World leaders recall the fall of the Berlin Wall
Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, and Francois Mitterrand give their account of 1989.
In February 1995, President George H.W. Bush and the Forum for International Policy invited British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and French president Francois Mitterrand to Colorado's Broadmoor Hotel for a reminiscence of their decisions and doubts concerning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany.Skip to next paragraph
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Gorbachev: During the [former leader of the Communist Party, Konstantin] Chernenko funeral, when I spoke with George Bush (then vice president) and Margaret Thatcher, I was also talking with the leaders of the Eastern European countries, I said to all of them: "I want to assure you that the principles that used to just be proclaimed – equality of states and noninterference in internal affairs – will now be our real policy. Therefore you bear responsibility for affairs in your own country. We need perestroika and will do it in our own country. You make your own decision." I said this was the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
I must say they all took a rather skeptical attitude. They thought, "Well, Gorbachev said something about troop reductions at the UN. He is talking about reform at home. He must be in bad shape. He will improve things a little, and then the Soviet Union will go back to its old ways. This is playing the game that is usual with Soviet leaders."
During my years in power, we stuck to the policy I announced. We never interfered, not militarily and not even politically. When Gustav Husak from Czechoslovakia and others came to us, we told them we would help them to the extent possible, but "your country is your responsibility."
Bush: We were skeptical (about Gorbachev's proclamations on noninterference). We were cautious. We were prudent. We didn't want to provoke something inside these Eastern European countries that would compel the Soviet leadership to take action.
I remember going to Poland as vice president to visit Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski who, incidentally, felt that, of all the Eastern European leaders, he was personally closest to you. We had difficulty figuring out how much freedom would be permitted. And I think Jaruzelski also had difficulty figuring that out.
Mitterrand: The events in Poland were highly symbolic, but no more. The trade unions were awakened with Solidarity, but the Soviet Union never stopped controlling the evolution of events there as it did in Czechoslovakia. What brought everything down was the inability to control the fantastic migration out of East Germany into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and later to West Germany. That was the end for the Soviet empire.