Journal of Cold War Studies 1.3 (1999) 178-180
Russia and Germany Reborn:
Unification, the Soviet Collapse, and the New Europe
Origins of a Spontaneous Revolution. East Germany, 1989
Angela E. Stent, Russia and Germany Reborn: Unification, the Soviet Collapse, and the New Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. 300 pp.
Karl-Dieter Opp, Peter Voss, and Christiane Gern, Origins of a Spontaneous Revolution. East Germany, 1989. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 280 pp.
On 13 August 1989, East Germany's Communist Party daily, Neues Deutschland, marked the 28th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall in the usual way by hailing the "anti-fascist defense wall" as a source of stability and peace in Europe and a protector of socialism in East Germany. Three months later, the Wall was gone. By March 1990, the Communists were gone. By October, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) itself had disappeared. The Soviet Union, its entire empire now in shambles, was soon to follow.
A number of excellent books and useful memoirs in recent years have contributed to a deeper understanding of events in this dizzying period of international upheaval and change. A new book by Georgetown University professor Angela E. Stent and a newly translated book by three German scholars--Karl-Dieter Opp, Peter Voss, and Christiane Gern--both make interesting and distinct contributions to the ongoing discussion and debate.
Stent's book, focusing on ties between Germany and Russia both past and present, is divided into three parts. The first shows that the Soviet Union's relationship with East and West Germany was a central feature of the Cold War. The second provides a detailed analysis of Soviet decision making during the crucial moments of the 1989 East German revolution and the subsequent negotiations over Germany's unification. The third part of the book looks at Russian-German relations over the last eight years, and assesses the impact of this relationship on European security.
Stent has synthesized a great deal of secondary literature, carefully reviewed new archival material, and conducted numerous interviews with key participants, including former German, Russian, and American officials. In some instances her conclusions reaffirm the findings of earlier analyses. For example, Stent observes that even though it was never Mikhail Gorbachev's intention to undermine the Soviet bloc, the Soviet leader did "set in motion a chain reaction that generated its own momentum [and] accelerated the fall of Communism in each successive country"(p. 82). Elsewhere, Stent provides fascinating details about the unraveling of East Germany. She demonstrates that the East German leader Erich Honecker failed to recognize the GDR's increasingly precarious domestic and international position, and that other East German Politbüro members scrambled to react. By autumn 1989, Egon Krenz, Honecker's heir apparent, and Günter Schabowski, secretary of the Berlin Communist Party organization, had begun secretly plotting to oust Honecker; Krenz even maintains that Gorbachev actively encouraged their enterprise. [End Page 178]
Gorbachev's desire to see Honecker removed is understandable, but once Honecker was out of the way, why did the Soviet Union give up so quickly on the GDR, the crown jewel of the Warsaw Pact? Why did Gorbachev assent to Germany's unification and even its full membership in NATO? Stent concludes that such decisions were arrived at "almost serendipitously, with few clear decision-making landmarks" (p. 107). Russian elite opinion was deeply divided on these questions. Moreover, according to Stent, Gorbachev and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze utterly lacked any clear, "coherent strategy" when they entered discussions on German unification (p. 145). By this time, Gorbachev's only clear policy seemed to be the renunciation of the use of force to resolve intra-bloc crises.
Most of the East Germans who participated in the growing demonstrations in the autumn of 1989 seemed to recognize this shift in Soviet policy. In surveys conducted by Karl-Dieter Opp and his colleagues, 69 percent of the respondents expected a crackdown from East...