When Peace Invaded the East
Kaldor, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
"SOMETIME in the middle of 1982," writes Jaroslav Sabata, a founder of Charter 77 and a minister in the first post-1989 Czechoslovak government, "a long text of Samizdat got into my hands. I can still see its dense lines in front of me. It was about the new aims of peace movements. The author was thinking from the perspective of European unity in a way that was very close to my state of mind and my thoughts . . . I decided to write an essay on the subject of European peace and democracy in the form of an `Open Letter to E P Thompson'."
These words, contained in Mr Sabata's message to E P Thompson's memorial celebration yesterday, help to illuminate the contribution of the Western peace movements to the end of the Cold War, a part of Eighties history that has been unjustly neglected.
Mr Sabata's exchange of letters with E P Thompson marked the beginning of an intense dialogue between Charter 77 and parts of the West European peace movement, in particular European Nuclear Disarmament (END) founded by E P Thompson and the Inter-Church Peace Council in the Netherlands. From early in the decade, hundreds of people involved in peace and green movements travelled to Eastern Europe and built up links with groups and individuals engaged in independent peace, human rights and environmental activities.
A network of communication was established and texts of the new groups in the East were published; Vaclav Havel, Jiri Dienstbier (who became the Czechoslovak foreign minister), Janusz Onyskiewicz (who became the Polish defence minister mainly because he knew about defence issues owing to his discussions with the peace movement!), George Konrad and many others wrote articles for and gave interviews to the END Journal.
Considerable pressure was put on governments in Eastern Europe, via the official peace committees, to get jailed activists released, to allow individuals to travel to meetings and generally to tolerate the existence of independent groups. All this served to increase the visibility of dissident groups and to expand the political space for manoeuvre. By the late Eighties it had spawned a new and younger generation of movements in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary.
"We thought, if you can do it, why not here?" said Pastor Rainer Eppelman, a leader of the independent East German peace movement Swords Into Ploughshares, who became Minister of Defence in the short-
lived post-1989 East German government. While the revolutions of 1989 were spontaneous outbursts of public sentiment, it was important that there were established groups able to articulate this public sentiment; these were the groups that had been engaged in what came to be known as "detente from below".
The role of the West's peace movement in the events that led up to the 1989 revolutions was also important in another way. Soviet-type systems were war systems that depended for their existence on a permanent external enemy. The burden of military spending was a major factor in explaining their economic weakness. But the Western military build-up did not precipitate their collapse; if anything, it nurtured them long after they had begun to show signs of strain. …