The revolutions of 1989 were as pivotal a moment in European history as 1917, 1848, or 1789yet almost no one saw them coming until nearly the last moment: not Washington, Moscow, the Communist regimes, nor even the victorious rebels themselves. But as Gale Stokes shows in this powerful new historythe most comprehensive, analytical, and readable of its kindmomentum for change had been building since 1968, momentum which soon drove past Gorbachev-inspired reforms to outright revolution.
In The Walls Came Tumbling Down, Stokes provides a compelling account of the Eastern European struggle for democracy, from the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 through the most recent elections. Stokes vividly describes the thinkers, leaders, and events in each country, showing how the crushing of the Prague Spring had sparked the final disillusioment in Eastern Europe that culminated in the revolts of 1989. In Poland, workers struck again and again to force the government to negotiate, culminating in the creation of Solidarity. Solidarity, he writes, was skillfully led by Lech Walesa, who helped create a "self-limiting" revolution with largely apolitical demands. Under General Jeruzelski's martial law, it fostered a "parallel society" which proved so successful that Warsaw was forced to recognize the union. In Czechoslovakia, intellectuals turned to "anti-politics," forming Charter 77 to demand that the government abide by its own laws and agreements on civil rights. Stokes also explores the actions of rulers and governments, from Ceausescu's self-glorification to Hungary's official turn toward a more market-based economy. The author interweaves the fast-paced narrative with analytical insight, tracing the path of developments after Gorbachev lifted the lid on reform (showing, for instance, how East German reform crystalized after thousands fled across Hungary's newly-opened border to the West). Stokes provides deft biographical sketches of the key figures, from Polish Communist leader Gierek to Vaclav Havel, and smoothly explains the tangled web of economic theories and reforms. He brings the story right up to the present day, examining the climactic events of 1989, the new democratic, pluralist governments, and the forces at work in the region today.
Stokes's highly readable account provides truly comprehensive coverage, including a special chapter on the break-up and war in Yugoslavia. For anyone who wants a clear picture of the new Europe and the events behind it, The Walls Came Tumbling Down offers an authoritative, seamless history filled with keen analysis and human drama.
Stokes (history, Rice U.) provides a clear narrative and a balanced analysis of the history and events that led up to the East European revolutions of 1989, from the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 through the elections of 1989 and the most recent events. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)