The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain seemed to be permanent fixtures of the political landscape of Europe after 1961. But to everyone’s surprise, the Berlin Wall opened on November 9, 1989. This stunning event triggered a chain reaction throughout Eastern Europe, accelerating a process that had begun a decade earlier. Using a little poetic license, one could claim that what took ten years in Poland took ten months in Hungary, ten weeks in East Germany, ten days in Czechoslovakia, and ten hours in Romania. A peaceful revolution of unprecedented magnitude rippled across the continent throughout 1989 in a political, moral, and spiritual earthquake that changed the course of history. The rest of the Soviet Union would tumble two years later in the aftershocks. Nearly 400 million people were freed and scarcely a shot was fired. But why?
As it turns out, I was an eyewitness to much of this chapter of history. I experienced East Germany when it was under grim, deadly communist domination in the 1980s. I was an international television correspondent in Europe reporting on Germany and Russia, and stood at the Berlin Wall on the spot where the first victim was killed trying to flee to freedom in the West. I was there in Germany when the Berlin Wall opened up in November 1989 to great jubilation, and I helped people who fled communism start a new life in the West. After the communist regime imploded in Moscow in 1991, I went to Russia to join western efforts to build order in the ashes of the collapsed empire.
Why did communism collapse in the peaceful revolution of 1989-91? If Herodotus were writing the history, he would give several different reports from a variety of sources. In 1989-1991, most people reporting the events gave the accounts listed below. I know these arguments well because I also made them before doing my own research:
1) The economic system of the Soviet Union was breaking down, leading to an implosion.
2) The military buildup of the United States and NATO countries during the Cold War effectively backed down the Soviets, bankrupting them.
3) The extended empire of the Soviets became too large to govern effectively, and it collapsed from its excessive weight and dysfunctionality.
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