History knows no neat radical breaks. Even the dramatic changes in East Germany, for all their suddenness, do not make much sense without the background of perestroika, and they are also the beginning of big changes that will affect the shape of Europe. Yet events such as the crumbling of the Berlin wall are history’s turning points. They are both symptoms of its acceleration and symbols of a changing age. They compel us to reassess the past, to revise our values, to make tentative projections despite a number of unknowns.
Of all the Eastern European capitals, Berlin was probably the hardest to set in motion. Sofia now seems to be following, and Prague’s days are also clearly numbered. (Rumania is clearly a special case.) The end of an era is thus undeniable, but in order to counter the massive propaganda that is designed to write the whole story as an epitaph for socialism, one must explain that what is now coming to an end is not socialism but the Stalinist model that was brought to Eastern Europe by the Soviet tanks liberating It from the Nazis. The successive failures to overhaul this model after the departure of the dictator H.111 have to be examined to see why it is beyond repair– and what can be put in its place. First, however, we must look at another, larger denouement that is forecast for the not too distant future: the end of Yalta, the settlement imposed by the victorious powers after World War II.
The Crimean spa of Yalta was the site of the second of three conferences–the first was in Teheran; the third, in Potsdam–at which the Allies determined the postwar frontiers of Europe. In February 1945, in the former summer residence of the czar, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin carved out their spheres of influence. It took three more years and a series of events–Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri; the Truman Doctrine; the Marshall Plan; the Prague coup; and the blockade of Berlin–for the wartime alliance to be frozen into the cold war and for the two halves of Europe to be turned Into hostile blocs. But the spheres of influence were drawn up at Yalta, and it is the dismantling of this agreement that is now on the political agenda.
Western political leaders sound strangely reserved in their hour of triumph, when the conflict at least gives the impression of being resolved in their favor. Their reticence is not entirely due to the establishment’s instinctive dislike of popular interference with its plans and timetables; the political awakening of the people always sets a bad precedent. Neither can it be fully explained by the fact that the spokespersons of the East German opposition, especially those of New Forum. do not share the reverence for capitalism displayed by many of their Hungarian or Polish colleagues [see Gunter Minnerup, “Opening Up a New Europe?” December 4]. Western rulers are genuinely perturbed by the very prospect of change. For West Germany’s European partners, it spells two rather contradictory threats: first, that the Federal Republic, lured by the attractions of the East, will desert or subvert the Common Market; second, that it will come to dominate the European Community completely after it is strengthened still further by some form of German reunification. President Bush faces the specter of rapid disarmament in Europe, the removal of U.S. troops, the dissolution of NATO and drastically reduced control over the Western alliance.