Europe's last Red tide recedes

I was born a year before the Russian Revolution, and I think we may be witnessing the last ebbing of the tide of Communist tyranny that swept over Eastern Europe.

In 1948, Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia stood up to Stalin and refused to accept the status of obedient satellite. But Mr. Tito had his own brand of dictatorial rule.

The rollback of communism could be said to have started in East Germany in 1953, soon after Stalin's death, with demonstrations that were bloodily suppressed by the Soviet Army. Beaten down, the forces of freedom in the Soviet empire remained sullenly silent for a few years.

Then came Poznan in 1956, where Polish workers demonstrated for "bread and freedom," and Wladyslaw Gomulka, who had been a prisoner of Stalin, became the party chief. In Warsaw during the "Polish October," as they called it, I could smell the breath of freedom. But Poland would remain under wavering Soviet control until 1980, when workers led by Lech Walesa completed the counterrevolution that Poznan had started.

In 1956, Hungary took Poland's cue and rose up against its Communist rulers. I was in Moscow then, where Nikita Khrushchev and the hard-liners in his Politboro argued fiercely about whether to go along with changes in Hungary or send in the tanks. In the end, they sent in the tanks, and hundreds of Hungarians died waiting for Western help that never came.

The same in Czechoslovakia in 1968, where reformers tried out a more moderate form of communism called "Socialism with a human face." And soon the Soviet tanks were there, and the Kremlin leader promulgated the "Brezhnev doctrine" that no country, once in the Soviet orbit, gets to leave.

But in the 1980s, the Kremlin could no longer enforce its will. And when East Germany's Erich Honecker asked Soviet troops to support his rule, Mikhail Gorbachev told him his regime was on its own. And the Berlin Wall came crashing down.

The Czechs took to the streets, and soon their country was free under Vaclav Havel.

In Yugoslavia, where Tito had managed to hold disparate nationalities together, the federation split asunder. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia went off on their own. Then there was not much left but Serbia, the last holdout against a tide of history.

What started with Lenin and Stalin and Trotsky in Petrograd in 1917 is coming to an end in Belgrade in 2000.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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