The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall
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A riveting, eyewitness account of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War from the Newsweek Bureau Chief in that region at the time. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many still believe it was the words of President Ronald Regan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!,” that brought the Cold War to an end. Michael Meyer disagrees, and in this extraordinarily compelling account, explains why. Drawing together breathtakingly vivid, on-the-ground accounts of the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the stealth opening of the Hungarian border, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the collapse of the infamous wall in Berlin, Meyer shows how American intransigence contributed little to achieving such world-shaking change. In his reporting from the frontlines of the revolution in Eastern Europe between 1988 and 1992, he interviewed a wide range of local leaders, including VÁclav Havel and Lech Walesa. Meyer’s descriptions of the way their brave stands were decisive in bringing democracy to Eastern Europe provide a crucial refutation of a misunderstanding of history that has been deliberately employed to help push the United States into the intractable conflicts it faces today.
protest. Hundreds of thousands marched at the funeral of a murdered pro-Solidarity priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, in 1984. And so it was again in 1989 when another clerical activist, Father Stefan Niedzielak, was found dead just days after Poland’s communist leaders offered to recognize Solidarity. Many interpreted the killing as a message to the resurgent opposition: go slow, or else. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before something happened. That previous spring, when the strikes first
meeting in Washington was a window on a more profound problem, with implications far beyond nukes. That was a question of mind-set: the inability to break free of a Cold War view of the world, even as the system was about to come unglued. I remember thinking this at the time, as if those of us on the ground in Europe inhabited one world and Washington another. Toward the end of winter, I visited the U.S. Army’s Eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, the center of NATO’s most forward
solemnly advised, “Beware of the German Jewish conspiracy against the Polish army.” It was an age-old shibboleth, too complicated to go into. Let’s merely note that victims of history are not always ennobled by their victimhood, nor are devils forever damned. Communists were quick to take advantage of Solidarity’s troubles by recasting themselves as progressive “social democrats.” Marek Krol, the newly appointed secretary of media relations for the party, was the epitome of the new New Man.
time, was no answer. That was the ascent of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the communist party of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985. Gorbachev hit the Soviet landscape like a giant meteor from outer space, transforming everything on impact. He was that rarest and most powerful force in history: the singularity, the wild card, what scientists call an exogenous variable, the unprecedented element that changes all theories and throws off all calculations and, with them, changes the
friend, the British journalist and eminent literary critic Daniel Johnson. He, too, deserves a measure of credit for bringing down the Wall. CHAPTER 2 My travels along the Wall and to East Berlin, at least as they relate to this chapter, took place in the fall of 1988 and early 1989 and culminated in a February cover story for Newsweek International. I spoke to diplomats, government officials on both sides of the Wall, analysts, polling experts, academics and many, many ordinary people from