The collapse of Communist Party rule and of Soviet influence and power beginning in 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe, one of the most profound political upheavals of the late twentieth century, took the West, as well as the people in the region, by surprise. The collapse was sudden, unexpected, and traumatic. Conventional wisdom held that communism, despite its flaws, would give way only if the Kremlin were willing to let that happen. Everybody assumed that the Kremlin was determined that the region remain under communist control indefinitely because of its importance to the Soviet Union's domestic stability and external security, especially vis-à-vis the West.
But when the collapse occurred, its causes were no mystery. The Soviet-style communist systems in place, with minor variations, in all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe shared serious flaws. Communist leaders seemed incapable of responding in a timely fashion. Some did not acknowledge or, in some cases, did not understand the system's weaknesses. And the few who did see the problems feared that if they undertook extensive reform they risked not only weakening their authority and undermining socialism but also incurring the anger of the Kremlin, which was suspicious of change, especially if it led to a weakening of the Communist Party's repressive grip and its own extensive influence in the region. All this suggests that communist leaders looked to their own personal needs while turning away from the needs of their society. They had their heads in the sand, so to speak, bent on preserving the status quo and relying on Soviet power to support and protect them.
This behavior of the Central and East European communist leaders turned out to be a disaster for them. Their conservatism provoked the wrath of their citizens, who knew of changes taking place in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and