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  • The Crumbling of the Soviet BlocThe Crumbling of the Soviet Bloc

The year 1989 will long be remembered for the series of dramatic events that transformed the political landscape of Eastern Europe and the shape of world politics. The first step came last winter with the "roundtable" talks between Poland's Communist government and the Solidarity-led opposition, which produced an April agreement legalizing Solidarity and scheduling partially free parliamentary elections for June. Solidarity-backed candidates swept these elections and in August went on to form postwar Poland's first non-Communist government. Early in 1989, Hungary's Communist leaders had accepted moving to a multiparty system and reevaluated the 1956 uprising; in June, the uprising's leader Imre Nagy was given a hero's reburial. Then after its own roundtable talks, Hungary's parliament in October adopted constitutional revisions providing for free, multiparty elections in 1990.

In October and November, change occurred with dizzying speed in East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. Confronted with a massive outflow of refugees and huge demonstrations in Leipzig, East German leader Erich Honecker resigned and was replaced by Egon Krenz. The swelling protest movement soon prompted Krenz to open the Berlin Wall and to promise free elections. Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov stepped down and was succeeded by a new leadership promising reform. Massive demonstrations in Prague led to the resignation of Czechoslovak party leader Miloš Jakeš; under pressure from a general strike, the party then pledged to include non-Communist ministers in the government, to implement democratic reforms, and to hold free elections. In both East Germany and Czechoslovakia, the legislature voted to end the constitutionally protected leading role of the Communist Party.

In May 1989, the National Endowment for Democracy sponsored a worldwide conference in Washington, D.C. on "The Democratic Revolution" that included an extraordinary panel on Eastern Europe. The essays that follow are based on the presentations made at this session. Given the incredibly rapid march of events in Eastern Europe, they no longer fully reflect the current situation. Yet we believe readers will find in them insights of enduring value, as well as a revealing record of how firsthand participants viewed events in the middle of this historic year.

-The Editors



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