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Mikhail Gorbachev: The Last Days of the Wall

Mikhail Gorbachev, Premier of the Soviet Union, explains in this 1999 article why

the USSR did nothing to interfere with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

(Source: Newsweek, November 8, 1999, p. 45.)

         The Berlin Wall didn't come down in a day or even a season. The crisis in East Germany began four years before the dramatic events of 1989 and many miles away -- with perestroika and democratization in the Soviet Union By the time discontent in East Germany had been transformed into a mass movement, the people there knew that my policy of "freedom of choice" was not just a propaganda slogan. They knew there would be no repeat of the events of the Prague Spring in 1968, and that Warsaw Pact tanks would not intervene. So they exercised their free choice by breaking down the wall.

         I never regretted my decision. To resist the will of a people to save the doomed regime of Erich Honecker would have been hopeless. The use of force could have resulted in a huge bloodbath -- after all, the desire for unification had seized millions of Germans in the fall of 1989 -- and might have led to a military confrontation be­tween the supcrpowers. Even if we could have avoided that, intervention would have meant reversing the basic principles of my political philosophy.  Military action would have ruined the trust that was de­veloping with the West and the United States, and would have cut off vital for­eign economic and political support for perestroika. And it would have meant shooting ordinary people, which was against my moral principles. The cold war would have been revived and my political position as a whole would have been discredited.

         At the time, nobody argued otherwise. None of the members of the Politburo, or indeed anyone from the senior Soviet lead­ership, suggested the use of force. Nobody recommended that Soviet trcops in East Germany be mobilized. It's true that several generals privately discussed such a possibility -- and openly criticized me later for not sending in troops. But at the time, not even Marshal Yazov, the De­fense minister and future coup leader, lobbied for intervention.

         What was there to fight for? Communism -- as the inventors of the theory imagined it -- never ex­isted anywhere: not in Eastern Europe, not in the U.S.S.R. What did exist was Stalinist socialism. That system had exhausted itself and was doomed to disappear. As early as 1988, I insisted that the party abandon its monopoly on power, on property, on ideology. The idea was to liquidate the po­litical power structures which had ruled Russia since Stalin's time.

         Once the forces of glasnost and democracy were let loose, they worked in unpredictable ways. They were decisive in spurring changes in Eastern Europe, but I can't deny that those same torces encouraged separatist tendencies in the national republics ofthe U.S.S.R. Now I see no threat to Russian security because of the entry of Eastern European countries into NATO. Yet their . . . aversion to their "big brother to the East" has turned into a policy of refusing to have any significant relations with Russia. This is not good for Russia, nor for East Europe, nor the world.

Question:  What is a possible theme for this document, a trend that can be proven with examples from previous eras?