In the late summer and early autumn of 1989 waves of reform and revolution crashed upon eastern Europe’s communist régimes with such force that within two years the entire system had been swept away. Some of the forces which accumulated into these cleansing waves were to be found in all the affected states, others were peculiar to only one or a few of them.
The reforming and revolutionary processes were discernible first in Poland and Hungary. In Poland the movement was driven by forces outside the system, whilst in Hungary, though popular protest was by no means absent, the party itself instituted many radical changes. The Hungarian party was also to play a significant role in destabilising the east German state and in opening the Berlin Wall, the event which both symbolised the failure of east European socialism and precipitated the collapse of its remaining socialist governments and parties.
The changes in personnel at the end of 1988 made it easier for the Polish party to bite the bullet and talk directly with Solidarity. On 18 January 1989 the central committee, urged on by Jaruzelski, agreed to begin negotiations on the relegalisation of the union. This in turn opened the way for the round table talks between the government and its opponents which began on 6 February with the non-governmental groups being led by Wałęsa. The Polish authorities and their opponents had set a precedent which was to be followed in almost all east European states. Equally unwittingly, the Polish communist government had taken the first step to the dismantling of its power and in so doing had begun the revolution of 1989; the nature of this step determined that that revolution would by and large be peaceful. Only in Romania, where the leadership refused to acknowledge, let alone talk to its critics did the revolution have to assume violent form.
The beginning of the round table talks immediately changed the political atmosphere in Warsaw and in March the government was able to state officially that it held the Soviet Union responsible for the Katyn massacres. This was only