Courtesy Reuters

Bringing in the East

The watershed date was November 9, 1989; the breaching of the Berlin Wall was the dramatic symbol of a new, profoundly different era in Europe. It is now clear that the wall's collapse offered indisputable proof that the Soviet Union would not use the Red Army to maintain the East-West divide. There had already been Soviet hints, speeches and gestures apparently voiding the Brezhnev Doctrine of intervention. But only when the Soviet threat was tested and found dead indeed was it certain that nothing could remain the same. It took a little while for the implications to be understood and for the East European regimes to collapse, but November 9 was the day when the question for Europe changed from how to maintain a divided and hostile peace to how to organize a new, inclusive continental system.

There had been no plans, no preparations. The end of the division of Europe, however, brought with it a momentum of inevitability. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev rubbed it in for his critics, nostalgic for empire, at the 28th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in July 1990. "Do you want tanks again? Shall we teach them again how to live?" he tartly asked those who blamed him for the "loss" of Soviet dominion over Eastern Europe. "There is no way of bringing yesterday back. No dictatorship, if someone has this crazy idea in his head, can resolve anything."

It is easier to understand why this became so if, rather than wonder at the extraordinary speed with which the structures of Cold War geopolitics fell apart, we ask why the change was so long in coming. The pressure had been building for at least two generations. Already in 1953, eight years after Germany's total defeat in World War II, the workers of East Berlin had risen. In 1956 Poland began a long series of upheavals and Hungary erupted in open revolt. Czechoslovakia tested the possibility of reform in 1968, and failed. At first, the peoples of Eastern Europe were exhausted by war,

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