September 6, 2009

In the words of the Polish journalist and dissident, Adam Michnik, 1989 was Europe’s annus mirabilis. The peaceful revolution of that year was a miracle effected by the people in central and eastern Europe. Hardly any one (and certainly no western head of state or politician) had foreseen that a popular movement active in different countries would, in just a few months, topple socialist regimes and force the mighty Soviet Union to retreat behind the borders of Russia. There was Ronald Regan’s legendary call “Mr. Gorbatchev,
tear down this wall!” made in June 1987 as he stood at the Berlin Wall but neither U.S. diplomats nor European governments took it seriously and some did not even want it: to them two Germanys was preferable to one.

This wonder of freedom did not just fall out of the sky. It had a long history; the Czechoslovakian Charter 77 group was part of it as was the Polish trade union movement, Solidarność; one could also include the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Soviet dissident circle around Andrei Sakharov, or even go as far back as the Hungarian uprising of 1956 or the events of 17 June 1953 in the GDR, the first mass revolt in the Soviet sphere of influence after the war.

The reason 1989 was so successful in comparison to earlier revolts was due to its peaceful nature. The images of tanks in East Berlin, Budapest and Prague were still in peoples’ minds and nobody could be sure that these tragedies would not be repeated. The trauma of these events was the creative force for the development of a new concept of resistance, namely no violence but dialogue with the powers that be to bring about peaceful transformation.

That these improbable aims were met was not due exclusively to the skill and prudence of the opposition movements. Without the political spring in Moscow, without Gorbachev’s readiness to keep Russian troops in the barracks and allow the reform movements in the socialist brother lands to continue, the history of 1989 would have been much darker. This remains Gorbachev’s historical achievement even though it was based on a miscalculation: Gorbachev believed that reform would strengthen the socialist system; in fact it sealed its fate.

The spirit of the early part of this period of change at the beginning of the 1990s was captured in American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama’s famous book The End of History (published 1992). Fukuyama’s main thesis was that with the collapse of socialism there was no longer any serious opposition to liberalism and that the whole world would now commit itself to the combination of democracy and capitalism that had emerged successfully from the battle with the rival socialist system.

The question we have to ask at the end of the first decade of the new millennium is: how valid is Fukuyama’s assessment today? Or is what we are experiencing in many of the post-communist countries an erosion of their newly won democracy against the backdrop of a global economic crisis that is questioning the legitimacy of capitalism?

This crisis with the ideas of democracy and´market economy does not, however, mean that alternatives will emerge that will create a similar impact as the communist and fascist oppositional movements in the 1930s. The wave of freedom that began in 1989 has swept
beyond Europe. The democratic movement in China that was crushed in the usual manner at Tiananmen Square is also part of it. The epicentre, however, was in Europe, including Russia. One of its most important achievements has been the political reunification of Europe on the basis of the rule of law and democracy.

The historic mission of creating a free and united Europe, however, is not yet complete. We should not make the mistake of either drawing or accepting new and lasting division lines in Europe, neither in the case of ex-Yugoslavia nor against Turkey, Ukraine or Georgia. Currently, the effects of the economic crisis threaten even what European integration has already achieved. We are going through a period of a dangerous lack of European solidarity and inability to act when what we need is more not less Europe if we are to overcome the crisis.

The contributors to this publication do not just look back with pleasure to those euphoric days when the people of central and eastern Europe overcame the continent’s division but they have also made sober assessments of the intervening period. What have been the results of 1989? How far have the expectations of the time been fulfilled and where have they been disappointed? What role has the example of the European Union played in the last twenty years? Where do the post-communist countries of central and eastern Europe as well as those of the Western Balkans now stand in Europe? What effect has all this had on “old Europe“, those members of the European Union whose historical experience took place on the other side of the Wall? In what way has the accession of post-communist countries influenced the European Union and its policies?

We have also looked to the future. How do the post-communist countries see themselves in twenty years time? Upon what goals and values should Europe’s future be based? One thing is clear: although a united Europe needs strong common institutions it cannot rely on institutions alone. Without shared values and ideals, without a clear public debate as how we want our society to develop, a united Europe will lack the necessary impetus to progress.

Ralf Fücks, Member of the executive board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation

PART ONE Central Europe: The New EU Member States

1. Ilana Bet-El: Post-Cold War Enlargement and the Coming of Age of the European Union

2. Adam Krzemiński: Between Disappointment and Optimism: The Polish Experience

3. Jiří Pehe: The Czech Republic and the European Union: A Problematic Relationship

4. Veiko Spolitis: Amidst Centripetal and Centrifugal Moves: The Ongoing Transformation of the Baltic States

5. Werner Schulz: Catching the European Train – German Unification: A Stepping Stone Towards a United Europe

PART TWO The Western Balkans: The EU Perspective

6. Nicholas Whyte: The European Union and the Western Balkans

7. Vladimir Pavićević: The European Perspective of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo

8. Tihomir Ponoš: Croatia: An Apprehensive Fan of Europe

9. Ugo Vlaisavljević: Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Continuity of Ethno-Politics in the Age of European Integration

PART THREE Ex-Soviet Union: The EU’s Eastern Neighbours

10. Fraser Cameron: The Eastern European Policy of the European Union

11. Beka Natsvlishvili: Georgia on the Way to Europe

12. Jens Siegert: Russia and the European Union: A Deep Moat in Place of the Iron Curtain?

13. Juri Durkot: Tales from Ukraine

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