Eyewitness of the Big Fall

This blog aims to look into the past to interpret the present and bridge better the necessity of history with today’s reality and the possibility of tomorrow. It’s about culture, anthropology, history, and geography, and also about continuity, discontinuity, conflict, and reconciliation in our human affairs.

The function of history is to look into the past and guide us into the future, but this ambitious undertaking rarely gets fulfilled. When you do a Google search for “The Rise and Fall…” you’ll find many historical works describing how various powers came to be and eventually faded away. But you’ll find no book from the ’60s, 70’s, or the early 80’s that describes the rise and fall of communism, although, in retrospect, back then, the writing was (literally) “on the Wall” (pun intended)! Historians might not have been able to predict the fall of communism. Still, at least there were a lot of eyewitnesses to that, and recently I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview one of them, my father. Here are my notes from that interview…

Q1: What circumstances in your life brought you to Eastern Europe near the end of the cold war?

· Born in Europe/Greece, became College-age in the first half of the 1980s.

· Went to Poland to study a unique combo of cognitive psychology with applied statistics + modeling; In Poland, communism was in control everywhere but inside the churches and the walls of Academia, both of which had solid, continuous ties to the West.

Q2: How was daily life in the Eastern Block in the 1980s?

· Communism had been failing, as seen by the widespread dissatisfaction and unrests that erupted in the satellite states of the USSR: 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Prague. Poland avoided the turmoil owning to the light reforms it enjoyed and the freedoms given to the Catholic Church and academia. But in the 1970’s food shortages, price hikes, and lack of liberty gave rise to labor unrests, protests, and strikes in Gdansk and then the capital, Warsaw.

Q3: How did it become possible for the entrenched Eastern European Communist System to decline and eventually collapse after 60+ years of survival?!

Three factors contributed to its fall:

  1. Long-Term Systemic Decay: Economic Failure+Political Oppression+Technological Slide
  2. Precipitating Causes: exhaustion from the intensified arms race and failed attempt to globalize the communist system expansion
  3. External Triggers: 1978 Krakow’s cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, was elected as Pope John Paull II; he visited Poland in 1979, 1983, and 1987. Also Pres. Reagan’s “Wall Speech” in Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Q4: What are the significant events that led to the End of Eastern European Communism in your memory?

· 1978 Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla elected as Pope John Paul II

· 1979 Pope Visit 1 to Poland

· 1980 Solidarność (Solidarity) is formed

· 1981 Martial Law – Solidarność outlawed – 10K arrested, 10K
forced to immigrate

· 1983 Pope Visit 2 to Poland

· 1985 Gorbachev elected: Glasnost (transparency) + Perestroika
(change)

· 1987 Pope Visit 3 to Poland

· 1988 televised debate: Walesa (Solidarity) wins vs. Gov’t

Q5: Living in Poland, what did you witness in 1989, when the Fall of Eastern European communists started snowballing?

· 1989 Spring Turmoil (tanks on Univ. campuses) > April “Round Table Accords,” an official dialogue between the Government and the opposition > June Elections: Solidarity captures all but one seat in the Senate and all of the 1/3 seats allowed in the House > July: Gorbachev declares USSR will not intervene in the affairs of the satellite countries > Nov. 9 the Berlin War Falls.

Q6: How does the experience of the Fall of European Communism compare with other significant events that you have witnessed in your life?

Déjà vu: Before the collapse of Eastern European communism, as a little kid, I witnessed the Collapse of the Greek Dictatorship (Junta) in 1974!

There is a famous saying that we need to learn history so that we do not… repeat it! The twentieth-century historians failed to do that, especially with the fall of communism. I hope that where the historians failed, we can succeed by retelling the stories of the eyewitnesses – they’re vivid and instructive. They can help us be correct in predicting that humanity will never again see such an era.

About the author

iangrigorakis

My name is Ian Grigorakis and I'm a sophomore at Redwood Highschool in Marin County, California. I'm interested in how the past has shaped the present and how the present foreshadows the future of civic institutions, international relations, and culture in general. I like finding the classic in the modern, and tracing the evolution of national identities.

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