Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down, radically and suddenly changing the trajectory of Russian history. There’s been a flurry of reminiscing in the media, but this one from Michael Binyon in the Times of London is especially interesting. I wonder if Putin and co. might see a lesson in these Politburo archives about what can happen after so many years of a controlled media, no free speech, and a complete disconnect from the masses.
Why had Moscow not done anything to prevent the prospect of a united Germany? Mitterrand and the French Establishment, Mr Gorbachev’s colleagues reported, were having nightmares. One, Jacques Attali, even said that he would go and live on Mars if unification occurred.
But Mr Gorbachev was determined not to fall back on the old response of a wounded Russian bear. He was not going to send in the troops to prop up the old communist dinosaurs. He thought Eric Honecker, East Germany’s unbending autocrat, an “arsehole”. And he naively believed that, if Russia were to allow the demonstrators to overthrow the old dictators, the peoples of Eastern Europe would be grateful.
His naivety is understandable. Vladimir Bukovsky, the Sovietdissident who first obtained some of the key Kremlin documents, saidthe problem was that the Soviet leadership never really knew what themasses thought. There was no free press, the bosses believed their ownpropaganda and the KGB only reported what they thought the Kremlinwanted to hear.
When it all turned out differently, the response in Russia was aschaotic and bewildered as it was across the Continent. Events weredriving the crowds on to the streets. And communist parties were leftwith no response, no plan and no authority.