The Revolutions of 1989

By Vladimir Tismaneanu | Go to book overview

5

THE YEAR OF TRUTH

Timothy Garton Ash

British political historian and journalist Timothy Garton Ash's writings on the fate of Central Europe, the rise of independent movements challenging the Leninist regimes, the nature of the 1989 upheaval as well as its aftermath, have been remarkably prescient and influential. In this penetrating analysis of the annus mirabilis of 1989, Garton Ash proposes a comparison between the European revolutions of 1848 and the great transformations which started with the events of 1989. He insists on the role of the intellectuals in formulating the language and the strategy of liberation. Without denying the importance of mass action, Garton Ash highlights the crucial importance of the intellectual rebellion against communist ideology. In his view, the demise of communism in East Central Europe in 1989 can be told as the result of a struggle between of a set of ideas whose time had passed and another one whose time had come,

Like Jeffrey Isaac (but unlike G.M. Tamás and Tony Judt), Garton Ash sees the legacy of dissent as utterly significant for the shaping of the new political communities. He also offers an illuminating interpretation of the causes of the breakdown, insisting on the role of Gorbachev, the international environment (the Helsinki process), and the ruling elite's loss of belief in its own right to rule. Another important point in this contribution is the author's insistence on the role of civil society initiatives in the resurrection of the notion and practice of citizenry. Garton Ash's essay identifies some of the major risks confronting these societies, including national prejudice, inequality, poverty, and mass discontent. But, he states, even if the gloomy prospects were to be realized in some countries, the significance of 1989 as a passionate affirmation of Europe's democratic destiny will not be diminished.

Garton Ash uses the term “refolution, ” employing it as a way of capturing the dual nature of the ongoing transformation: a combination of gradual reforms and revolutionary changes, a mixture of continuity and discontinuity with the communist past. The changes of 1989 are thus seen as resulting from attempts to reform the system from above and efforts from below to change it fundamentally, i.e. to dismantle it.

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The Revolutions of 1989
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Causes 17
  • 1 - What Happened in Eastern Europe in 1989? 19
  • 2 - Amidst Moving Ruins 51
  • 3 - What Was Socialism, and Why Did It Fall? 63
  • Part II - Meaning 87
  • 4 - The Breakdown of Communist Regimes 89
  • 5 - The Year of Truth 108
  • 6 - The Meanings of 1989 125
  • 7 - Nineteen Eighty-Nine: the End of Which European Era? 165
  • 8 - The Legacy of Dissent 181
  • 9 - Overcoming Totalitarianism 198
  • Part III - Future 203
  • 10 - The Future of Liberal Revolution 205
  • 11 - The Leninist Legacy 213
  • 12 - The Post-Totalitarian Blues 231
  • 13 - The Velvet Restoration 244
  • 14 - The Neighbors of Kafka: Intellectual's Note from the Underground 252
  • 15 - Is Communism Returning? 258
  • Index 263
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