East Bloc Drama From Front Row
(Page 2 of 2)
Still, the book has more weight and content than its 156 pages would indicate. Ash puts anecdotes to powerful use. There is his Hungarian friend, who confides that ``I have survived 40 years of communism, but I'm not sure that I'll survive one year of capitalism.'' Longtime Solidarity advisor, Jacek Kuro'n, tells Ash of his recent meeting with George Bush: ``He said he was for democracy. I said `Me too.''' Or there's the moment after the Berlin Wall goes down when East German General Erich Mielke, the head of the brutal ``Stasi'' political police, walks away from an open microphone mumbling, ``But I love you all.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The June 4 election that put Solidarity in power was a landmark moment in the history of communism, Ash writes. In the section on Poland, He details the politics that shifted Poland from a state of ``Authority, Solidarity, and Church,'' to one of ``Government, Parliament, and Presidency.''
If Poland had democracy before it had political parties, Hungary was just the opposite. Ash describes the three months of talks in Budapest between opposition groups and the Communist Party that led to an agreement on multiparty elections.
East Germany was more different still. Like other East bloc states, it held round-table discussions, demolished the leading role of the party, and set free-election dates. Yet the emotional tide of reunification swept everything else aside - though it was opposed by those in churches and opposition groups who actually began the revolution. Ash sympathizes with them.
But Ash's heart belongs to Prague. He loves ``the speed, the improvisation, and the merriness'' of that revolution. ``The students started it,'' he says. He's there early to hear Havel call it a ``four-day-old baby.'' Havel may have been the final arbiter of events in Prague, but ``a less authoritarian person could not be found.'' Ash describes the tension between the need for swift action and that for internal democracy beneath the Magic Lantern.
The final essay is a gem. Ash offers three differences between 1989 and the ``Springtime of Nations'' in an earlier revolutionary year, 1848: Gorbachev, Helsinki, and Tocqueville. That is, Gorbachev's acquiescence; the concern for human rights symbolized by the Helsinki accords; and, finally, what Alexis de Tocqueville described as ``the ruling elite's loss of belief in its own right to rule.''
Perhaps most moving is Ash's own tribute to the East European opposition, whose members he has known for more than a decade. And he asks at the end: ``Do they come like mendicants to the door bearing only chronicles of wasted time? Or might they have, under their threadbare cloaks, some hidden treasures?''
His answer: ``Traveling through this region I have found treasures: examples of great moral courage and intellectual integrity; comradeship, deep friendship, family life; time and space for serious conversation, music, literature, not disturbed by the perpetual noise of our media-driven and obsessively telecommunicative world; Christian witness in its original and purest form ... an ethos of solidarity.''
Might we all partake of such treasures.