Shock Waves: Eastern Europe after the Revolutions

By John Feffer | Go to book overview

Preface

In the past seven years, more by accident than design, I have been in some very interesting places at some very interesting times. During the first summer of perestroika in 1985, I was studying Russian in Moscow, paying less attention to my drills in gerund formation than to the Gorbachev-led experiment taking place outside the classroom. It was early on in the Soviet reform effort, and the dimensions of the struggle were still unclear. At street-level, the average Muscovite demonstrated little enthusiasm' for the impending shake-up, preferring instead to grumble about the restrictions on vodka introduced during the anti- alcoholism campaign. Moscow intellectuals were deeply skeptical despite early stirrings of glasnost. Grumbles and cynicism notwithstanding, the Soviet Union was on the eve of another revolution, and to be present at the scene was exhilarating.

This revolution in the Soviet Union literally could not contain itself. Ripples could be felt at the furthest reaches of Soviet influence. By 1988, signs of ferment from below indicated that the communist nations of Europe might take perestroika one step further. In the vanguard of change, the democratic opposition in Hungary chomped at the political bit, and the Solidarity trade union in Poland was re-emerging from a long slumber with two pivotal strikes. Even in the more doctrinaire East Germany, government censorship of official Soviet magazines revealed the communist leadership's increasing isolation—from its neighbors as well as from its own population. The Soviet Union may have been the story of 1985-87 but Eastern Europe was clearly going to be the next locus of rapid change in the communist world.

Late in January 1989, I arrived in Warsaw to start work at the Polish Academy of Science, my address book filled with the coded phone numbers of prominent dissidents in and around Solidarity. Within several days of my arrival, Poland became the politically "in" place to be. The Polish government announced that roundtable negotiations with the still illegal trade union would begin the following month. The country's internal cold war was about to thaw; two seemingly irreconcilable enemies had taken an unprecedented step into the unknown. Not long after the government's groundbreaking announcement, I discovered that my sponsor at the Academy was no mere member of the Polish Communist Party. As of the beginning of that year, he had become a member

-ix-

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