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.
insistent that any East Germans caught trying to cross the border illegally be returned for prosecution. East German secret police had been making themselves ostentatiously visible in the camps around Lake Balaton and the border regions, urging GDR citizens to return home and warning of the penalties of escape, not only for themselves but for their families left behind. Neither Pozsgay nor Nemeth knew whom to trust. Authorities reporting to allies such as Interior Minister Istvan Horvath could
unkempt manager, was a deputy foreign minister in 1968. Poles envied Czechoslovakia as a consumer paradise. Food was ample. Everyone seemed to have a weekend country house. Prague was a well-tended jewel. Czechs, on the other hand, envied Poles their freedom. For decades, Prague’s austere leadership enforced a tacit social contract: political subservience in exchange for a decent living standard. “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us,” the old joke went. It was a formula for stagnation.
year to organize the rally. Faced with a potential Tiananmen, he telephoned the police commander who had authorized the gathering and promised not to interfere. “You assured us there would be no violence,” said Mejstrik. “Don’t be afraid,” the man replied. “Nothing will happen.” Shortly after 9 p.m., Martin returned to Narodni Street, just in time to see the police hurl themselves upon the crowds. Ten years later, we walked the street where it happened. “People were pressed so closely together
freighted with symbolism, ideology and history. The Wall was World War II, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, the high tide of totalitarianism and communist dictatorship, the frontier of democracy. You could feel it, smell it, run your hands over it, look across it. On the one side, us. On the other, them. It didn’t matter what direction you took. Berlin was an island; all paths led to the Wall. Usually I went down Bismarck Strasse, past the Siegessäule, the winged column celebrating Prussia’s
the gravity of the social and economic crisis gripping the country: how heavy industry devoted mainly to military production was not only fueling an arms race and beggaring the civilian population but was, quite literally, poisoning the nation in its environmental effects. Chernobyl, as he saw it, was only the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper problem, propelling him to think differently about everything, from state policies on secrecy and information to Soviet foreign policy. As for the