This book reassesses a defining historical, political and ideological moment in contemporary history: the 1989 revolutions in central and eastern Europe. It considers the origins, processes and outcomes of the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. The book argues that communism was not simply an 'unnatural Yoke' around the necks of East Europeans, but was a powerful, and not entirely negative, historical force capable of modernizing societies, cultures and economies. It focuses on the interplay between internal and external developments as opposed to an emphasis on Cold War geopolitical power struggles and the triumphalist rhetoric of how the 'freedom-loving' USA 'defeated' the 'totalitarian' Soviet Union. The book also approaches the East European revolutions from a variety of angles, emphasizing generational conflicts, socio-economic and domestic aspects, international features, the 'Gorbachev factor', and the role of peace movements or discourses on revolution. It analyses the peace movements in both parts of Germany during the 1980s from a perspective that transcends the ideological and geopolitical divides of the Cold War. The history of the East German peace movement has mostly been written from the perspective of German unification in 1989-1990. Many historians have read the history of the civil rights movement of 1989-1990 backwards in order to show its importance, or ignored it altogether to highlight the totalitarian character of the German Democratic Republic.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book aims to reconsider the origins, processes and outcomes of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. It considers the longue duree comparative methodology to contextualise the East European events through the lens of the revolutionary traditions and spirit of 1789, 1848 and 1917. The book provides a succinct overview of recent theoretical and social scientific writing on revolution. It demonstrates the vicissitudes of reform in Czechoslovakia. By the late 1980s there were indications that the contested language of perestroika itself was engendering a portentous fragmentation of communist hierarchies and a disintegration of the social consensus. The factors determining the course of events in 1989 have to be sought beyond the Soviet Union and the West, even if developments up to the autumn might be 'interpreted within the framework of perestroika'.