Thursday, October 29, 2009

20 Years.

Yes, it's been almost 20 years since the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe that effectively ended the Cold War and that being one of my personal favorite topics, I was delighted to find a pretty good article on it in the New York Review of Books. Hiding in the analysis of the article are a couple of really fun anecdotes that are worth quoting:

So what happened in 1989 can only be understood on the basis of a scrupulous, detailed chronological reconstruction of intended and unintended effects, in multiple directions on multiple stages, day by day, and sometimes—as on the evening of November 9 in Berlin—minute by minute. The reporting or misreporting of events, especially by television, is itself a vital part of the causal chain. When a trusted, avuncular presenter on the 10:30 PM West German television news declared that "the gates in the Wall are wide open" they were not yet wide open; but this report helped to make them so, since it increased the flood of East Berliners (who watched and were more inclined to believe West German television) hoping to get through the frontier crossings to the West, and the crowds of West Berliners coming to greet them on the other side.An erroneous report on Radio Free Europe that a student called Martin Šmid had been killed, in the suppression of the November 17, 1989, student demonstration in Prague, helped to swell the protesting crowds in the first days of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. (In what seems to me the best, and certainly the most amusing, of the retrospective chronicles, György Dalos tells how the student came home the next evening to be told by a somewhat agitated father that he was reportedly dead.)

With regards to the apparent US apathy towards or understatement of what was going on in CEE:
Nor did Bush set much store by bearded dissidents who looked like something out of Berkeley in the 1960s. Victor Sebestyen, in a book full of sharp snapshots and crisp narrative, has a well-sourced account of the President meeting with the leading Hungarian dissident János Kis in Budapest in July 1989, and subsequently telling aides, "These really aren't the right guys to be running the place." Much better to stick with a preppy reform communist.
The bottom line of the article seems to be that 20 years later, given the significance of the events of that year, someone needs to write a comprehensive history of 1989 from all angles. However, looking at these anecdotes, I think this would make for brilliant material for a 4-hour epic movie 1989 (fine, I'll settle for a 10-part series on PBS). I mean, seriously - a blunder on TV, a screw up on the radio and you have a revolution - that is classic.

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