New Years Address

In the New Years Address, a statement that stuck out to me came during the promises to the nation. Havel states that his first promise is to “ensure that we soon step up to the ballot boxes in a free election, and that our path toward this historic milestone will be dignified and peaceful”. Why do you think there was such an emphasis on stating that it would be dignified and peaceful?

Discussion Leadership Questions (Veena)

“Prague: Inside the Magic Lantern,” pp 71-130

  1. Why do you think the Magic Lantern Theater was chosen as the revolutionary head quarters? See: “It was fascinating to see individuals responding instantly to the scent that wafted down into the Magic Lantern. The scent of power” (88). Why was the “scent of power” so powerful for this location? 
  2. How fair is the following quote?: “We who fight for democracy cannot ourselves be democratic” (89) Yes, the Forum chooses who speaks, but why can’t the Forum also be a “spokesman for the Czechoslovak public?” On page 107, a communist is given a platform but the public doesn’t like it.
  3. Garton-Ash calls this revolution a “Czech phenomenon … repeated all over East Central Europe” (105). This has to do with an instant consensus of a “fundamental Western, European model: parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, market economy” (105). Why was this phenomenon common to this region? Garton-Ash claims that it is the idea of “normality” that seemed to be sweeping the world.
  4. Garton-Ash claims that “‘revolution’ had a clear subtext of violence,” (113) so why was the Velvet Revolution so non-violent? Does this have to do with learning from the mistakes over other movements, as mentioned on pp 128?

Havel’s New Years Address to the Nation, 1990

  1. Havel talks about a “contaminated moral environment/atmosphere” (1-2), and says that everyone is responsibly for accepting the totalitarian regime. He also mentioned that everyone is not just the victim of the system, but also a co-creator. Is this a fair statement to make, that everyone is responsible for the rise of communism in Czechoslovakia? Or is this blame displaced?
  2. What is Havel implying when he says, “Jesus, not Caesar?” (4) Is he describing a “model citizen?”

“We’re Keeping the Band Together! (Except Romania)”

After reading all of the sources for today, I was stuck on the example of Romania. The Romanian dictator Ceausescu’s regime was described in the text as making “East Germany and Czechoslovakia look like modern, benign dictatorships, and the Polish and Hungarian regimes positively enlightened and benevolent” (Levesque 2010, 327). Obviously it was this condition that led to his quick execution in Romania’s revolution but it is interesting to me that Gorbachev, when speaking to Romania’s former US ambassador about overthrowing Ceausescu, “told him that the USSR could not take part. He reportedly expressed sympathy, however, with the idea of ousting the dictator” (Levesque 2010, 329).

This, at least for me, really complicated Gorbachev as a reformer. The texts largely paint him as a genuine reformer who had a compassion for people living in oppressive regimes. This compassion; however, seemed to derive itself from the need to hold the Eastern Bloc together. The implicit permission to overthrow a Warsaw Pact leader is massively significant and certainly a change in the incremental change policies pursued in Poland.

Based on the limited studying we have done on Gorbachev and Romania, what’s different here? Is our perceived condition of Romania so bad that Gorbachev had no other choice? I think he had plenty of choices but his feelings on Romania as described above are very telling.

Eastern Bloc Dominoes

It is certainly interesting how the policies of Gorbachev alongside the will for reformation and change in the Eastern Bloc rapidly brought revolutions, mass protests, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and not long after the total collapse of many Communist countries. I think this was best demonstrated in the revolution in Romania which had a regime described in comparison to other Eastern Bloc countries “related to the nature of Ceausescu’s regime, which made East Germany and Czechoslovakia look like modern, benign dictatorships, and the Polish and Hungarian regimes positively enlightened and benevolent” (327) and this revolution was described as starting near the Hungarian Border. I think the fact that these revolutions and upheavals all happened at once demonstrated the fundamental fragility of the Eastern Bloc by the late 1980s. I would be interested in knowing why the Eastern Bloc collapsed so suddenly while other countries that called themselves communist lasted longer or still exist today.

“All in All, You’re Just Another Brick In The Wall”

Perhaps adding to my own naivety, or my over zealousness to synthesize events within history to draw out information or some other explanation but there was one particular line that really started to make me think. This of course, comes off the heels of the perhaps infamously is that history does not repeat itself it merely rhymes. The line that generated this line of thinking comes as follows. Garton-Ash states, “the cup of bitterness was already full to the brim. The years of Wall Sickness, the lies, the stagnation, the Soviet and Hungarian examples, the rigged elections, the police violence– all added their does. The instant that repression was lifted, the cup flowed over. And, then, with amazing speed, the East German discovered what the Poles had discovered ten years earlier, during the Pope’s visit in 1979. They discovered their solidarity. ‘Long Live the October Revolution of 1989’ proclaimed another banner on the Alexanderplatz. And, so it was: the first peaceful revolution in German history.” (Garton-Ash 69). And with this, as the title suggests, was 10 years after Pink Floyd released their 3 part song “Another Brick in the Wall.” While read had looked at the punk rock scene earlier, I feel like with this particular song, it my be interesting to look at this as well. Moreover, however, and more dealing with the quote at hand, is the notion of being brought down by a repressive imagery such as the Berlin Wall that divided a whole country, heart and soul in half for nearly 30 years. So aside from the comparison or analysis that might come from the rebellious attitudes featured in the Pink Floyd song, what type of psyche could be postulated to have been felt with the existence of the wall? Could this have been easily another one of Germany’s violent upheavals that brought with it the violent destruction and riots against the state, or, because of the Wall Sickness, was it a detestable thing that German’s had to gradual heal themselves of? Had then just put it as “another brink in their wall” and shut themselves off from the ills that it brought?

The Psychology of the Wall and its Fall

Garton-Ash’s firsthand account of the Wall raised interesting discussion of the impact the Wall had on the people of East German people. Before the collapse of the Wall, an East Berlin doctor described the phenomenon of “The Wall Sickness” (Garton-Ash, 65). This refers to the concept that the Wall placed unique psychological burdens on the people of East Germany unlike what occurred in any other East European countries. As a result of this “Wall Sickness” real sicknesses and suicides resulted.

Ultimately, this phenomenon is very real – psychological stress can cause physical conditions. In 2019, a University of Queensland research collaboration found that people living in countries that have experienced armed conflict are five times more likely to develop anxiety or depression. As we know, East Germany emerged from WW2 only to experience occupation by the Soviet Union and armed control by the Stasi. Though the East German doctor referred to this as “Wall Sickness” – and it certainly was related to the wall – this phenomenon is unfortunately not entirely unique and it is one that we have names for.

Another situation discussed with psychological background surrounds the people who chose not to emigrate. Baerbel Bohley stated “I don’t want to say these forty years have just been wasted, because in that case I might as well have left twenty years ago” (Garton-Ash, 74). To put it simply, it is hard to change our own minds. And it is hard, or even harder, to admit that we made the wrong decision. In order to grapple with that internal conflict (known as cognitive dissonance), it is easier to cling to our views and decisions after they are formed. For Bohley, that decision was made over twenty years ago by not fleeing from the East. Combined with the fact that Bohley leaving would mean moving away from everything that is known and comfortable, it is easier for the mind to stay. As Garton-Ash asks “Were they now at once to concede that it had all been in vain?” As we see with Bohley and other who remained in the East, many were not.

What other psychological implications do we see from the existence of and the fall of the Wall? Do we see these occurring anywhere else in the Eastern Bloc or Soviet Union? With the current discussion we are having as a society on mental health, how can we consider the toll these events had on people?

“German Tiananmen,” but not really?

In “What Changes in Summer and Autumn 1989?” by Mary Elise Sarotte, it is said that there are 5 major developments that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. One that I am interested in is “The Beijing example failing to transfer to Europe” (16). This was an important development because it showed that “while violence against individuals remained a viable and successful option for Communist leaders” (16), it would no longer be used Europe. Because of this, Europe could make changes that China could not. 

What I am interested in, however, is why the events in Tiananmen Square and Leipzig turned out so differently? There were many similarities between the two events: they were relatively close together in time (May and October, respectively), and the two countries were both celebrating their 40th anniversaries that year. The leader of the GDR, Erich Honecker, even hoped to “instigate” (19) a repeat of the massacre in Beijing. He ordered authorities to carry guns, planned for the presence of 8,000 authorities, and told hospitals to get ready to the aftermath. 

Sarotte says that the protest in Leipzig was peaceful because of: “Soviet unwillingness to interfere, public appeals for nonviolence, and personal ambition [of Krenz]” (20). However, to me, this seems to be slightly flawed. For example, I’m sure the students in Beijing appealed for nonviolence. Additionally, Honecker tried specifically to follow the China’s footsteps, so how can it be that different?

Why do you think that Leipzig was so different from Tiananmen? I think it may be the East German authorities’ willingness to step back from orders and just not wanting blood on their hands, but if that is the case, why do you think they acted differently than Chinese officials? Or, do you think there is another reason?

Revolutionary Religion

Under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union, there was a government sponsored program encouraging the conversion to atheism. Religion, believed to conflict with the ideology, would prevent citizens from fully supporting the state. Though conversion did not continue, religion was still ultimately discouraged throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. However, this discouragement of religion would ultimately prove to be difficult in areas where religion had strong roots and authority. Poland was one of these areas, where “The authority of the Catholic Church in Poland, already very strong, was reinforced when the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II in 1978″ (Roberts & Ash). With religion having such strongholds, it was never brushed away as much as the Soviet Union and Communist leaders may have hoped for.

Additionally, religious groups (especially the Catholic Church) are often thought to be leaders of conservativism rather than of opposition or as champions of human rights. However, throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc we see that religious groups often played integral roles in these human rights oppositions. From the involvement of Jewish people in groups in the Moscow Helsinki Group to the involvement of the Catholic Church to spur change within Poland, religion seems to have played a critical role in uniting people for human rights and in opposition against the state. Was Poland unique in its strong religious tradition within the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, or do we see religion play a strong role elsewhere in the Cold War? In what ways did this strong religious (or specifically Catholic) tradition impact the direction of the opposition movements in Poland?

Polish Opposition

In “The Polish Opposition, the Crisis of the Gierek Era, and the Helsinki Process,” Gunter Dehnert offers two reasons to explain the transformation of the Polish opposition. One is a nationalist view that looks to Polish history and its pursuit of independence, while the other focuses on how the Helsinki Accords and the importance on human rights.

I agree that the history of a state is extremely important, and “the opposition’s success was …  determined by events that would not have been possible without the international reach of the new phase of détente,” (Dehnert 168). In other words, the events leading up to the Helsinki Accords shaped the opposition. Also, since 1970, Poland took a more “consumption-oriented socialist approach” (Dehnert 168) to societal problems, which weakened Poland’s socialist ideology. There was an abundance literature and social, economic, political, and religious events which shaped the way the country would move in the coming years, including the Anti-Semitic campaign and Prague Spring in 1968. 

However, I also agree that the Helsinki Accords had a profound impact. Dehnert states: “in retrospect, linking the human rights issue to the labor issue has to be regarded as one of the reasons for the Polish opposition movement’s success” (Dehnert 180). In 1975, there was a new wave of opposition that focused on civil and human rights, however it was not as organized as the Helsinki Group in Moscow. The Helsinki Accords is important because it allowed Poland to be more  “receptive to the Western model of human rights and democracy, which was propagated by the opposition” (Dehnert 183).

Which reason better explains the transformation of the Polish opposition? Or is it a mixture of both ideas? I personally think that the two are intertwined and that there should be little to no distinction between the two. What are some other reasons why one way was more important than the other? Do you think both ways would have been equally as effective?

Polish Rocks

One part of this chapter that I found to be interesting is how rock music and the youthful counterculture that came alongside it became tolerated by the Polish authorities under the premise that it would achieve “cultural superiority” to the capitalist West (231). While the toleration of Western music spread ideas and influenced Polish musicians to write music and lyrics that painted a less than glamorous image of Poland during the late Cold War. I believe this opens up questions as to whether Western culture seeping into Poland was the cause of youthful rebellion or if it was simply an outlet for the alienated and disaffected youth in Poland and other Eastern Bloc nations. I would argue that to some extent both are true. Western music spread ideas to the youth that could be considered “subversive” to the Polish state while at the same time it was Polish bands and musicians who were making music about living in Poland and Polish young adults who were interesting and consuming the music.