This book is the culmination of an ambitious 15-year project to open up the previously secret Cold War files of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as those of the United States and its allies, and to use those primary sources to produce a new multi-lingual, multi-archival, multi-national history covering the most important flashpoints in the Soviet bloc and the ultimate, remarkable end of the Cold War.
We chose for the title of this book a revealing quotation from the Canadian scholar Jacques Levesque, who so presciently—well before many crucial primary sources were available—defined the key historical and analytical questions about the denouement of the Cold War in his book, The Enigma of 1989 (University of California Press, 1997). As Professor Levesque wrote on the second page:
Very little in the Soviet legacy is remembered, in the current context, as having
been positive. With some irony, the way the USSR separated itself from its em
pire and its own peaceful end may seem to be its most beneficial contributions to
history. These episodes are, in any case, masterpieces of history.
By using this wonderful phrase as our title, we certainly do not claim that our own work belongs on the masterpiece spectrum, but rather that the documents, dialogue, and analysis presented in this book do answer some of the most important questions that Professor Levesque posed and that we used to frame our own research agenda. That agenda grew from our close collaboration with many partners who were already prying loose the historical record throughout Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the former Soviet Union. Our partners sought with us to understand the crises of communism—primarily during the years 1953, 1956, 1968, 1980–1981—that culminated in the miraculous year of 1989. And yet it was exactly the repressive experience of those earlier flashpoints that made the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War seem so unlikely and—when it happened— such a masterpiece.
The books that precede this one in the series of National Security Archive Cold War Readers through CEU Press tell the stories of those earlier crises in documents, and provide indispensable contextual history for the phenomenon
Ostermann, Uprising in East Germany; Békés, Byrne and Rainer, The 1956 Hungarian Rev
olution; Navrátil et al., The Prague Spring 1968; Paczkowski and Byrne, From Solidarity to
Martial Law; Mastny and Byrne, A Cardboard Castle?