Why the Cold War Ended: A Range of Interpretations

By Ralph Summy; Michael E. Salla | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The East German revolution of 1989 is closely linked to attitudes in the Kremlin, and particularly to Gorbachev's unwillingness to use his formidable garrison to protect the Honecker regime. This is not to say that unrest and protest would have to be categorically ruled out had Moscow exhibited a tougher stance on dissidents in its empire, but the course, and probably the nature, of such protests would almost certainly have produced a different outcome.

The trigger effect of this revolution is usually attributed to the brave decision of a few tiny dissident groups, taken independently of each other, to come out in the open and make public demands. The fact that initially only a handful of people were involved leaves one wondering why the Stasi failed to pick them up and either lock them away or sell them to West Germany. Apparently, the regime and its secret police may have misjudged the potential threat emanating from these groups: after all, the people involved and their political views, which were known to the Stasi, had so far not harmed the regime in any perceptible way. A factor which undoubtedly had an impact was the dissidents' clever timing, just before the fortieth anniversary of the GDR: surely, it would be embarrassing to engage in a political witch hunt while at the very time jubilant columns marched past the regime leaders and their international guests celebrating the achievements of socialism.

In a way, the regime's assessment of the limited importance of these groups was not incorrect provided they were denied mass support. But the regime, unaccustomed to gauging popular sentiment, failed particularly badly on this account. Clearly, the recent mass defection of young and skilled people had affected substantial sections of society, either at home or at the workplace, and the party grossly misjudged popular sentiment when it denounced the refugees as social misfits and congratulated itself on the riddance of such people. That caused fury and provided the dissidents with mass attendance at their protest rallies.

But attendance at demonstrations does not equal total political support. The intellectuals leading the protest movement were soon perceived to have come to praise socialism, not to bury it. Galtung's "fair judgment" that the revolution was somehow "stolen" from them is simply not borne out by facts. For the masses socialism in any form or shape, no matter how purified, had become anathema. In the end, they articulated their own agenda long before West German politicians began formulating a policy; and it was the demands of the masses which the regime had to respond to. Moreover, it was the will of the masses which, in the end, counted at the ballot box.

-117-

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