. As the 1980s drew to a close, Husák could not isolate Czechoslovakia from the stirrings of freedom in Poland and Hungary or from the reformist impact of Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’. The old reactionary communist stance had had its day. But Husák did not give up. He resigned from the leadership of the party in December 1987 only to hand it to another hardline communist, Milos Jakesˇ, while he himself retained the presidency. In 1988 and during the early months of 1989, Czechoslovakia seemed still to be firmly in the communist grip, out of tune with all the other East European states except Romania which remained obedient to Ceausˇescu’s dictatorship. But the Czech communist leadership felt ill at ease and began to make a number of concessions. Thereafter the collapse of communist rule was both sudden and unexpected. On 17 November 1989 there was a large student demonstration in Prague joined by thousands of people. The brutality of the police attempts to suppress it, which caused many injuries, provoked increasingly large mass protests. Meanwhile, under Havel’s leadership, opposition groups, with Charter 77 members at their core, began to organise themselves as the Civic Forum opposition. Their aim was the overthrow of the communist regime. An emotional open-air meeting was addressed by Alexander Dubcˇek in Prague. In the end the workers’ decision to join a national strike brought down the government. Jakesˇ resigned with his ministers. The Velvet Revolution was completed without violence only a month later when Havel on 29 December 1989 was elected president. High on the agenda for Havel and the government elected in June 1990 was how to deal humanely with the problems of creating an efficient market economy, and with the nationality problem that had beset the state from its birth, the relationship between Slovaks and Czechs. The Czech Republic should have found it easier to shrug off communism and embrace a market economy: unlike its neighbours it had enjoyed democratic rule before the Second World War. The Czechs had also the capacity for innovative industrial skills. However, the rapid privatisation programme, which sought to bring about a wide distribution of shares in state industries, ran into difficulties here just as it did elsewhere in excommunist Europe. The shares were bought up by investment trusts which in turn were run by the banks, many of them state owned. This meant that the liberalised economy lacked many of the disciplines and benefits of the market. Despite a financial crisis, the ruling coalition of conservative Prime Minister Václav Klaus struggled on until he was ousted in November 1997; the economy resumed its slow rate of growth. Slovakia was particularly hard hit since most of the heavy industry was located there. Separate reformist parties, the Civic Forum and the Slovak Public Against Violence, gained a clear majority in the multi-party federal election held in June 1990. The Communist Party survived with a large decline in support. The dominant issue in 1991 became whether the country would split. Slovakia, which had most to fear from a rapid move to a market economy, turned to a new leader Vladimír Mecˇiar, who founded a nationalist party. By the close of 1992, a bloodless separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia had been agreed. Slovakia’s flawed democracy was treated with suspicion by the West. From 1993 to 1998 populist Prime Minister Mecˇiar had dominated Slovak politics as leader of the Movement for Democratic Slovakia. An opposition began to coalesce, the Slovak Democratic Coalition, and ousted Mecˇiar after the September 1998 election. During the next four years the Western-orientated conservative–centre coalition, pro free market and democratic, made it its aim to join NATO and the European Union. The economy began to improve, but the strength of Mecˇiar opposition – his party was still the strongest single party in parliament – held out the prospect that he would return to power. His weakness was that no other party would join him in a coalition. His star was fading. The candidate put up by the Slovak Democratic Coalition, Robert Schuster, beat Mecˇiar in the presidential election in 1999. Romania’s revolution of 1989 was both the bloodiest and the most enigmatic in its outcome. Two communist leaders dominated Romania’s post-war history, Gheorge Gheorghiu-Dej from 1945 to his death in 1965, and his successor Nicolae Ceaus¸escu from 1965 until his ignominious end, shot with his wife beside him against a wall. The savagery of the Romanian revolution was a reaction to the harshly repressive rule of his closing years. Both Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceaus¸escu were driven by a ruthless nationalism to make Romania independent of the Soviet Union, and to make it strong. They followed the classic Stalinist route of emphasis on the crash development of heavy industry and, under Ceaus¸escu, this was done without any regard to the cost of the people’s standard of living. Gheorghiu-Dej succeeded in persuading the Kremlin to withdraw the Red Army from Romanian soil in 1958, and thereafter his country was a nominal member of the Warsaw Pact rather than a loyal, subservient ally. In the Kremlin the Romanians’ uncomfortable stance was accepted, because there was never any doubt about their communist credentials. Ceaus¸escu succeeded Gheorghiu-Dej after his death in 1965. He eliminated all his political rivals, courted mass popularity by playing the anti-Soviet card and during his early years manipulated public attitudes by permitting considerable cultural freedom. He also followed an independent foreign policy, allowing openings to the West. Admiration for the ‘strong leader’ and fear of Soviet intervention buttressed his support at home. It also earned him far too uncritical support in the West – knighted in Britain, he was host to President Nixon in Bucharest in 1969. In 1983, Vice-President George Bush was sufficiently misled to describe him as ‘one of Europe’s good communists’. The Cold War blinkered sound judgement. During the 1970s Western credits helped him to pursue his vision of turning Romania into a modern industrial nation, but in the 1980s his grandiose economic plans ended in disaster. There was no new investment, as the dictator squeezed everything productive for export to repay the international debts. He was not willing to be dependent on Western creditors either. With his wife Elena, Ceaus¸escu in the end lost all touch with reality and built up a personality cult without parallel. His family exploited and pillaged Romania’s scant resources for their own luxurious lifestyles. They lived like potentates. Among his final acts of economic madness was his urbanisation programme, which would have involved simply bulldozing half of Romania’s villages and building soulless blocks of flats in their place. A beginning was made, and at last the West was shocked. The secret police, the Securitate, made sure that any opposition from the cowed people was extinguished; in Romania even the Church leaders made their own peace with the regime. For Ceaus¸escu the right path to follow during the years of communism’s crisis at the end of the 1980s was that of the Chinese leadership in Tiananmen Square, not the Kremlin’s glasnost and perestroika. Until the outbreak of the spontaneous revolution in December 1989, Romania appeared to be as securely in the grip of its leader as Albania. Wishing to stand well with the West, Ceaus¸escu’s solution for the small, brave intellectual opposition was to force them to leave the country. In the 1980s the Securitate behaved more ruthlessly against lesser-known critics of the regime; an unknown number were murdered. A curtain-raiser for the revolution two years later was the 1987 revolt by the workers of Kronstadt. Some 5,000 stormed the party headquarters and shouted ‘Down with Ceaus¸escu!’ Their lives had become intolerable. The Securitate put down the rebellion with murderous brutality. Just a few brave individuals continued to protest and demonstrate. Among them was Pastor Laszlo Tokes in Timis¸oara, who looked after his Hungarian ethnic flock. Timis¸oara lay in a region in western Romania that had been part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire before 1918; since then it had remained in Romania. The Securitate harassed the pastor, and his bishop, under state pressure, ordered his removal to another parish. On 15 December 1989, his congregation, Hungarians and Romanians, surrounded his house to protect him and his family from deportation. Once again, as so often in history, this particular dissent, small and apparently inconsequential, was the spark that started a revolution. The protest spread to the mixed Romanian and Hungarian population of Timis¸oara. On 17 December 1989, the army moved in. Bloody clashes ensued, and the unequal fight soon ended with many dead. The news spread through Romania and the world. Ceaus¸escu was losing control. On 21 December Ceaus¸escu arranged for the usual adulation to greet him when he addressed a crowd of 100,000 in Bucharest’s University Square from the balcony of the Communist Party Central Committee Building. Well-rehearsed expressions of approval arose from the front of the crowd, but from behind followed catcalls and shouts of ‘Murderers of Timis¸oara!’ Ceaus¸escu, bewildered, was hustled back into the building and Romanian television interrupted its broadcast. It was the signal people had been waiting for: in the afternoon and evening they poured into the streets. Securitate and army units started firing indiscriminately at them, killing and wounding many. Defiantly, the crowds gathered again in University Square on 22 December and were ready to storm the Central Committee Building. They sensed that the army was now with them and that only isolated fanatics of the Securitate were still resisting the overthrow of Ceaus¸escu. That morning the Ceaus¸escus finally fled from the roof of the building by helicopter, a journey that ended with their summary trial and execution on Christmas Day. A Council of the Front for National Salvation was formed, and Ion Iliescu, once Ceaus¸escu’s secretary for ideological issues, was chosen by them as president. There was no democratic tradition in Romania. The National Salvation Front was dominated by reformist communists, who disingenuously denied that they were bringing forth the Communist Party in a new guise. Iliescu won working-class support with concessions on wages, and living conditions were rapidly improved. He wanted to avoid plunging Romania into hardship by trying to produce a Westernstyle market-oriented economy. He also emphasised Romanian nationalism, especially by means of the ‘Romanisation’ of Transylvania, whose population was now evenly divided between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians. The region had been part of Hungary until 1918; it was then handed to Romania, returned to Hungary by Hitler in 1940 and then given back to Romania by the Allies in 1945 – a football of international diplomacy, which had shown little concern for the protection of the minorities involved. In May 1990, Iliescu won an overwhelming victory in the presidential elections and the National Salvation Front was no less triumphant in the parliamentary elections. In June, claiming that the Front was in danger, Iliescu let some 20,000 communist miners, who had been transported to Bucharest, loose on the democratic opposition, and they beat up civilians indiscriminately ‘to restore order’. Violence also marked dealings with the democratic opposition of the Hungarian Democratic Union Party. Beset by ethnic hatreds, by discrimination against minorities and by the mob’s knee-jerk hostility to foreigners, Hungarians and Jews, the political future of Romania, a country that has never known democracy, looked bleak. The terrible legacy of Ceaus¸escu’s rule, including the neglected orphans with AIDS and the shattered economy, remained a heavy burden. The intimidation of the opposition during and after the election in May, and the violence of the miners brought to Bucharest in June 1990, revealed the true colours of the National Salvation Front. A rapid drive towards a market economy was launched by Prime Minister Petre Roman. The consequences were dire – falling production and soaring unemployment and President Iliescu dismissed Roman. In the early 1990s Romania retained links with its communist past; President Iliescu therefore continued to enjoy support. But there have been economic reforms, though at a much slower pace than in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The fall in output continued even in 1992 to about half the level of 1989. In these dire conditions the people fear radical remedies and cling to some of the oldguard leadership. Romania continued to be ruled by excommunists who brought the country close to bankruptcy in spite of oil revenues and its rich farming land. They were ousted only in November 1996 with the election of President Emil Constantinescu. Romania then looked to the West and, with the help of the International Monetary Fund, made a painful start on the road to a market economy. For most of the post-war years, from 1954 to 1989, Todor Zhivkov led the Bulgarian Communist Party as a kind of feudal boss, ruling the country with the assistance of feudal regional bosses in what was industrially the most backward of the Eastern European nations, excepting only Albania. Bulgaria was distinctive too in that it traditionally looked to Russia as its friend. So there was none of the nationalist agitation against the Soviet Union common elsewhere in Eastern Europe. That hatred was reserved for its Turkish neighbour, Bulgaria’s bitter foe since the days of the Ottomans. Zhivkov was as odious a dictator as any, his repressive machinery of state claiming thousands of victims. Prodded by the Kremlin, he proposed reforms in 1987, but nothing came of them. Instead, to bolster his popularity, he turned on the Turkish minority in the summer of 1989. Violent repression of Turkish demonstrations led to a mass exodus of the Turks from Bulgaria into Turkey and badly tarnished Zhivkov’s standing both in the West and in the Kremlin. The democratic opposition groups had only recently been formed, so they were too weak to topple him. The job was done by reformist communists from within: in November 1989 Zhivkov, to his astonishment, was dismissed by the Politburo. The reformers won, and in June 1990, in a free election, the communists, now called the Bulgarian Socialist Party, gained a substantial victory over the Western-oriented Union of Democratic Forces, though achieving only a small overall majority of eleven in the 400-member parliament. Anti-Turkish nationalism and fear of the consequences of introducing Western capitalism had swayed the voters. In August 1990, the urban opposition in Sofia turned to violent demonstration, but in the circumstances the response of the ruling communists in the Bulgarian Socialist Party was moderate. With the direct election as president of the incumbent Zheliu Zhelev in January 1992, it was to be hoped that Bulgaria was entering a more stable period. Much of the communist bureaucracy remained in place and economic reform was only halfhearted at best. Not surprisingly foreign investment was slow to appear, and inflation in 1991 reached 600 per cent, but by adopting IMF-designed remedies it fell to 80 per cent in 1992. With Romania, Bulgaria also suffered severely, its output falling to a little over 60 per cent of that in 1987. Communist rule lasted the longest where Soviet domination ceased decades ago. Enver Hoxha, fervent Stalinist admirer, was fortunate to die in 1985 before the wave of revolution. In Albania, the revolution was delayed. Not until 1991 were statues of the great leader Enver toppled by angry students. That there were students at all, a university and a high degree of literacy was one of the few positive results of Hoxha’s forty-year rule. For Albania was the most backward and the poorest country in Europe. Hoxha, Stalinist and repressive, broke with the post-Stalin Soviet Union in the 1960s and with the reformist phase of Chinese communism in the late 1970s. The intense nationalism of his regime and the successful assertion of independence from powerful neighbours, especially Yugoslavia contributed to the popular support he enjoyed during his years in power. His successor, Ramiz Alia, was also a convinced communist but was attempting to adjust Albania to the changing, more liberal climate of Eastern Europe. He was also leading it out of self-imposed isolation. He remained as one of the undiluted communist survivors of the post-revolutionary years. The West, although accustomed to viewing poverty in the Third World, was deeply shocked by the conditions still existing in Albania. Yet refugees trying to flee in boats to Italy were turned back. An Italian relief operation codenamed Pelican launched during the winter of 1991, alone, saved Albanians from widespread starvation. The communists were not ousted until 1992 when Sali Berisla was elected the first noncommunist president. For the ordinary Albanian the prospects in the 1990s remained grim. In 1997 order was once more restored when an Italian peacekeeping force organised elections. Bloodshed, war and ethnic strife in Eastern Europe reached heights in what was formerly Yugoslavia that exceeded anything witnessed elsewhere, including the Soviet Union. The Western powers and the United Nations sought to mediate, but Serbs, Croats and Muslims – while endlessly talking and concluding ceasefire agreements – went on bloodily fighting each other. The memory of the bitter struggle between Serbs and those Croats who had supported the fascist puppet regime in Croatia during the Second World War was revived. Tito’s legacy of a federal state held together by the Communist Party disintegrated with disastrous effect. But after his death in 1980 even his huge prestige and the power of the Communist Party apparatus could not overcome the weakening of the centre. Local party bosses, cultural differences and gross economic discrepancies between comparatively prosperous Slovenia and the poverty of parts of Serbia hastened the separation of the republics. Successive constitutions sought to avoid violent nationality clashes by conceding more power to the communist leadership and its apparatus in each republic. Yugoslavia was open to the West. Indeed, tourism became the most important hard-currency earner with the start of mass air travel in the 1960s. By the 1980s, the Yugoslav economy was in a mess and reached levels of hyperinflation similar to the worst in Latin America. In 1990 the federal prime minister’s currency reform and economic measures restored financial stability but at the cost of hardship and unemployment which exacerbated the conflict between the nationalities. The conflict had become very evident in 1987 when the Communist Party of the most powerful republic, Serbia, was taken over by Slobodan Milosˇevic´. He gained momentum and popularity by fanning Serbian national fervour. An issue was immediately at hand: the problem presented by the province of Kosovo, one of the poorest regions in the whole country, peopled by a majority of Albanians, but with a large Serbian minority. The proportion of Albanians, with their much higher birth rate, would increase further in any case, but this process was hastened by the mass emigration of Serbians. Without real evidence, Milosˇevic´ claimed that this was the result of Albanian terrorism. Albanian protest against Serbian repression led to uprisings, demonstrations and bloody conflict. More serious still was the struggle between a revived Croatian nationalism and Serbia. Serbia sought to dominate the other republics; Croatian nationalism not only resisted Serbian pretensions but had its own designs on the ethnically mixed population of the republic of Bosnia and Herzogovina, while the Serbs in Croatia were protesting against the discrimination practised against them. The Slovenes not only wanted to rid themselves of all communist control but also desired virtual independence. Free elections fatally weakened not only the communists, however much they attempted to distance themselves from the past by renaming their party, but also the federal union. By comparison with their Eastern European neighbours, the Germans living in the now defunct German Democratic Republic appeared to be the lucky ones. They were not simply cast adrift, like those neighbours, cut off from the Soviet Union, having to struggle to transform their countries largely by their own efforts, with relatively little Western help. The Germans in the East were united with the most prosperous country in Europe, their fellow Germans in the West. Both lots of Germans had greeted with jubilation the tearing down of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. The DDR economy was the most advanced of all the economies in Eastern Europe. With help and investment from the Federal Republic it was expected it would be brought up to Western standards after reunification. The costs of all this, no doubt high temporarily, could be met by increased state borrowing and then repaid from the growth of the German economy as a whole. Just as the Federal Republic was reaching an economic plateau, here was the chance of another Wirtschaftswunder, a happy combination of a moral victory and an economic opportunity. But it all went sour as quickly as the unexpected unification of Germany had been accomplished. As 1989 began no one in Europe or the rest of the world anticipated a cataclysmic change. Erich Honecker, the DDR head of state, lauded the ‘scarcely conceivable’ achievements of the ‘first socialist state of workers and peasants on German soil’. The dour and dedicated communist Walter Ulbricht was forced in May 1971 to step down as party secretary, probably on Moscow’s instructions, and was replaced by Erich Honecker. It was Ulbricht who had ordered the Berlin Wall to be built in August 1961 to stem the haemorrhage of the ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’ crossing to freedom and a better life in the West. He had also ruthlessly built up East German manufacturing in heavy industry and chemicals, regardless of the ecological cost. The attempt to make the DDR an industrial and independent communist showpiece fell apart under Honecker in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the advantages of a privileged relationship with the European Community: trade between the two Germanies counted as internal EEC trade, a concession to the Federal Republic which offered automatic West German citizenship to any DDR citizen who wanted it and could get to the West. It is quite possible that Honecker actually believed all the false statistics put out by his government showing how well things were going. They were certainly going well enough for him and the communist elite, living in the lap of luxury and owning extravagantly appointed holiday villas on land on which ordinary mortals were not allowed to set foot. Control over the people was exercised by the Stasi, the 85,000-strong security police who relied on denunciations to alert them to dissident comrades. As in National Socialist Germany, there was no shortage of friends and neighbours, teachers and managers, who were ready to spy and to report wrong attitudes to the state authorities. The bulging files of the Stasi are now among the most embarrassing legacies of the DDR. During the spring and summer of 1989, Honecker resisted all pressures for reform, despite the radical changes taking place among two of the DDR’s neighbours, Poland and Hungary. In the Kremlin, too, Gorbachev had shown that there was no alternative to reform, to respect for human rights and to the removal of the corrupt and stultifying party apparatchiks. The DDR Politburo did not welcome this, but the hardline comrades could take heart from the firmness the Czech leadership was showing. And if demonstrations looked like getting out of hand, the Chinese showed that summer how best to deal with them. Honecker even despatched his protégé, Egon Krenz, to Beijing to congratulate the Chinese leadership on its bloody handling of the students in Tiananmen Square. Bankrupt Albania was another stout ally. Honecker, by now totally out of touch, was looking forward to celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the DDR. So far the West Germans had done little to encourage ideas of fundamental change in the relationship between the two Germanies. Chancellor Kohl, whose popularity had fallen very low, seemed clumsy and out of depth. Within his coalition government there were tensions with the Free Democratic Party and with the astute foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who since 1987 had advocated a more flexible policy towards the Soviet Union. The moments of pivotal change in the triangular relationship of East and West Germany and the USSR can be dated with some precision. The Achilles heel of the Soviet Union’s dominance was its own collapsing economy. Gorbachev badly needed Western help, especially West German help. When he arrived in Bonn to a rapturous welcome from the crowds in June 1989, he really came as a supplicant for economic assistance. The price was freedom for the Germans in the DDR. Gorbachev and Kohl signed an accord pledging them to work to end the division of Europe, to respect human rights and to expand economic and cultural cooperation. Gorbachev’s spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov quipped that, for the people of the DDR, ‘there was the Brezhnev Doctrine. Now we have the Frank Sinatra Doctrine – let them do it their way.’ They very soon did. The East German regime had to watch with bewilderment the flood of DDR ‘tourists’ who travelled to neighbouring Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland and then camped there in the West German embassies waiting to leave for the West. A trickle turned into a flood. During August and September 1989 tens of thousands left and the Hungarians opened the border to Austria. The Hungarians, heavily in debt to the West, were more anxious to please prosperous West Germany than the bankrupt East. On 7 October, the anniversary celebrations were held in East Berlin. Gorbachev planted a Judas kiss on 77-year-old Honecker’s cheek. It was the last occasion when regimented loyalists waved their flags and cheered their leader. In the backstreets, riot police were trying to keep the protesters in check. Soon, Honecker was urging that the police and army should open fire on the demonstrators who were gathering in East Germany’s principal cities – East Berlin, Dresden and above all in Leipzig. This decided leading communists in the Politburo to organise a coup, with the Kremlin’s secret approval. On 18 October 1989, Egon Krenz toppled and replaced an astonished Honecker. But, with his wolfish look and smile, Krenz could not quell the spirit of revolt. On 9 November 1989 he ordered that the Berlin Wall should be opened. The Protestant Church in East Germany had played an honourable and courageous role in forming an opposition grouping. It called itself New Forum, a coalition of clergymen, artists, socialists and ordinary men and women who wanted to bring to an end the repression. Soon, hundreds of thousands, many among them former communists, took to the streets to demonstrate. The call for the gang of communist leaders to go was almost universal. Hundreds of thousands wanted to live and move in freedom, to change their drab lives. The El Dorado of the West beckoned. Meanwhile, Chancellor Kohl was becoming alarmed. The East Germans flooding to West Germany, which was trying to cope with its own unemployment and housing problems, were, on second thoughts, not all that welcome. Would it not be better after all if they stayed in their own reformed eastern half of Germany? In the DDR economic collapse and mounting popular protest were wresting control from the communist leadership. Scandals and corruption were revealed. A reformist communist, Hans Modrow, replaced Krenz early in December 1989. His hold on power was brief and tenuous. The West Germans were, in a sense, also in danger of losing control. Their fear was that they would be swamped with Germans from the East. Kohl, who had hesitated until the close of 1989, had little alternative in 1990 but to ride the tiger. Once he came to this conclusion he campaigned with increasing gusto. First, in late November 1989, he put forward a plan for a ‘confederation’ of the two Germanies. This was not well received in Moscow, nor was it much welcomed by Mrs Thatcher’s government. The former Second World War Allies would in any case have the last word. Thatcher and Mitterrand advised a cautious approach; Bush, with better judgement, gave his full backing to Kohl. The German people in the end decided the pace. Once free elections in East Germany had been conceded, the New Forum, with its objective of creating a civilised, socialist East German state, and other spontaneous political groups with odd labels were all swept aside. The West German heavyweight parties moved in, the CDU, the FDP and the SPD. East German party clones of the Western parties campaigned for control. Kohl and Genscher, Brandt and SPD politicians were rapturously received in the East. The complete unification of Germany proved unstoppable and happened much faster than anyone expected. Kohl carried all before him on a barn-storming six-city election tour in March 1990, promising currency union and a one-forone exchange of East German into West German marks. The election on 18 March 1990 gave a landslide victory to the East German CDU, and its chairman, Lothar de Maizière became the new East German prime minister. On 1 July, the currency union was carried through as promised, with the one-to-one exchange for savings up to 4,000 marks. Maizière was still hoping for a gradual process of unification, but the majority of East Germans wanted no delay. Meanwhile, in July, at a meeting between Kohl and Gorbachev, agreement was quickly reached. Gorbachev dropped his objection to united Germany remaining a member of NATO; in return Kohl agreed to cut German troops from 590,000 to 370,000 and renounced nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Gorbachev agreed to pull the Russian troops out of East Germany by 1994, and Kohl promised to pay for their rehousing in the Soviet Union. With the Soviet Union and the US now consenting to union, the other two treaty powers, France and Britain, could no longer delay their formal consent. In the meantime the bankruptcy of the East German state forced Maizière to give up negotiating for a gradual unification. On 23 August 1990 the Volkskammer voted to dissolve the state and for East Germany to become part of the Federal Republic. Such a suicide was unique in the history of international politics – but then the patient was terminally ill. At midnight, 3 October 1990, to the muted tones of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles’ and beneath a sky lit up by fireworks, the most momentous change in the transformation of Eastern Europe was consummated. By now, no one in West Germany any longer believed that unification would be an easy or cheap or painless process. Still, Kohl had become the first post-war chancellor of all Germany, and he reaped the reward for his skilful leadership, so ably supported by Genscher, when in the December 1990 all- German election the SPD was soundly beaten and the CDU/CSU and its partner the FDP emerged with a substantially increased majority. Kohl had promised his country’s neighbours that Germany would be a good European, democratic and peaceful. His sincerity on that point, reflecting the views of the vast majority of the German people, was not in doubt. Germany in any case had enough trouble of its own to discourage even the thought of adventurism. Here ended the history of a separate East German state. The history of the old DDR henceforth was part of Germany’s development.

 

 

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