Lessons of the East European Revolutions of 1989
At the beginning of 1989, most specialists recognized the political and economic dangers facing the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. Foreign debt, loss of legitimacy, weakening of support from the Soviet Union, and the pathologies of central planning were only the most obvious and well-known deficiencies of the region. However, these weaknesses did not seem to be significantly undermining the ability of most East European regimes to maintain control over their societies. Even in Poland, where roundtable discussions led to the stunning elections of June 1989, negotiations had been stalled for four months and legalization of Solidarity faced serious opposition among party leaders. The other countries of Eastern Europe seemed no closer to real reform than they had been in 1970 or 1980. In the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker was trying to avoid perestroika by ignoring it. A smooth transition of power from Gustav Husák to Miloš Jakeš in Czechoslovakia had produced no change in the strict social controls that had been in force since 1968. Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceaus+̧escu, despite having ruined the country's already weak economy, had little trouble crushing the few brave but isolated dissidents. And in Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov continued to propagate purposefully ineffective reform proposals.
One year later, Eastern Europe was unrecognizable. Not only was Honecker replaced, but the Berlin Wall was down and what had been called East Germany was on a headlong path toward becoming eastern