Revolution 1989 : The Fall of the Soviet Empire Paperback
'A compelling and illuminating account of a great drama in the history of our times which showed once again that ordinary men and women really can change the world' Jonathan Dimbleby, MAIL ON SUNDAY For more than 40 years after the Second World War the Iron Curtain divided Europe physically, with 300 km of walls and barbed wire fences; ideologically, between communism and capitalism; psychologically, between people imprisoned under totalitarian dictatorships and their neighbours enjoying democratic freedoms; and militarily, by two mighty, distrustful power blocs, still fighting the cold war.
At the start of 1989, ten European nations were still Soviet vassal states.
By the end of the year, one after another, they had thrown off communism, declared national independence, and embarked on the road to democracy.
One of history's most brutal empires was on its knees.
Poets who had been languishing in jails became vice presidents.
When the Berlin Wall fell on a chilly November night it seemed as though the open wounds of the cruel twentieth century would at last begin to heal. The Year of Revolutions appeared as a beacon of hope for oppressed people elsewhere who dared to dream that they too could free themselves.
In a dizzying few months of almost entirely peaceful revolutions the people's will triumphed over tyranny.
An entire way of life was swept away. Now, twenty years on, Victor Sebestyen reassesses this decisive moment in modern history.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 480 pages, Illustrations (chiefly col.), ports. (chiefly col.)
- Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
- Publication Date: 05/08/2010
- Category: European history
- ISBN: 9780753827093
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Review by john257hopper
(5/12/14-12/12/14)This is an excellent, detailed and exciting narrative covering the events leading up to and during the almost simultaneous fall of communism in 1989 in the six central and east European countries in the Soviet sphere of influence for the previous 40 years.The book is divided into three parts: the first deals with the deeper background, in particular worker unrest in Poland in the 1970s and the reasons why the Soviet Union became progressively unable and unwilling to maintain its commitments in eastern Europe - the effect of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and resulting long drawn out war on its military stretch and morale, and the collapse of world oil prices meaning the decrease of revenue from the sale of its natural resources to eastern European and other countries; the second part deals with accelerating developments throughout the mid to late 1980s across the countries; and the third is a chronological account covering events throughout the year, especially during the crucial October to December period. All six countries are covered, though there is relatively little coverage of Bulgaria, the least familiar of the six to western readers, and the most loyal to the USSR (its leader Zhivkov, in power from 1954-89, once applied to Brezhnev for his country to be accepted as the 16th republic within the USSR). The main stories will be very familiar to most readers of a certain age: in Poland, the rise of Lech Walesa's Solidarity to a position where it challenged Jaruzelski's power but where, in a huge turnaround, they were able to find an accommodation and work together in government; the "Trabi trail" of East Germans across the border to the much freer Hungary and thence to Austria via the defunct electrified fence on the border; (of course) the fall of the Berlin Wall, triggered off accidentally by a mistaken answer by Gunter Schabowski to a journalist's question at a crucial press conference; and the bloody overthrow of Romania's Ceausescu, the worst of the lot in a violent confrontation which distinguished events in that country from the otherwise very largely peaceful revolutions in the others, as epitomised by the name of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Another common feature between nearly all of the six countries was the fact that they had become massively indebted to western banks to keep their economies going and to maintain a decent standard of living for their people; and this combined with the refusal of the Soviets under Gorbachev to bail them out, brought out a degree of opposition from workers who might not have been motivated to oppose their governments purely on the grounds of the lack of political freedoms and civil liberties. 5/5[A brief note on the Kindle version of this book: the publishers seem to have a problem with diacritical signs in Czech and Romanian, so some of the names come out oddly.]