He did not stand by the sidelines, he 'trusted his eyes'


'General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!



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'General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'


By the late-1980s Eastern Europe was in a mess, months of refugee crises had led Moscow to give Hungary permission to open its border with Austria, with Czechoslovakia later following suit. According to Svetlana Savranskaya the fall of the Berlin wall was a relief. While this could indicate that Gorbachev was not involved in the fall, without his reforms in the Soviet Union the iron grip on the eastern bloc would have held strong. When Ronald Reagan addressed Mikhail Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate he said:

'We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'

By this time, June 1987, Gorbachev had already implemented the policy of openness, Glasnost, and had set the Soviet Union on the path to it's demise. The opening up of borders had a knock on effect in Eastern Europe, and when the Wall fell Gorbachev was not even awoken by his advisors[1], reflecting the relaxation in policy. The measurement of his importance, to consider him as a key player, is the fact that without Gorbachev releasing the Soviet grip, the wall would not have been allowed to fall. If the wall came down because of the end of soviet-type communism, then Mr Gorbachev certainly ended it.


  1. ^ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120188545

Mikhail Gorbachev and the fall of the wall



Red stars are removed as communism relinquishes its grip in central Europe


The year 1989 reshaped the world. Its news stories - from Tiananmen Square to the fall of the Berlin Wall - are now historical marker posts. BBC Diplomatic Editor Brian Hanrahan watched many of the events at first hand, and will retrace his steps this year.

One of the paradoxes of 1989 was that communism was destroyed by its own system. I'm not thinking here of the weight of economic collapse, which hollowed out the whole Soviet Bloc.

Painful though it would have been, the countries of Eastern Europe and their Soviet overlord could have limped on for many years - their people suffering and their influence declining. They would have been marginalised but left alone until they eventually collapsed, probably with much bloodshed.

John Simpson's 1989 report on the visit to the UK of Mikhail Gorbachev

What short-circuited this process was the Stalinist power structure of the Soviet Union. The system allowed the general secretary of the Communist Party to acquire almost total control of the party and the country.

By 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev had consolidated his power base and was able to drive through his own policies regardless of the opposition among his colleagues.

What marked him out from previous leaders and makes him one of my political heroes, is that he abided by a basic principle that politics should not be based on coercion.

And although he neither liked, nor expected, nor wanted the consequences, he stuck to his principles. When the wrong results came in, he let the chips fall where they lay, and the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union fell with them.

Mr Gorbachev had been steadily setting out his philosophy. He told a Communist Party conference in 1988 "the imposition of a social system, a way of life, or policies from outside by any means, let alone military force, are dangerous trappings of the past".

Fossils

In December at the United Nations he renounced the use of force in international affairs. His more hard-line colleagues recognised this as suicidal for the Communist Party and its leadership, but they could not stop it. They were shut out by their own system.



By the time Mr Gorbachev visited London in April 1989, the shine was coming off his leadership. In Moscow's streets, people were grumbling that for all his fine talk, life wasn't getting better.



I arrive in Moscow and at the airport I am told that troops have marched into Tbilisi... Was this truly necessary?

Mikhail Gorbachev


More dangerously, those who ran the Soviet army and security services were growing unhappy with his leadership.

It was already obvious that the enthusiasm with which he was greeted abroad was not matched at home. While he was absent there were nationalist demonstrations in Georgia and, in a throwback to the past, the old guard leadership sent in troops to suppress them.

They hadn't opened fire but had beaten 20 Georgians to death with entrenching shovels. Mr Gorbachev was appalled. It was against everything he stood for. Secret minutes from the politburo show him raging against those responsible.

"I arrive in Moscow and at the airport I am told that troops have marched into Tbilisi. Of course I did not comment publicly. But what is going on here? Was this truly necessary? Was the curfew truly necessary? Of course not. We should have gone directly to the people and talked to them."

Around Eastern Europe there was a similar division of opinions about Mr Gorbachev's new thinking. Most of the leaders were communist fossils buried in a system that repressed change. But General Jaruzelski who ran Poland saw a chance to end the long-running dispute with Solidarity.




Without Gorbachev, communism's death throes would have been long, and far more dangerous


The trade union movement had been outlawed for most of the decade but, inspired by the Polish Pope and supported by the West, it had slowly debilitated the Polish economy and government.

Poland's communists opened negotiations with Solidarity's leaders - the famous round table which ran from February to April . On 17 April they signed a deal to hold elections and allow solidarity to take part.




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