The Revolutions Of 1989
The leaders of Lithuania and Belarus, the first after the collapse of the USSR, recall the influence of the anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe on the growth of national consciousness in their republics
The fall of the communist regimes in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 is sometimes called the “Autumn of the Nations”. A number of English-language publications used the term Autumn of Nations, and the Polish press used Jesień Ludów and Jesień Narodów.
These events started in Poland, where in September 1989 the first non-communist government in several decades was formed. In October of the same year, after a series of successful political reforms, the Hungarian People’s Republic was officially renamed the Republic of Hungary..
On the night of November 9-10, the Berlin Wall, which was considered a symbol of the Cold War, practically ceased to exist. On November 28, after 500,000 demonstrations in the center of Prague, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia gave up its monopoly on power.
In November, long-term leader of Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov was ousted from his post, and the Bulgarian opposition united in a coalition called the Union of Democratic Forces. Finally, in mid-December, riots broke out in Romania, during which the army went over to the side of the demonstrators, the country’s President Nicolae Ceausescu was arrested and then shot.
British historian and political scientist Timothy Garton-Ash described the change of power in the satellites of the USSR: “In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks, in Czechoslovakia ten days, in Romania ten hours “.
In the Soviet Union itself, the events in the “fraternal socialist countries” were followed with different moods – some with hope and some with alarm. On April 9, 1989, the forces of the internal troops and the Soviet army brutally dispersed an opposition rally in Tbilisi, as a result of which 21 people died and 290 people were injured..
But in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, then called the “republics of the Soviet Baltic”, Popular Fronts were gaining strength, aiming to restore state sovereignty in each of these countries, annexed by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940..
“It was a general movement for democracy”
According to the memoirs of Vytautas Landsbergis, who in 1989 was the chairman of the Sajudis Seimas Council and at the same time the people’s deputy of the USSR, the anti-communist revolutions in the CMEA and Warsaw Pact countries were “liberation from fear, liberation from political terror coming from the Bolshevik center in Moscow.” And Lithuania was part of this general Eastern European movement.
In a conversation with the correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” Vytautas Landsbergis noted: “We needed to cast aside this dictatorship and follow the path of dignity and right in order to be ourselves. Lithuania did not hesitate here. And the question here is not whether someone influenced us, but to what extent we participated (in the Eastern European democratic movement – A.P.) and influenced others. This is what we need to talk about “.
Vytautas Landsbergis also recalled that at that time the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR was not elected, but was appointed in the “party offices”. And the truly national representative of the Lithuanians was the Sajudis Seimas, as an elected body. “We had democratic representation and demanded that democratic elections be held in the same 1989. It happened in Central and Eastern Europe, and we were part of it. We did not succeed, because the procedural decisions were made by the Communist Party, which did not receive such permission in Moscow. But we held such an election in early 1990, and S иjūdis won with a crushing result. And he fulfilled his promise to the people – he proclaimed a restored independent state – the Republic of Lithuania.
And this is our participation in the movement of the Eastern European countries in 1989, which was full of events in our country. Let us recall, for example, the “Baltic Way”, the 30th anniversary of which was celebrated this year. It was a demonstration in support of independence and the need for significant changes in the Soviet Union itself. What was called Perestroika, but was never really implemented, ”said Vytautas Landsbergis.
Returning to the topic of the anti-communist movement in the “countries of people’s democracy”, he recalls that in Lithuania this was perceived as a positive phenomenon and inspiring great hopes for changes not only in these countries themselves, but also in other members of the so-called “socialist camp”.
“Just as our movement was aimed at changing the situation and abandoning the dictatorship, not only in Lithuania. It was a general movement for democracy, opposing political dictatorship, totalitarianism. And we were able to do it. We opened the gates for many other (peoples), when the leaders of the Soviet Union hoped that by giving up Central Europe, they would retain all their conquests, at least in the Baltics. But we did not allow this, we said: we are Europe too, we are also in this movement for freedom, and we will not stop! ”, – Vytautas Landsbergis concludes.
“The fear did not disappear, but there was also joy that the situation was changing”
In the late 1980s, the growth of national self-awareness was also noted in other republics of the USSR. One of the most famous representatives of the democratic movement in Belarus at that time was a physicist Stanislav Shushkevich, won the elections to the People’s Deputies of the USSR and became a member of the Interregional Deputy Group.
To the question of the correspondent of the Russian Service of the Voice of America about how the events of autumn 1989, and above all the fall of the Berlin Wall, influenced the national consciousness in his republic, Shushkevich replied: “It made a great emotional impression. I can judge by the sentiments of the part of the Belarusian intelligentsia with which I contacted. We believed that our duty was to give the Germans the opportunity to live in one state. And I was especially zealous in this matter, because in the 70s I gave three lectures on electronics at the University of Jena in the GDR, and I understood the situation there. I had contacts with Eastern European colleagues, and I warmly welcomed the events taking place there. I must say that I made a big mistake in glorifying the role of Gorbachev in all respects. But it is really possible to erect a monument to him, for the fact that the unification of Germany took place under him ”.
According to Stanislav Shushkevich, the Belarusian intelligentsia welcomed this event, but both then and now there are supporters of Russian imperialism in the republic. “And they said that one should not deviate from what, in their words, was“ won by blood, ”as if they themselves had shed their own blood. But then there were few such people, and the overwhelming majority welcomed this step (the unification of Germany – A.P.), and, in general, believed that a new period of life was beginning. And so it happened, “- emphasizes the interlocutor of the Voice of America..
Mentioning that in the fall of 1989 in the satellites of the USSR there were not only “velvet revolutions”, but also very dramatic events, Stanislav Shushkevich notes that fear was also present in the mood of the Belarusian society. “The fact is that in the process of Russification, and it must be admitted that in the process of Polonization, the Belarusians were beheaded in the same way as any other nation. Therefore, our people have always had both fear and the ability to survive. Sometimes it was beneficial, but now, in general, it is harmful, because we are ready to live in any conditions. But even then, alas, the fear did not disappear, because our Communist Party rules are very clear and strict. But there was also joy that the situation is changing before our eyes, ”Stanislav Shushkevich concluded his comment..