From the Velvet Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall: How 1989 became the year communism collapsed

In Poland it took 10 years; in East Germany 10 weeks; in Czechoslovakia 10 days. It was 1989 and across eastern Europe communism was coming to an end. Thirty years on, Mick O’Hare looks at how we are still experiencing the fallout of that tumultuous year

Tuesday 30 April 2019 11:46 BST
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East German border guards demolish a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin
East German border guards demolish a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin

It’s funny,” says Sandor Csapo. “But I guess we had no idea what the world would be like 30 years later. All we knew was what we didn’t want anymore.” It’s too late to canvass opinion on what Csapo, then a student from Eger, and his fellow protestors expected as they stood in the rain outside Hungary’s state television studios in Budapest in the spring of 1989.

They were part of a growing opposition to communist single-party rule in Hungary and other satellite states of the Soviet Union. And while they probably didn’t imagine they’d now be living under the staunchly nationalist, anti-immigrant government of Viktor Orban and his Fidesz conservatives, they did know they wanted change. And they got it.

Even compared with today’s political volatility, 1989 was – to employ a word overused in politics – tumultuous. Attention initially focused on the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk and the confrontations between the trade union Solidarity led by Lech Wałęsa and the Polish government of Wojciech Jaruzelski, so it was easy to overlook Hungary. But as people asserted opposition to the communist parties that had ruled their lives pretty much since the end of the Second World War – often via oppressive means and tightly controlled media – it could be argued that events in Budapest begat one of two pivotal moments in the collapse of Soviet hegemony.

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