Judgement in Moscow (contents)


6.3   The Velvet Revolution

6.4   The German question

6.5   “Our common European home”


The impressive changes that took place in the Communist world in 1989 remain a mystery that no one, for some reason, has been keen to unravel. A grandiose, in some respects improbable, event was unfolding – or so it seemed – in front of our very eyes. Almost without bloodshed, with hardly any struggle, the mighty Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe fell apart. No Western government or international organisation (NATO, the European Parliament or the UN) has since investigated how and why this happened. At least, I am not aware of any public report of such an investigation: if something of that kind was carried out it remains highly confidential. We poor mortals were expected to rejoice at the result and not ask awkward questions.

The official or, to be more exact, generally-accepted version of these events was so illogical that attempts are not made to repeat it today, although it is not disputed either. The preference is simply to forget that account without offering any other explanation. At the time reference handbooks, The Statesman’s Yearbook (1994), for example, informed us [1] without a trace of irony that in Czechoslovakia

“mass demonstrations demanding political reforms began in November 1989. After the authorities used force to disperse a demonstration on 17 November the communist leader resigned. On 30 November, the Federal Assembly deprived the Communist Party of its right to one-party rule, and on 3 December a new government was formed”.

And this is what the same source wrote about events in East Germany:

“In the autumn of 1989 the movement for political liberalisation and reunification with the FRG gathered strength. In October-November Erich Honecker and other Communist leaders who had long been in power were replaced. The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November.”

The same year the BBC Nine O’clock News [2] had this to say about Poland:

“Following a series of strikes and demands to restore the rights of Solidarity the government resigned in September 1988. After parliamentary elections in June 1989 the Communists were unable to form a government to resist the Solidarity opposition and Solidarity member Tadeusz Mazowecki was elected prime minister at the 24 June session of the Sejm. Wholly free parliamentary elections were held in October 1991.”

In Rumania, where the Communist Iliescu replaced the Communist Ceausescu and nothing fundamentally changed, a later report said:

“The attempt by the authorities to expel the Protestant pastor Laszlo Tokes from his home in Timisoara prompted public protests that turned into a mass anti-government demonstration. Although the army was used against the demonstrators the uprising spread to other parts of the country. On 21 December, the government called the nation to attend an official rally in Bucharest which turned against the ruling regime. A state of emergency was declared but the army sided with the rebels and Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu fled the capital. The National Salvation Front, a group of dissidents who had become active before the uprising, declared themselves the provisional government. An offer of intervention from the Soviet Union was rejected.”

It was a series of coincidences, in other words.

At the same time, no one was in doubt that these changes occurred with Moscow’s permission and under a certain amount of pressure from the Kremlin. After all, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, after all, for carrying out this operation. At the time, we were told that he was extending his policy of glasnost and perestroika to the reactionary regimes of Eastern Europe. That leaves an obvious question unanswered. What then was the “Velvet Revolution”? Play-acting? A Kremlin conspiracy?

6.3   The Velvet Revolution

When the circumstances of the 1989 revolution were examined more closely this conclusion became unavoidable. Of the new governments in Eastern Europe, we may note, only the Czechs carried out such an investigation [3]. They established that the opening stages of the public disturbances leading to the downfall of the Jakes leadership were all implemented by the StB (Czech security services) and organised by General Alois Lorenc on the orders of Victor Grushko, head of foreign intelligence at the KGB.

It was discovered, for instance, that both the 17 November 1989 demonstration and its harsh suppression, which supposedly led to the death of a student, were part of their plan. The “dead student” turned out to be a security service officer who was alive and well. A documentary based on the evidence of this investigation was broadcast on the BBC in Britain the following year [4]. On the fifth anniversary of these events General Lorenc appeared on television and confirmed the whole story, adding that he and his men had not coped with their task. They were supposed to put a liberal Communist in power as a result of the “revolution”, not Vaclav Havel.

Journalists who investigated the 1989 events in the GDR came to much the same conclusions. In a two-part documentary, The Fall of the Wall, shown on BBC television in autumn 1994 [5], all the former GDR leaders confirmed that Gorbachev had effectively demanded the removal of Honecker and encouraged the conspirators. Of course, there is much they have not said, but it is not difficult to conclude that they organised the first demonstrations demanding “liberalisation” with Moscow’s approval. It is indisputable that they gave the order not to use force to suppress these disturbances. Classified documents now show that Moscow kept a close watch on the conspiracy and that the overthrow of Honecker a few days after Gorbachev visited Berlin was no coincidence. Among other impressions of the visit Gorbachev’s aide Chernyaev noted in his diary (8 October 1989),

Krenz said to Falin: “Our man [Honecker] is furious, but he doesn’t want to admit a thing. The Socialist Unity Party [SED] will hold its plenum on 10th October … Perhaps Erich will be removed. Otherwise things will soon lead to a storming of the Wall.”

Three days later, in his notes about talks with Honecker, Chernyaev wrote:

In conversation with myself and Shakhnazarov, MS [Gorbachev] called him [Honecker] an arsehole. Today he could today tell his colleagues, “I’ve had four operations, I’m 78, a great deal of strength is needed … in such a dramatic period, ‘let me go’, I’ve played my part.” Then, perhaps, he’d have a place in history. If he did that now Shakh and I doubted that he would keep his place in history. Two or three years ago, there was no question. Now he’s already in the position of [Hungarian leader] Kadar. The people curse him.

The SED Politburo is meeting for the second day in Berlin. Through our ambassador Krenz promised MS [Gorbachev] to “raise the question” of changes. Honecker warned him: you’ll be my enemy! However, he went ahead, it seems. Will it lead anywhere?

Although no one has investigated what happened in Rumania and the new leadership “rejected Soviet intervention” the events there are most suspicious. The key figures in this “revolution”, for example, were identified as agents of Moscow long before by General Ion Pacepa [6], the head of the Securitate (counter-intelligence), when he defected to the West in 1978. They can be termed a group of “dissidents” only if one is being ironic. Iliescu, the new President, was a fellow student of Gorbachev from university days and, it would seem, remained in touch with him. The record of their conversations, copied by Pavel Stroilov, shows quite clearly that Iliescu was “Moscow’s man” in Rumania: once in power he closely coordinated all his actions with Gorbachev, including such sensitive issues as the status of Moldavia. It is no surprise, then, that in a conversation the following year with a Bulgarian comrade who mentioned Iliescu, Gorbachev confided (23 May 1990) [7]: “Yes, he has adopted well-considered rational views, and displays a readiness for constructive cooperation. However, I don’t think it’s wise to publicise the closeness of our approaches too widely.”

No doubt remains, therefore, that the Velvet Revolution of 1989 was a Soviet operation. Yet if the Kremlin leadership could simply replace the leaders in any of their satellite States, at their own discretion, with any figure, no matter how “liberal”, why did the Kremlin’s directors need to arrange such a grandiose and dangerous performance? Over the preceding 40 years the procedure for replacing those leaders had been perfected and never required the organising of public disturbances. All was done quietly, behind closed doors, and without risk. We have seen, in the previous chapter, how Moscow decided who would be appointed the new ruler in Poland and how easily this was achieved. They did not keep up any pretence, when talking among themselves. Moscow appointed Jaruzelski and he thanked Brezhnev for the trust placed in him (19 October 1981*, Pb 1942; 5.15 The myth of invasion). So, whom did they want to deceive, when staging this “revolution”? The West? Their own people? Both one and the other?

Finally, it is hard to believe that the results of this operation fully corresponded to the plans of the Kremlin directors. We have just seen how thoroughly they prepared the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. In that case, the Soviet leaders were prepared to commit any deception to preserve a regime “that is associated with us throughout the world”. Eastern Europe, however, was not just “associated” with the Soviet Union, it was part of their territory. It is impossible to believe that Afghanistan was more important to the Soviet leaders than Poland, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria taken together, especially when months separated the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the Velvet Revolution. In the case of Poland, for example, the round-table discussions in April-May 1989 followed a matter of weeks after the “withdrawal” from Afghanistan in February.

Meanwhile, in 1990 Moscow continued to finance all the Communist Parties in the world, despite its problems with hard currency (5 December 1989*) [8]. Was the Chilean Communist Party more important to the Soviet leaders than the entire socialist bloc? Nor was it just a question of money: Moscow continued to train and supply comrades from all over the world with weapons and “technical equipment”. In February 1990 after the Berlin Wall had fallen the Central Committee recorded the following plans in a Top Secret (Special File) resolution (14 February 1990*, St 112/27):

1. The requests by leaders of the Communist Parties of Argentina (CPA) and Chile (CPC) shall be partially satisfied and five representatives of the CPA and four of the CPC shall be received in the USSR for up to three months in 1990 for training in security protection of the party and its leaders, including with equipment.

2. The International Department and the Administration Department of the CPSU Central Committee are tasked with receiving and looking after the above-mentioned comrades. The USSR State Security Committee is tasked with their training and support in working with documents and special equipment.

3. Travel expenses for representatives of the CPA and the CPC from their country of residence to Moscow and back to the place of destination, including by foreign airlines, as well as their accommodation in the USSR for up to three months, special equipment, and other costs related to fulfilling the requests of leaders of these parties, shall be charged to the budget reserve of the party.

One curious detail. At the very same time as the operation was being planned for the “liberation of Eastern Europe” my erstwhile accomplice Luis Corvalan appealed to the Central Committee to legalise his existence and activities. Since 1983, it turned out, he had been living illegally in Chile after “changing his appearance”, where he directed the underground struggle of the Chilean communists against the Pinochet regime. Now it no longer made sense for him to remain in hiding. The bloody Pinochet had held elections and retired before perestroika began. The problem was that Corvalan found himself stranded and would have to return to the USSR, restore his appearance, and receive a legal passport (19 May 1989**, No 1243).

Throughout that year, the Soviet leaders found the time to engage in such conspiratorial activities. It was not just a matter of the Chileans: Lebanese terrorists, Turkish subversives [9] and the “labouring people of Cyprus” (22 June 1989**, St 102/124) were not abandoned. Their training, supplies, and finance continued despite all the cataclysms in the Soviet empire. It was planned to receive up to 20 Lebanese terrorists each year in 1989 and 1990 for “special military training by the USSR Ministry of Defence [10]. This was not an exception but the rule, and the funds for this expenditure were covered by the West in its misguided efforts “to save perestroika “.

I can hear indignant voices claiming that these were the intrigues of the conservatives and reactionaries in the Politburo against the liberals and reformers. Not so. I can provide copies of classified documents bearing the signatures of every member of the Politburo, including that of Alexander Yakovlev, the “architect of perestroika “. He was not listed among the conservatives in the West. Furthermore, it would appear there were plans to widen these “special services” as perestroika progressed. Here is a document, also signed by Yakovlev (10 April 1989*, St 99/248), which states this quite clearly. Falin, Kruchina and Kryuchkov then wrote:

The leadership of several fraternal parties in non-socialist countries appeal each year to the Central Committee with requests that their activists be received for special training. Over the past ten years more than 500 party workers have been trained for 40 communist and workers parties abroad (including members of their Politburos and the Central Committees). …

The special preparation of party workers from abroad, and the reception of the leaders of certain illegal parties who come to the USSR for talks or special training, is carried out in apartments belonging to the Administration Department. The use of these apartments for such purposes requires that they be fitted with special security equipment to prevent possible exposure and leaks of information, and to create additional relevant facilities for the teaching process. In view of the above we consider it expedient to take additional measures to improve the conditions in which representatives of fraternal parties receive special training. We propose that several apartments at the disposal of the Administration Department be set aside exclusively for conducting special training, after equipping them with the necessary security, and domestic video equipment and radio receivers with a wide shortwave reception.

The USSR Committee for State Security could be instructed to draw up and agree with the International Department comprehensive measures for ensuring the security and secrecy of the activities conducted in these special apartments.

The Central Committee then decreed that 12 such special apartments be set aside exclusively for special instruction and 5 for receiving the leaders of illegal parties.

Neither in 1989 nor at the beginning of 1990 did the Soviet leadership have any intention of giving up its empire or its plans for global expansion. What did they hope to gain from the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe?


Years later I had the opportunity to put this question to Alexander Yakovlev himself when we met, by chance, at a conference. What, I asked him, lay behind the plan drawn up by the Politburo? What decision had been taken? Yakovlev claimed total ignorance. No decision had been taken, he said, and the subject of Eastern Europe was not discussed by the Politburo during that period.

“How can that be?” I persisted. “You drew up five different scenarios for the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Was Eastern Europe really of less importance to you? If there were not five alternatives then you must have drawn up at least one plan of some sort and taken at least one decision on this matter?”

“There was no decision,” he repeated shortly.

Soon, however, Pavel Stroilov appeared and a laconic note was found in the minutes of a Politburo meeting (24 January 1989, SA) [11]: “Creation of Politburo commissions. Agreed that [Alexander] Yakovlev will head commission on socialist countries, [Vadim] Medvedev, that on the Baltic republics.” So, there was a Politburo commission for Eastern Europe. It was headed by Alexander Yakovlev and he drew up a plan that was subsequently adopted and implemented. Although we still do not have a copy of the Politburo’s final decision there can be no doubt that it was taken, and the preceding preparation can be traced in the classified documents. It started, as usual, with Poland where the direct threat that the regime would collapse forced Jaruzelski to agree to “round-table” discussions with the opposition. Subsequently he told Gorbachev that if those discussions had not taken place, the regime would not have survived another six months. The decision to hold the meeting was taken, of course, with Moscow’s approval. Late in 1988 Gorbachev met with Cyrzek (23 September 1988, SA) [12], a high-ranking PZPR official from Poland, and, after asking several pointed questions, gave the go‑ahead. As the visitor explained

Our strategy is to strengthen and widen the social base of the party [PZPR]. Our tactics are to split the opposition and to draw it with Walesa into a realistically constructive approach, a process of national reconciliation and revival. The church is counting on this, and would like to respond to Walesa’s initiative, but we have been the first to respond.

In approving this plan, Gorbachev understood very well that it could not be confined to Poland. The problem was shared by the entire socialist world and, logically, it would only be a matter of time before the Polish scenario was repeated in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the GDR. Jaruzelski proved to be as natural a manipulator as Gorbachev and he had been appointed for that very purpose. Moscow was much less sure about Honecker, Zhivkov or Ceausescu. A short while after his meeting with Cyrzek, Gorbachev ordered that a general strategy be devised (6 October 1988, Pb, SA):

“We are today discussing the results of talks with the leaders of notable figures in several socialist countries K Phomvihane [Laos], Nguyen Chung Tinh [Vietnam], E Honecker, N. Ceausescu and Cyrzek. Zh. Batmunkh [Mongolia] also wishes to talk to us.

The situation in each country is unique and we are right not to treat them all the same but are trying to grasp the specific aspects of the situation in each country, and devise our policies toward that country based on such a specific analysis.

At the same time, the present exchange of views and, everything that we know, all the information we are receiving, speaks of the necessity of adopting a comprehensive approach to our assessment of the situation in the socialist commonwealth. Despite the differences and nuances there are numerous signs that similar problems are increasing and becoming acute in the fraternal countries. The very coincidence of the symptoms of this disease show that the pathogen is not a malignant microbe affecting those who did not take precautions, but certain factors that have become rooted in the very economic and political model of socialism, as it took shape in our country and has been transferred with insignificant modifications to countries that have taken the path of socialism in the post-war period.

The Soviet Union, he said, had already laid bare the weaknesses of this model and was progressively removing them. This was the goal of perestroika, to give socialism “a new quality”.

Several countries have followed our example or even overtaken us and begun making profound reforms. Some like the GDR, Rumania and the Korean People’s Republic have not yet admitted their necessity but this is probably for political reasons and an unwillingness of the present leadership to change anything. In reality, we all need to make changes, although we do not say so publicly: otherwise we would be accused of attempting to impose our perestroika on the Friends.

Facts are facts, however. The clear signs of crisis demand radical changes everywhere in the socialist world. Here the subjective factor acquires an enormous role. In thrice-backward Laos Phomvihane is running things wisely, and the results aren’t bad. Those who stubbornly do not wish to hear what the times demand, are driving the disease deeper and will makes its course much more complicated in the future.

And this concerns us in the most direct way. We have surrendered our privileges as ‘older brother’ in the socialist world but we cannot reject the role of leader, which will objectively always belong to the Soviet Union, as the most powerful socialist country and the birthplace of the October Revolution. When things reach a crisis point in one socialist country or another we must come to their aid, at the cost of enormous material, political and even human sacrifice.

“We must clearly see, furthermore, that in future the possibility of ‘extinguishing’ crisis situations by military means must be totally excluded. The previous leadership already understood this, it seems, at least as far as such a country as Poland was concerned.

“Now we must consider how we will act if one or several countries at once become bankrupt. This prospect is entirely realistic because several of them are already on the verge of being unable to pay their hard-currency debts (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Cuba, Rumania, the GDR). Even in Czechoslovakia which has held out until recently its foreign debt has climbed very steeply. In other words, do we have a conception [what to do] in the face of a crisis that could embrace all or part of the socialist world at the same time?

Could the socialist countries escape the pre-crisis situation without the help of the West? What price, Gorbachev asked his fellow Politburo members would they have to pay for such help.

It would be sensible to instruct the newly established International Commission of the Central Committee to prepare materials for such a discussion. In scale and importance it is an enormous problem and it must constantly be kept under consideration. The first exchange of views, however, should take place at the end of December or the beginning of January 1989.

The Central Committee’s International Commission was headed, yet again, by Alexander Yakovlev and when the Politburo returned to the issue in January 1989 he was put in charge of the commission dealing with the socialist countries. The Polish researcher Mianowicz gave me several Soviet documents that throw light on work of Yakovlev’s commission in 1989. It followed the usual Soviet procedure, it seems, of receiving analytical notes from various Party and State departments (the Central Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the KGB) and research centres, with their view of the situation. The Central Committee, for instance, wrote as follows in a document entitled “Towards a strategy of relations with European socialist countries” (24 January 1989, SA):

“The ruling parties can no longer manage things in the old way, but new “rules of the game”, for reconciling emerging group interests and for seeking social consensus, have not yet been developed. That is the reason for the complex, transitional nature of the present period. The more this process is prolonged and delayed, the more difficult the situation in which these parties may find themselves.

“Against the background of general tendencies to be found in all socialist countries, there are specific features in particular countries that require a varied response from us.

“In Poland and Hungary events are moving towards a transition to political pluralism, and the creation of coalitions and parliamentary forms of rule. In the present conditions, the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) can only hope to preserve their positions as part of a political alliance. Much will depend on whether they are able to attract part of the opposition into constructive cooperation. …

“The GDR there presents a relatively well-off appearance, but a particularly complex situation is developing. The economy and living standards of the GDR contrast favourably with the other socialist countries but the economic conditions within the country are getting worse. It is oppressed by debt and its dependence on the FRG is growing. The party leadership, influenced to no small extent by personal ambition, is trying to avoid the problem of renewal. When the conservatism of the GDR leadership is criticised, we must recognise that there are definite objective foundations for its attitudes. The GDR grew up not as an ethnic community but as one based on an ideological class foundation. An abrupt transfer to democratisation, glasnost and openness may be accompanied by certain difficulties for that country.

In Rumania, there remains the oppressive atmosphere of the cult of personality and authoritarian rule of Ceausescu. In trying to isolate the country from our influence, he is now trying to don the mantle of a “champion of pure socialism”, entering an indirect polemic with us. Isolated spontaneous outbursts within the country are possible but at present they are unlikely to become widespread. It is obvious that the situation will only change with the departure of Ceausescu, and that could be accompanied by extremely painful phenomena.

The leadership in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria was criticised in similar terms. Then the Central Committee recommended extending the Polish model of the “round table” to other East European countries:

Several possible alternatives in the further development of socialist countries are emerging. One is the smooth movement of society, led by the ruling parties, towards democracy and a new form of socialism. This does not exclude certain concessions regarding the regime, a substantial growth in self-government and the role of representative bodies in political life, the drawing of the constructive opposition into running society and, perhaps, its transformation into one of the forces competing for power. Such a transition towards a parliamentary or presidential socialist republic in several countries (The Polish People’s Republic, the Hungarian People’s Republic and the Czechoslovak Soviet Socialist Republic) seems to us the most preferable. If the initiative for democratic change comes from the ruling parties the chances of preserving internal political stability and obligations to allies will be high. …

Deeper thought needs to be given to the ways in which structures of political pluralism of a coalition, parliamentary type, and a legalisation of the opposition, have unfolded in a number of countries. Of course, this path of transition is untested and risky, and it demands a combination of flexibility and loyalty to principle at a high level from the parties, an ability to take charge of this process, and not let it pass under the control of opposition forces.

The lessons of a series of crises show that the main danger presented by the opposition is not the fact of its existence but its ability to unite on a negative and destructive basis the most varied forces and currents in society which are dissatisfied with the existing situation. Therefore, the involvement of part of the opposition in official structures, and placing responsibility on it for the constructive resolution of the accumulated problems could play a stabilising role.

The proposals of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various academic institutes were expressed in a similar spirit. We do not have access to the final recommendations of the Yakovlev commission and the subsequent Politburo decision but the logic of these and other proposals leads directly to the plan for the Velvet Revolution. They all recognised the Polish-style “round table” as the best of all possible alternatives and recommended that this experience be transferred to other countries in Eastern Europe. In turn, this required the necessary kind of Communist leader — manipulators like Gorbachev and Jaruzelski, not the odious dictators Honecker or Ceausescu.

To begin with the Polish “round table” seemed a wholly successful experiment which had literally saved the regime at the brink of the precipice. Falling for this unadulterated bluff, the opposition entered an unnatural “coalition” with the Communists and agreed to enormous and quite unjustified concessions. Although the Polish United Workers’ Party suffered a crushing defeat in every electoral district, the post of president and two thirds of the seats in the Sejm were reserved for the party. As Jaruzelski himself told Gorbachev, “I crept undetected through the elections to the presidency”. From prime minister Mazowecki down the government was mostly composed of compromise figures: five of the ministers were communists and another six were former communists. As Jaruzelski told Gorbachev when they met in Berlin (7 October 1989, SA) [13]:

If we had not plucked up the courage to set up the Mazowecki government and join it then within six months we would have been caught, so to speak, on the hop. … We have retained major bridgeheads from which we can influence the way the situation develops. …

“It’s instructive that the opposition forces, on finding themselves in government, fell, as it were, into the trap they laid for us. In the 1980s the opposition inspired the strike committees everywhere to create special conditions in almost all branches of production. An average working week of only 35 hours was imposed. Living standards could not be lowered by as much as a millimetre. The right to strike was proclaimed everywhere.

Now Walesa himself declares that strikes are an act of provocation. Solidarity calls on people to make sacrifices and cut consumption by 20-30%. The conflict between town and country is growing more acute and that is also, to a great extent, thanks to Solidarity.

Internal conflicts within Solidarity itself are growing sharper. … In the 1980s it had 10 million members, 80% of them in the factories. Today it has roughly 1.5 million. Manual workers have begun to leave Solidarity because its activists have become engaged in national election campaigns and parliamentary activities. …

The communists had shifted responsibility for their own policies onto the opposition and were gaining political advantage from their special relations with Moscow, where Gorbachev was quite consciously giving them a hand. The round table, moreover, offered excellent opportunities to split the opposition into groups and factions and then deal with them, one by one. The PZPR first secretary, Mecislav Rakowski, visited Moscow three days later. “The idea of round-table negotiations was put forward by the PZPR leadership in October 1988,” he told Gorbachev (11 October 1989, SA) [14]:

We reached the conclusion that we could no longer limit our party’s policy to imprisoning people and then letting them go. All our attempts during recent years to suppress the opposition brought no positive results. On the contrary. Our attempts to organise a movement for National Renewal, to put pressure on the church or to flirt with it, ended in failure. There was only one way out. We had to change our strategy.

Of course, we may now discuss whether we could have chosen and gained more favourable conditions than those in which we find ourselves today. Undoubtedly, we committed a series of tactical errors. But could we have avoided them altogether? I think not. We were pupils, so to speak, in the school of democracy. Our imagination, or its deficiencies, let us down. …

GORBACHEV. Who do you today consider the opposition?

RAKOWSKI. Its core, first and foremost, is the leadership of Solidarity headed by Walesa and the civil deputies’ club led by Geremek. These two tendencies conflict with one another. We can make use of this although we have not yet learned how to do so. This is another sign of our insufficient experience in political struggle. …

The main centre of Solidarity was in Gdansk. It was the centre of the opposition’s political thinking and the headquarters of the uncrowned king Walesa. Now a different centre is taking shape in parliament. Furthermore, the Mazowecki government has been set up and the lower classes can see that they were simply used during the elections by those who became Solidarity’s senators and deputies.

“The activists have moved into national politics while the voters remain on the other side of the road.

… Walesa is concerned by his loss of control over the situation. He is thrusting himself forward all the time, and wants to be someone of importance. The day before yesterday he gave an interview to a Dutch newspaper in which he declared that an entire range of currents had taken shape within Solidarity: Christian democrat, social democrat, political scientists and a Jewish current. By the latter he means, specifically, Geremek, Michnik, Kuron, Mazowecki, and others.

GORBACHEV. He’s not happy, then, with the present situation. Does he have ideas of becoming president?

RAKOWSKI. For the time being he is not laying claim to that role. It is his dream, however. He told Kisak: I’m already 47, a young generation is growing up, and I do not want to be left behind. Walesa has some common sense, which is why he enjoys a certain authority among manual workers. However, he has become too conceited and that will be his downfall. It was Walesa who spoke in favour of a broad government coalition. To show his decisive role within Solidarity he said, I shall give you a prime minister. Meanwhile, the so-called Jewish leadership planned to take power only in four years’ time, during which they would prepare the cadres capable of squeezing out the communists.

The euphoria over the formation of the Mazowecki government had subsided, Rakowski said. Walesa himself acknowledged that the agreement to form a government under the leadership of figures from Solidarity was his mistake. If the PZPR had retained power by itself, Rakowski said, in six months’ time not even a night watchman would have remained on their side. Now time was working in their favour.

GORBACHEV. Jaruzelski and I were saying that the opposition’s urge to get into power also had a positive side. Let them find out how difficult it is to be in power. … It is important for us to know about your relations with the opposition, so we can take that into account in our dealings with the new government.

In a recent conversation with E.A. Shevardnadze, Skubisewski assured him that Poland remained loyal to the military alliance and that we should not be worried about safety of secrets, etc.

NATORF [Polish ambassador since 1986]. That is just what we were telling him. It’s good that he took it in. …

RAKOWSKI. The new government is preparing several political demands (Katyn, rehabilitation, compensation). I want to request, Mikhail Sergeyevich, that all these issues which the PZPR government failed to resolve over a long period will not be instantly settled by the Mazowecki government.

GORBACHEV. These issues will be resolved in the established order. There were not only Poles at Katyn but, it turns out, there were even Muscovites there also. We have not yet been able to start our investigation. A Politburo commission is at work and is looking carefully at masses of cases. The work is complicated and a whole number of other cases may be found within a single case. In the file on Beria they recently found three entirely new cases. We want to give a political report about this to the 27th Party Congress. We are seriously engaged in this matter, doing things thoroughly without excessive haste. If we uncover something new we shall seek your advice. …

RAKOWSKI. Concerning the PZPR’s financial situation. It is very serious. We made the necessary requests and suggestions to Comrade Yakovlev. We would also like to ask the Central Committee to provide PZPR with credit. We began developing the economic activities of the party too late and so the first results will be obtained only in a year or two’s time. The government could suffocate us with financial restrictions. Our request is of enormous importance for the survival of the party. We are constantly suspected of being on Moscow’s payroll.

And then there was the Roman Catholic Church to be considered. After the elections, said Rakowski, the support of the church ceased to be so necessary for Solidarity, especially the left-wingers. The left wing feared a government of church officials. The PZPR leadership was not excluding temporary alliances with different groups among the opposition.

GORBACHEV. Michnik and Geremek recently visited the Soviet Union. They contacted the most anti-Soviet groups and were ecstatic at the growth in their activity.

RAKOWSKI. We are facing a sensitive situation. We shall play on all the keys of the Polish pianoforte. The leadership of the Catholic church does not like the Jewish group in Solidarity and considers that it is made up of suspect individuals: divorced men and women, former PZPR members, Trotskyists, and so on. When we contact these groups within Solidarity the church immediately regards us with suspicion. Glemp himself represents a moderate tendency but does not have wide support among the priesthood. Young priests are already closer to Solidarity. Glemp for his part acts cautiously and is in conflict with the world Jewish community. He has not been forgiven for his comments about the convent at Oswiecim [Auschwitz-Birkenau], and his statements that the mass media in the USA are in the hands of the Jews.

We do not reject cooperation and contacts with the church, on the principle that there is no need to quarrel where it serves no purpose. We still have support in the army and the security services but the leading role in future will be played by the intelligentsia. That factor will be decisive, not guns and prisons.

Jaruzelski could play such games no worse than Gorbachev himself, but it was impossible to expect such risky acrobatics from Stalinist dinosaurs like Zhivkov and Honecker. According to the Gorbachev-Yakovlev plan, the phoney “popular revolutions” were undoubtedly intended to bring a new generation of manipulators, like themselves, to power in Eastern Europe. They needed to stage a second “Prague Spring” and resurrect the fiction of “socialism with a human face”, deriving, supposedly, from the will of the masses. They needed enthusiasm in the West and in the East which would allow them to stabilise the situation at home and receive the necessary support from the West. Their ploy was wholly successful in the West. In the East, however, it met with total failure. As a result, the only country where their plan succeeded was Rumania. In all the remaining countries their stooges could not ride the wave of popular feeling which rejected socialism whatever face it might wear.

The miscalculation of the Kremlin strategists was highly symptomatic. Like many other manipulative reformers in history they overestimated the power of their structures and underestimated the strength with which the people hated their regime. The result might have been quite different if they had carried out such “reforms” in the 1970s. By the 1980s the elite structures of the Communist Party had degenerated too far. For years natural selection had promoted opportunists and conformists who were incapable of improvisation and society retained not a scrap of faith in the ability of the regime to reform. While the manipulation of the Gorbachev leadership was taken eagerly at its face value in the West, in the East the regime had so discredited itself that by 1989 the intelligentsia ceased to believe in the sincerity of its leaders’ intentions. After being fed lies for decades ordinary people were suspicious to the point of paranoia.

By the 1980s, moreover, the idea of socialism had reached the end of the road. This was especially obvious in Eastern Europe, in Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia, where all possible reforms had been tried over the past 20 years, leading to the conviction that the system could not be reformed. The Hungarian Communist leader Imre Poczgay was probably the first in Eastern Europe to openly admit this truth, adding that the system “must simply be abolished” (Radio Liberty interview, 25 May 1989).


I am willing to believe that Moscow did not fully appreciate many of these new realities and relied, instead, on its own resourcefulness and the well-inculcated passivity of a population with no experience of political struggle. It is very likely that the sceptics who warned of the dangers were disregarded in the Kremlin as “opponents of perestroika”; the bureaucracy, for the most part, continued to report about the enthusiasm of the masses. Yet the Soviet leadership could not wholly fail to understand what a dangerous game they had set in motion.

Let us suppose they thought that the return of the “Prague Spring” would satisfy the most daring dreams of the Czechs, and that Hungary’s “goulash socialism” was stable enough to withstand a change in leadership. That left the GDR, with its almost Stalinist regime. It also left Poland where the regime barely survived, thanks to the guns of the Polish army. Of course, the opposition in Poland had grown weary and constant instability and economic difficulties must have exhausted society as a whole. However, the Soviet leaders could hardly imagine that the round-table agreement with the remnants of Solidarity would stabilise the situation for long. In the other East European countries – Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the GDR especially – joy at the unexpected return of the “Prague Spring” would soon be replaced by a wish to test the limits of their new freedom. Had Moscow’s plans proved successful, the Soviet leadership must still have foreseen the instability of the new regimes they had created in Eastern Europe. For one thing, their openness to the influence of the West would inevitably increase when the Iron Curtain was removed.

If we assume, for one moment, that liberal-communist regimes had been established throughout Eastern Europe what could the word “established” mean in this context? Two Germanys existing side by side, one capitalist and the other socialist, divided only by a wall; Czechs and Hungarians continuing to reform their socialist systems; the remnants of the communist party (PZPR) in Poland and the remaining Solidarity activists attempting to govern an economically ruined country. This idyll is inconceivable because it leaves no room for control from Moscow. After a year or two the first raptures would subside and the former socialist countries would be forced by the economic crisis to move more closely into the orbit of the West. What then was to stop them, despairing of the success of their “reforms”, from going further and, if Moscow issued severe objections, asking to join NATO?

Finally, the problem of East Germany in the absence of the Berlin Wall would be insoluble for as long as the FRG remained a member of NATO. No one could prevent the population of the GDR from fleeing to West Germany or, as happened, for the entire population of East Germany to be reunited with the FRG on Western conditions. In either scenario, no one could seriously expect socialism to survive in East Germany, or the unnatural coalition between the communists and Solidarity to survive in Poland if the GDR disappeared. The remaining socialist countries would have fallen like dominoes.

However limited the intellectual capabilities of the Kremlin strategists they could not have accepted such a prospect. There must have been some further element that permitted them to hope for a stabilisation of the new regimes. When this book was first published in 1995 I did not have access to any of the regime’s internal records about these decisions and so I could only speculate about the unknown details of what they planned. Twenty years on I have classified documents from the Stroilov collection where this plan is laid out in every detail. Gorbachev’s gambit was played out on a far more global scale, and the Soviet plans for expansion were much more ambitious, than might appear at first sight.

6.4   The German question

When I was writing this book in the early 1990s I tried to recreate Gorbachev’s plan for the unification of Germany and of Europe, relying on indirect information and examples from earlier periods of Soviet history. We know, for example, that a divided Germany was unacceptable to Stalin. He tried to reunite the country in 1947-8 by creating an alliance between the eastern Communists (renamed, for that purpose, the Socialist Unity Party or SED) and the western Social Democrats. The great Leader and Teacher planned that a united Germany would be neutral, demilitarised and socialist, opening the way for a peaceful seizure of Western Europe through analogous unions between communists and socialists. The Anglo-American documentary Messengers from Moscow, shown on BBC in February 1995, told this story (see 6.9 — “Allies”, fn 31).

Stalin’s schemes were thwarted, not least by the Marshall Plan. American aid reduced social tension, swept the ground from under the Left, and helped Europe to make a capitalist rather than a socialist choice. The GDR and the other regimes of the socialist bloc came into existence by default. The Iron Curtain was Stalin’s admission of failure. Every Soviet leader thereafter tried, each in his own way, to resolve this problem. As the Sudoplatovs’ book tells [15], Beria made an attempt to reunify Germany. Khrushchev tried, although first he had to secure Western recognition of the GDR. The plans of Beria ended with the 1953 uprising in East Germany; those of Khrushchev with the building of the Berlin Wall. Under Brezhnev Soviet policy towards Germany tried to achieve the same goal through detente, i.e. an alliance with social democracy, and amounted to much the same. As under Khrushchev this began with recognition of the GDR in the Helsinki Accords, thereby opening the way for the USSR’s further “peaceful” conquest of Europe. Once again it ended in Cold War.

Efforts to make Europe socialist and make its industries serve the cause of socialism had been the main thrust of Soviet foreign policy as far back as Lenin. The survival of the USSR and the success of the entire socialist experiment depended on it. The key to solving this problem was Germany. This became a particularly pressing matter after the Second World War. If Germany was reunited on Soviet terms it would mean the end of NATO, the withdrawal of American troops from Europe and almost total Soviet domination from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. I saw nothing surprising or original in a return to these plans during the growing crisis of the 1980s. The plans being drawn up from the end of the 1970s for a revival of detente could not help putting the issue of German reunification at the centre of the project. The essence of detente was the idea of convergence based on an alliance of left-wing forces in Europe. How could this convergence be achieved, if not by removing the Iron Curtain and, in the first place, the Berlin Wall? It had already been proven under Khrushchev that the two Germanys could not exist without the Wall.

The reunification of Germany on Soviet terms, the subsequent collapse of NATO and the further integration of Europe on socialist principles was the missing link in the Gorbachev plan. Without it the new regimes of Eastern Europe could not be stabilised: without it the entire ploy of the Velvet Revolution would prove suicidal for the USSR. These regimes could only be kept under Moscow’s control if there was a Europe-wide convergence that removed any clear alternative. Rebellious Poland would have found itself trapped, with the USSR on one side and a reunited socialist Germany on the other, in a Europe that had moved far to the left in its efforts to integrate under the leadership of a pro-socialist Eurocracy.

Then this was merely speculation on my part. Now, examining the evidence at first hand, I can see that I had recreated this plan quite accurately. Soon after being appointed Gorbachev’s adviser on international affairs, Anatoly Chernyaev prepared a wide-ranging paper for the Politburo on Soviet international strategy for the near future (10 March 1986, SA). There, among other things, he said

It would seem expedient to pay more attention to the FRG, and in the widest possible sense. If we can draw the Federal Republic to our side – the chances of doing so were much greater under the Social Democrats – it would be an enormous advance for our European and global policies. Everyone, from Washington to Paris and other capital cities, would immediately start to worry once again. The “Spirit of Rapallo” is still alive and frightens some to this day. Nor must we forget Lenin’s instructions about the importance of closer relations between Germany and Russia.

Comrade Honecker is known to be rather unmanageable when it comes to inter-German affairs. A certain caution must be exercised here. Our attitude towards his visit to the FRG 18 months ago was quite correct. It would hardly do for there to be a repetition today.

We must seriously consider whether we should not take control of the issue of inter-German relations in such a way that it serves the socialist commonwealth, socialism and our own policies. We hold the trump card, after all: the solution to the problem of “German reunification” lies in our hands. This could enable us to tie the Federal Republic to us throughout the length and breadth of our closer relations. …

With their daydreams of convergence in a united socialist Europe, all the European Mensheviks understood this. In mid-1989 Gorbachev discussed Franco-Soviet relations with the country’s socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. The ties between the two countries, in their view, were stable, close and essential to the cause of peace. They recalled history and the early relations between France and Russia. Suddenly Mitterrand commented (6 July 1989, SA) [16]:

Not only history but also geography has an influence here. Take the German issue, for example, which we shall evidently have to tackle together. In the past, this issue was resolved by violence. Today we must find a peaceful solution. … In our view, the borders of Europe should not run between the two Germanys.

As the documents reveal, the two statesmen planned to drag out the process of German reunification over ten to twenty years so that it would coincide with the unification of all Europe. Convergence, in other words.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany in October the next year did not come as a surprise to Moscow and were by no means a catastrophe for the Soviet leadership’s Friends in the GDR. Immediately after Honecker’s ouster on 18 October 1989, his successor Egon Krenz (until then curator of the Stasi) hastened to Moscow. There he reported in detail to Gorbachev about the successful conspiracy (1 November 1989, SA) [17]:

KRENZ. Thank you for your warm and sincere welcome. … We have been able to make progress on many urgent issues as a result of your visit to Berlin for the 40th anniversary celebrations. …

The preparations for the 9th plenum of the Central Committee were not easy. Under an agreement with [Prime Minister Willi] Stoph I prepared a draft statement about current political issues. It was a compromise and based on the idea that Honecker would remain in charge of the Party. … When Erich received the draft statement, however, he considered that it was directed specifically against him. … If you put forward this draft, he declared, there will be a split in the leadership … Despite these threats, I submitted this draft to the Politburo for discussion. At the meeting Honecker immediately emphasised his own view. All but one member of the Politburo, however, supported the draft statement.

From a “political point of view”, Gorbachev responded, the situation is clear, though dramatic in purely human terms. He had experienced something similar himself, and expressed regret that Honecker had not made the necessary changes two to three years ago [18].

KRENZ. When you were in Berlin, of course, you could feel how warmly all the young people greeted you. The cry “Gorbi, Gorbi!” could be heard all over the city. Someone even reproached me: “What is this celebration you have organised?” But it would be impossible to prepare such a welcome artificially. It just shows that no one has been able to spoil the attitude of young people in the GDR towards the Soviet Union and perestroika.

GORBACHEV. Frankly speaking, it put me in an awkward position, especially during the torch-lit procession when I was standing next to Honecker.

It was during this conversation that they raised the subject of relations with the FRG, the Berlin Wall and the prospect of German reunification. The last of these, however, was a long-term prospect, part of the plan to unite all Europe.

GORBACHEV. … it is essential to pursue a principled and, at the same time, flexible policy towards the FRG. Evidently, they will put pressure on you. It is necessary to act in such a way that the decisions concerning the GDR are taken in Berlin and not in Bonn. But, I repeat, this must be done in a sufficiently flexible way since a powerful blow may be expected from that direction.

KRENZ. I agree. I would be very grateful for your advice concerning relations with the FRG. I would like to have a clearer idea as to the place the Soviet Union assigns the FRG and the GDR in the common European home. This is very important for us. Our approach is that the GDR is the child of the Soviet Union and decent people always acknowledge their children. At least, they allow them to bear their father’s name. (Reaction from those present)

GORBACHEV. Yesterday A.N. Yakovlev received Z. Brzezinski who, as we know, is someone who thinks in global terms. The latter said that if today’s events led to the real possibility of German unification this would be a disaster for many. I think that we have pursued the right policy until now. We spoke firmly in favour of the co-existence of two German States. …

You should know that all serious political figures are in no hurry to reunite Germany – Thatcher, Mitterrand, Andreotti, Jaruzelski, and those same Americans, however certain nuances have appeared in the positions adopted by the latter. In present circumstances, moreover, such an act would have explosive repercussions. Most Western leaders do not want NATO, or the Warsaw Pact, to be disbanded. Serious politicians understand that these are all factors in an essential equilibrium.

Mitterrand might feel obliged to mention his “sympathy with the idea of German unification”. American talk of a similar sympathy was, in Gorbachev’s view, an attempt to please Bonn and to some extent reflected US fear of too great a rapprochement between the FRG and the USSR. “I am sure that we should coordinate our ties with the FRG better, something that E. Honecker declined to do,” he continued [19]:

“We know about your ties with the FRG; you know about our ties with that State. What have we got to hide or conceal from one another here!

It would be worth thinking about the possibilities of trilateral cooperation between the USSR, the GDR and the FRG, especially in economic terms. At one time, after all, there was a special Soviet-GDR commission for such coordination. Formally speaking, it has never been abolished although it has not worked for a long while. I believe that Mittag represents the GDR in the commission.

KRENZ. Evidently, he was responsible for the commission ceasing to work.

GORBACHEV. The work of the commission must resume, taking into account, naturally, the changes that are occurring. I think it would be to our advantage to use the potential of the FRG, and attempt to bind it to us, especially since some people there have similar feelings. True, the FRG is ready to agree to many things with the Soviet Union in exchange for our support in the unification of Germany. The Americans openly say that the keys to uniting the country lie in Moscow. They wouldn’t mind making us clash with the West Germans. Let me repeat, they very much dislike the process of rapprochement between the USSR and the FRG. Although, to be frank, nothing much has changed so far in real terms, above all in economic relations, between Bonn and Moscow.

In short, you and I must thoroughly consider all that concerns relations with the FRG. Especially, since in your situation developments may reach a point where ideology is not important. We must be very careful. You, evidently, would feel more confident if we participated in trilateral relations.

This would be advantageous for all, added Gorbachev, and suggested that the GDR should be bolder in making contacts with other Western governments, not just the FRG. As for the prospect of German unification, Gorbachev commented:

How the German issue is finally resolved is something we hardly need to speculate about now. We must address the situation that history gave us. Not to take that reality into account is the worst kind of politics. Perhaps, after several decades, if processes of integration develop normally in Europe, the German issue will look different.

German unification, Gorbachev said, was not on the agenda today and he asked Krenz to convey that message (“our firm conviction”) to the SED Politburo and Central Committee. This was also the understanding among the partners in the anti-Hitler coalition. The improvement of relations within Europe was given pride of place, otherwise everything “could go up in smoke”.

KRENZ. I agree with such an approach to the issue. It requires ideological underpinning. In the early 1980s E. Honecker issued five famous demands on Bonn: recognition of the GDR, and so on. Since then we have concluded several treaties with the FRG but not one of our demands has been met. Moreover, a false position has been created. People see Honecker, Mittag and Krenz travelling to the FRG and ask why they are forbidden to do the same.

There is one awkward issue for us. You often speak of universal human values. I also speak in public in their support. However, there are also problems shared by the two Germanys. In this respect, de-ideologizing relations between the GDR and FRG will present major complications for us, and would mean a refusal to defend socialism in the GDR. There are also complicated problems linked to the Berlin Wall and the way the border is currently guarded.

GORBACHEV. This must all be given consideration and formulas must be found that would allow people to satisfy their human needs. Otherwise we shall be faced with various types of ultimatum. … Chancellor Kohl maintains contact with me and with you. We must exert influence on him. Under pressure from the opposition, he has adopted a nationalist position. The Right are beginning to put forward their own demands to the USSR for the reunification of Germany and call on the USA to back them up. …

KRENZ. We have already taken a number of steps. One, we have instructed the military not to use their weapons at the border, except in cases where there is a direct attack on border guards. Two, we have adopted a draft law at the Politburo about trips to other countries. We shall submit it to public discussion and are counting on its being passed by the People’s Chamber [East German parliament] before Christmas. The draft law envisages that, for a certain payment, every citizen can acquire a foreign travel passport and an exit visa. Exceptions will only be made for reasons of security. The other limitation will be a severe shortage of hard currency in exchange for [GDR] marks. We will be criticised for that, of course, but we shall have to say that we must take reality into account.

GORBACHEV. Evidently it would also be worth saying that you must achieve a freely convertible currency and that this will require that all citizens work better and produce competitive goods.

In this conversation, however, there was already a certain disquiet as to whether events might get out of control:

KRENZ. … The mass demonstrations have led to a complicated situation. Various groups are taking part. Among them are our clear enemies but the majority are simply dissatisfied with the present conditions. Speaking in the People’s Chamber I emphasised that political problems can only be solved by political means. We are trying, as far as possible, not to fall back on the police. The coming weekend will be very serious for us. On Saturday 4 November, a big demonstration is planned in Berlin. Seventeen creative unions (actors, writers, and so on) intend to take part. Up to half a million people could turn out.

… We act on the principle that not all the demonstrators are our enemies. At the same time, we are taking measures against a mass move towards the Berlin Wall. The police will be deployed there. If there are attempts to break through to West Berlin a very serious situation will arise. We shall have to introduce a state of emergency. However, I don’t think it will go that far.

GORBACHEV. Everything must be done to exclude that, although it is right that the possibility of the worst scenario should be considered.

Events indeed got out of hand in November 1989 when the planned and very limited liberalisation of travel from the GDR resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet Gorbachev still believed that, overall, everything was still going according to plan. Take, for example, his conversation with the British ambassador, Sir Rodric Braithwaite (17 November 1989, SA) [20].

BRAITHWAITE. Mrs Thatcher greatly values your policies, in general and as concerns events in Germany. Everyone in the West was amazed by the speed and nature of those events. At a certain point, everyone had a feeling of a lack of clarity and stability … and of the unexpected.

GORBACHEV. We felt that to a lesser extent (stir in the room).

BRAITHWAITE. For West Germans, it was very unexpected. Now the lack of clarity and stability has subsided. It is important that people from the GDR who were given the freedom to visit West Berlin and the FRG now begin to go back.

GORBACHEV. Yes, now the queues are building up in the opposite direction. And that’s good.

BRAITHWAITE. Yes, it’s good if people live at home. It’s good that the tension, if it may be so called, has subsided. This has happened, to a great extent, thanks to your policies. However, the Germans, both East and West, should also be given their due.

GORBACHEV. Quite right.

BRAITHWAITE. Recently Mrs Thatcher has spoken to the press several times about this issue, and then at the Guildhall. She particularly emphasised the importance of stability. Most important of all, in her opinion, is that we cooperated with you and that everyone worked together. The changes must be kept under control. It is also important that the GDR leadership begins to reform, following the path that you have created.

There are international institutions that provide a framework for “managing events”. (The ambassador was here referring to NATO and the Warsaw Pact.)

Then the ambassador listed the forthcoming meetings at various levels between the leading figures in NATO countries, during which the situation in Central Europe would be discussed in collective and bilateral meetings.

GORBACHEV. As concerns the meeting in Paris between the 12 leaders of the European Union, Mitterrand is probably getting their views before meeting with me (stir in room). However, if something unfortunate happens (jokes) I shall send Mrs Thatcher the bill as the most experienced among them.

BRAITHWAITE. As Mrs Thatcher has written in her letter, and she has said the same in public – but I would like to stress here in front of you – that everyone (my government and our allies) understand very well that we must not interfere in the affairs of the GDR. We must not give any pretext for anything that could be construed as interference with, or infringement of, the security of the GDR, the Warsaw Pact countries or your security. It is most important that there be no interference from any side.

GORBACHEV. It would be better to interfere in the affairs of the West Germans (laughter).

BRAITHWAITE. It would be interesting to know what you think on that score. As concerns the GDR, I believe that the people’s demands should be met and, above all, that free elections should be held there.

GORBACHEV. Now that is interference! We can make an assessment, we have that right, but not to give advice when we are not being asked what to do. That is already another matter. Let the Germans decide for themselves.

BRAITHWAITE. However, this issue, of free elections, is today being decided in the People’s Chamber …

The ambassador handed Gorbachev a letter from Margaret Thatcher, in reply to the appeal the Soviet leader had made to her and other Western leaders concerning events in the GDR. In passing on the words of his prime minister, the ambassador emphasised the exceptional importance of the active exchange of opinion currently under way about the “German problems” and that it was important for such contacts to continue.

Over the following months, the GDR slipped further and further out of control but the Soviet leaders remained convinced that Germany would not escape them. Knowing perfectly well what was happening in East Germany, they never doubted that the West would itself keep the GDR within the Soviet sphere of influence. A discussion of the German question was held early in 1990 at the office of the CPSU General Secretary in the Central Committee building (26 January 1990, SA) [21]

Present: Gorbachev, Ryzhkov, Shevardnadze, Kryuchkov, Akhromeyev, Chernyaev, Shakhnazarov, Yakovlev, Falin, Fyodorov.

GORBACHEV. The GDR for us is now like our own Azerbaijan: there is no one we can depend on, no one with whom we have confidential relations. And if we can reach agreement with someone it does not have decisive consequences. Even [Prime Minister] Modrow is giving up on the SED. It doesn’t matter that he’s our sincere friend. There are no real forces in the GDR.

Consequently, we can only influence the process through the FRG. And here we face a choice – Kohl or the SPD. Despite all the reassuring statements and vows of Brandt and his colleagues, the Social Democrats rushed to use the GDR in their election campaign. Brandt is already the chairman of the united SPD. Leading members of that party are ready to stand in elections to the People’s Chamber, to give up their seats in the Bundestag and return to East Germany where most of them were born. In this way, they are trying to outplay the CDU.

We can make use of this. We should invite Kohl and say to him: Look what is happening, you could also play the same game and might win. The Social Democrats have a better chance in the GDR than you do. For our part, we do not look at the German question in terms of your election prospects, but in a European and global context. That is also how your allies in NATO view things. And you know the difference between what they say in public and what they are thinking.

So, dear Helmut, we suggest that you also look at German affairs from a European point of view, in deeds and not just in words.

Specifically, this means our armed forces in the GDR and NATO forces in the FRG. This is a real fact arising from the legal conclusions to the war as established by the victors. This establishes the right of four powers to participate in the German question. You, and particularly Brandt, do not like the presence of France among the victors (“an honorary victor”, as you ironically refer to her). Fine. However, the realities today are different to those in 1945. Let’s gather not 4 but 5 powers, with your participation. And then we shall define the rights of Germans and of the others.

Chernyaev proposed that talks could involve not 5 but 6 participating countries: the four powers and the two German States.

GORBACHEV. Let us discuss that. I continue. Most important is that no one should expect a united Germany to join NATO. The presence of our troops there will not permit it to happen. We can withdraw them if the Americans also withdraw their troops but they won’t do that for a long while. Kohl must take that into account, just as he must realise it will take several years to digest the GDR economically. These years are at our disposal and at yours. Let’s use them wisely. And prepare for the All-European Summit in 1990.

Talks with 5, or 6, on our initiative will restore our role as an active and indispensable participant in the German settlement. It is an advantageous move.

SHEVARDNADZE. Mikhail Sergeyevich, the main issue for Kohl at present concerns the “treaty of association” which is leading towards a confederation between the FRG and the GDR. We should not get involved in the discussion about reunification. It’s not our business. Let the GDR put forward initiatives. Discussions about troops should be held only with the USA. I am against an “institution” in which there will be four victors. That means that NATO will be in charge of the situation.

KRYUCHKOV. The days of the SED are numbered. It is neither a lever nor a support for us. Modrow is a transitional figure, in power at the price of concessions and soon there will be nothing more to concede. We should turn our attention to the SDP in East Germany.

Our people again fear that Germany will become a threat. As a country, she will never agree to the present borders.

We must gradually begin to accustom our people to the reunification of Germany. Our forces in the GDR are a factor in the All-European process. We must speak out actively in support of our friends, former employees of the KGB and the MVD in the German Democratic Republic.

YAKOVLEV. Modrow should be inserted into the SPD and become head of its eastern part. America has more need of our troops in the GDR than we do. It would be good if Modrow proposed a programme for reunification without preconceived ideas, based on reality, and we would actively support him. In that way, we shall gain the sympathy of the German people. In doing so, we must refer to our support since 1946 for a united Germany. The conditions? Neutrality, demilitarisation. There will be resistance from Britain, France and the small European nations. We shall make the United States think again. Meanwhile we can sit on the hill and watch the conflict from above. As concerns the attitude of our own people, Stalin himself immediately after the war spoke in favour of preserving a united Germany. In any case, we can no longer simply be observers.

Fyodorov expressed a concern this would play into the hands of “revanchist forces”. People in West Germany did not want reunification at present, according to his information.

RYZHKOV. We must take a realistic view of the process. It cannot be halted. Today it is all a matter of tactics because we cannot preserve the GDR. All the barriers have already been removed. Its economy is breaking down. All the State institutions have been abolished. It is not feasible to save the GDR. A confederation, yes. But we must put forward the conditions for confederation. It is wrong to let Kohl take over everything. If this goes on then Germany will unleash World War Three in 20-30 years’ time.

GORBACHEV. The process taking place in our country and in Eastern Europe is an objective process and it is already overheating. Where the process has affected the more stable links – GDR, Czechoslovakia, Rumania – the damage has been greater. It is a lesson to us that we must keep pace and not lag behind, bearing realities before our eyes all the time.

Our people, despite the great criticism they are hearing, are not against perestroika. They are more inclined not to accept the opponents of perestroika. Our society is the most rotten of all those of its kind and no one will save it. We have ourselves begun to transform society. And we must continue in that way, moving forward and not losing the initiative. Marking time will be fatal.

Peace was concluded once at Brest [1918]. Now we are facing Brest No 2. If we cannot cope then we are faced with the threat that we shall again lose half the country. It is very important to understand that. Our society is very ideologized and therefore real processes are overtaking us. The Party simply cannot renew itself.

Of course, we must set the GDR apart. It is a special case. It is not Rumania; the GDR has a communist party and that is a serious matter. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary have interests in our country. They will dislike it but they cannot get far away. Poland is a special case. And the GDR is a quite special case. … Most important now is to draw out the process, whatever the final goal may be (reunification). It is necessary that the Germans, Europe and people inside the USSR grow accustomed to this goal.

The strategy is as follows. The whole of West Germany has a stake in not losing ties with us. They need us and we need them. But not in absolute terms. Do we not also need France and Britain? It would be a big mistake not to think so. The Germans need us. This in turn forces us to take account of that dependence. Business circles do not want scroungers. There are 58 million people in the FRG, 16 million in the GDR. France does not want reunification. Britain is afraid of being pushed onto the sidelines. We must bear all these considerations in mind. …

We must not reject the position of the victors. Put forward the idea of 4 + 2. But first reach agreement with France. Perhaps I should go to Paris?

Channel the German issue through the Vienna process [CSCE]. On the question of troops in Europe behave in such a way that it does not seem we will simply withdraw on the 50th anniversary of Victory [1945]. Closely link the presence of troops in Germany to the Vienna process.

Tell Kohl to keep out. On this part, we can reach agreement with everyone. The potential for special relations with the FRG is preserved, and with the GDR. On that we must insist. There are mutual interests, there is a basis for mutual understanding.

The SED and us. There is “euphoria” there now with regards to the SPD. People have forgotten, however, that there is a mass of problems, European and German. Do not give up on the SED. It has 2 million members, after all. Even if only 700,000 now remain. It would be unreasonable to write them off entirely. Some left-wing force will take shape. Let’s listen to Gysi.

Other socialist countries. We must work with them. They are still our allies. If we desert them, they will be taken up by others.

The idea of playing for time meets the suggestion for a “treaty of association” with confederative aspects.

We shall restrain those who are in too much of a hurry. …

Allocation of tasks:

Provide propaganda justification for processes in Eastern Europe (Yakovlev, Falin, Fyodorov);

Gorbachev interview about the reunification of Germany after visits from Modrow and Kohl;

Possibility of a short visit by myself for one day to London and one day to Paris;

Akhromeyev to prepare for the withdrawal of troops from Germany;

Explain to Kohl and Modrow the “economic defencelessness” of the GDR.

Up to a certain moment, at least until the spring of 1990, everything seemed to be running to schedule. Not one of them suspected it would all come to nothing. Only in March did the panic begin, in the run-up to the East German elections in which the communists, renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism, suffered a crushing defeat.

Not until October 1990 did the Politburo, in an admission of defeat, pass a resolution “On measures in response to the persecution of the Party of Democratic Socialism (GDR)”. This proposed (28 September 1990*, 06/2-439):

…1.  to organise the systematic publication of reports in the Party press and other mass media about incidents of harassment and persecution of former SED members, their dismissal from their jobs for political motives, classifying such acts as a violation of the principles of democracy and human rights.

Attention must be paid especially to charges of “treason” being brought against individuals who were employed by the State in the GDR or engaged in Party work, especially as concerns their cooperation with the USSR.

2. In reports about the course of German reunification due attention must be paid to the activities of the PDS. React to attempts to infringe the constitutional rights of the Party and deprive it of its lawfully owned property.

The Central Committee International Department should ensure it regularly receives information from the PDS about cases of harassment of Party members, and of publications that reveal the anti-socialist nature of the measures carried out by the West German side during reunification.

3. Constantly monitor and respond promptly to attempts to exacerbate tensions around the Western Forces Group, sowing a hostile attitude to Soviet people.

4. Provide for the possible evacuation to the USSR of persons who cooperated closely with Soviet organisations and have now become the object of harassment and persecution on the part of Bonn. This could apply, before all else, to Party workers, the security services and the GDR National People’s Army, cultural, scientific and academic figures, experienced factory managers who have lost their jobs due to political repression in the united Germany. Take the necessary measures to find them work and provide for their material well-being.

Until the very day of German reunification, on 3 October 1990, Moscow was still hoping to secure the unification of the two Germanys on its own terms. From the beginning, however, nothing had gone right.

Due to a simple misunderstanding the wall separating East and West Berlin was opened on 9 November 1989, a day earlier than intended. This resulted in a loss of control over the movements of the population and was, as the BBC documentary The Fall of the Wall later put it, “A Fatal Error” (6 November 1994). Millions surged towards that opening, once and for all burying the myth that the GDR was a separate State.

Then, contrary to expectations, the elections in the GDR on 18 March 1990 were a total catastrophe for the PDS. This predetermined the outcome of the negotiations about the status of a unified Germany between the victors of WWII and the two Germanys (4+2) and the conclusion of the treaty about a common currency for the two Germanys on 18 May 1990. Finally, thanks to those same elections the new Christian Democrat majority in the GDR parliament simply voted on 23 August to reunite the eastern territories with the FRG on the basis of a pre-war law. Moscow was left without the slightest chance of dictating its terms for reunification, although Gorbachev tried until the very last moment to keep the GDR in the Warsaw Pact. In the summer of 1990 he was still insisting that the East German army remain part of the Warsaw Pact forces, which by then was simply laughable.

Of course, something quite different had been intended. The fall of the Berlin Wall should have been a triumph for the Soviet leadership and not an unplanned occurrence. The migration of the GDR population across the border should have been strictly controlled, substantially diminishing political penetration from the West. Above all, the elections on 18 March should have been won by the Moscow’s “renewed” protégés in the PDS. Had this happened, the Kremlin would then have dictated its terms for reunification and these would have differed little from those of Stalin, Beria or Khrushchev: neutralism, demilitarisation and socialism. West Germans would hardly have rejected any conditions to achieve their dream of reunification with their eastern brothers, especially when the Social Democrats were quite prepared to support these conditions and were ready to campaign on such a platform during the elections.

If a neutral Germany had resulted, with the collapse of NATO and the return of the American troops to the USA, it would not have been difficult to keep the remaining countries of Eastern Europe “within the framework of socialism”. The convergence of which the West European Mensheviks had dreamed for so long would have become a reality.

6.5   “Our common European home”

I am not exaggerating. The plan for uniting not only Germany but all Europe had been drawn up in Moscow with its Western allies in every detail. From late 1988 onwards, and particularly in 1989, the creation of a “common European home” became a constant theme in Gorbachev’s speeches. At the same time, Soviet attitudes to integration in Europe changed quite sharply. In the 1970s and the early 1980s the USSR had regarded these processes with suspicion if not hostility.

Until 1984 Kryuchkov, then head of foreign intelligence at the KGB, gave his agents in Europe instructions to strengthen their infiltration of all European Community structures and obstruct its further integration. “Obviously, the process of integration in Western Europe, and particularly in the military-political sphere,” Kryuchkov commented, “is against the interests of the Soviet Union” [23]. From the later 1980s onwards, however, the political trend towards further integration within the European Community began to change and so did the attitude of the USSR. The more the socialists and social democrats came to dominate the European Community, the more favourably it regarded Moscow’s plan. By 1989 “a common European home” had become their shared rallying cry, although neither one nor the other openly said that this “home” would be socialist.

The plan was adopted at a Politburo meeting late in the spring of 1987 (24 March 1987, Pb, SA) [24]. Notes were taken by Chernyaev while the veteran Soviet diplomat Kovalev, head of the Soviet delegation to the 1975 CSCE conference, spoke on the “the West-European aspect of our foreign policy”:

Kovalev presented the conception of the “common European home”.

Greater independence for Europe; a distancing from the extremes of US politics; Europeans and others invited not to look at Europe from an American perspective.

Europe is especially receptive to our perestroika and glasnost. Make use of this; The issue of trust – through internal changes in the USSR; removing anxiety, demonstrating the defensive nature of our military doctrine.

Developing a mandate for a humanitarian conference in Moscow.

Strengthen our academic studies of European issues. …

Then the discussion began

DOBRYNIN. The idea of a “common European home” is gaining support …

CHEBRIKOV. We shall have to work a great deal in connection with this humanitarian conference. The schedule must be agreed, if it is to be held in six months or in two years’ time. We [i.e. KGB] shall be playing a major role.

GORBACHEV. The Vienna conference is continuing, and it is not yet the longest. How long did the Madrid conference last? Three years. There seemed to be no end to it. The Korean airliner was shot down. Immediately everything was decided! (Laughter.) Perhaps, you’ll help us out, Sergei Leonidovich [Sokolov, Minister of Defence]: send another army to Afghanistan and everyone will go home. That’s the way we do things. First, we put forward an idea, then we invite famous people, and only then do we start to think!

SHEVARDNADZE. We lack a profound analysis of our omissions, shortcomings and errors. There have been many of them, our own defects. We have not followed through to the end. We should be more self-critical when preparing such documents.

At the Political Consultative Council [of the Warsaw Pact countries] the question of our military doctrine has been raised and the need for a fundamental re-examination of some aspects. We cannot leave questions about oversight, for example, unanswered. Otherwise we will not overcome the psychological barrier of mistrust towards us. We are surrounded by military bases. But that is our problem.

GORBACHEV (laughs). But we have no bases! That’s what we were telling people in Vienna [CSCE]! You can’t do that when everyone knows we have something and we say we don’t. Everyone now has a grasp of these problems, after all, at the level of government experts.

Gorbachev proposed that the CPSU contact opposition parties in Europe, which in many countries played a major role. A new conception of the international communist movement was also needed. Communist Parties (Italian, French and Spanish) were now turning away from confrontation with the CPSU.

Let the institutes of the Academy of Sciences bring together a group of specialists who could elaborate for us, for example, basic issues such as that of inter-German relations. There are a great many other problems.

I have understood from your contributions that “as regards Europe everything is clear to us”. What is, in fact, the process of cognition? We move from less ignorance to greater ignorance. Much, comrades, is at stake here. Clearly, not a single question can be resolved if we fail to take Europe into account. Even in our domestic affairs we need Europe for perestroika, while nothing can replace Europe in our foreign policy. The most powerful bourgeoisie not only economically but also politically. It seemed that Japan had overtaken the entire world, then suddenly the FRG showed such a leap forward in science and engineering …

It is not a question of cutting Western Europe off from the USA but of squeezing the US out of Europe. Can we do that? I don’t know, but we cannot fail to set ourselves such a task.

Chernyaev jotted a succession of isolated phrases from Gorbachev: “Europe is our concern. We have enormous interests there. There’s nothing to fear”. “Strive towards removing American weapons from Europe.”

The Helsinki process gives us the opportunity, and we must advance, step by step, to a new level, setting an example. An important task, using the scientific and technical potential of Western Europe, especially since our friends in Comecon are lagging behind. Our rapprochement with West Europe will make their work easier.

To see Europe as she is. Take such a reality as the integration processes. What is of value to us there, and what is not? On the one hand, this increases influence over the USA but, on the other hand, it leads to greater military concentration.

Mitterrand assured me that we do not need to fear this concentration. It was, so he said, to free themselves from the tutelage of the United States. However, we can see what’s really behind it. It can be obstructed by supporting the disarmament of Europe. The stronger that process, the less they will be tempted to set up a military grouping.

A second reality. To see Europe in all its variety. There are developed and weakly developed countries. Britain, France, FRG, Finland and Austria. The Netherlands, Sweden and the like. There are Spain and Portugal. The small countries are our potential allies. Furthermore, there are opposition parties in each country, communist parties, and public groupings. We are in more active contact with public circles in the USA than in Europe.

Many problems will arise. We need to make a profound plan for our work aimed at Europe. To regroup our research forces. The forces are there, they must be regrouped. Alexander Nikolayevich [Yakovlev]! Perhaps we could set up a centre for European studies?

Remember that Western Europe is our main partner.

As concerns the battle of ideas … [USIA director Charles] Wick recently declared: “There is a battle of ideas. If we lose here, we lose everything!”

I am coming to the most important issue: we must prepare our propaganda very strongly, that’s a major issue.

In short, our ideas are moving in the right direction.

Europe plays a role everywhere: in Kampuchea, the Middle East, Africa and, naturally, among our Eastern friends and even in Latin America. We shall not be able truly to advance anywhere without Europe.

This project was very much in tune with the aspirations of Europe’s Leftists towards convergence, and the tactical approaches of Western Communists. The Italian comrades were particularly happy: even before Moscow they had come up with similar ideas for saving socialism in the West. Now they and Gorbachev found themselves entirely on the same wavelength. Less than a year after Gorbachev became CPSU leader the General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, Alessandro Natta, told him (27 January 1986, SA) [25]:

… frankly speaking, the communist parties in the West are in a critical state today. It was not like this 15-20 years ago. There is a clear retreat and a loss of influence over the masses and not only during the elections. The splits and deep crises in the parties have affected the attitude of the working class.

In Italy, we have managed to maintain our position but more and more we feel ourselves the exception in the general communist panorama. …

We are in Europe, in Western Europe, that is where we were born and we are fighting for socialism in West Europe. After all the German Social Democrats, the Labour Party in Britain and the French Communist Party have all found themselves in great difficulties, arising from the scientific and technical revolution, the collapse of the Welfare State and unemployment. Until now the social democrats have continued to pursue a traditional policy. They are also beginning to have second thoughts. However, the problems we are encountering are not just European. They also exist in other parts of the world.

It is hard for the West European countries to support an alliance with the USA, to resist the call of the USA within the framework of that alliance, to put up with subordinate relations. On its own each country is doomed to be subordinate. That is why we are staking [our hopes] on the European Community, on the European choice. …

Leading decisions concerning social welfare must fit within the European framework. In a single country, even the most interesting decisions will only give partial results … We cannot yet talk of a new phase, but there are conditions for a new surge in left-wing forces.

The policies of Reaganism and Thatcherism have not resolved these problems but created new ones. Realising this, we are becoming aware that we should give a new impulse to the policies of our party. We need new efforts to wide alliances not only in Italy but within Europe, and this means left-wing forces in the broad meaning of the word. We must draw not only communist, socialist and social-democratic parties into these alliances, but the entire range of movements, progressive forces with various goals, including the religious movement. In the struggle for peace religious forces have in some places overtaken the communists, if not in ideas then in organisation. For instance, in the Netherlands. In Italy, the situation is also varied. There are bishops who carry out reactionary policies, but also those who speak out in support of social justice and equality.

In concluding these alliances, however, we must preserve the Communist identity of the party. That identity is a living process and has not been determined once and for all. I would like to repeat again: conditions have become complex, processes are developing, and their laws have not been established once and for ever.

GORBACHEV. We are also discussing what continuity means. Is it simply a repetition of the past, or does it mean to go further?

Natta expressed approval of Gorbachev’s references to other “progressive forces in Europe” and supported the idea of inviting socialists from several countries to the next Congress of the CPSU.

GORBACHEV. We are inviting all with whom we maintain relations. We were unable to invite the Chinese comrades, however: they did not want to come.

NATTA. I was speaking of socialists and social democrats.

GORBACHEV. Certain Communists are more difficult to invite than social democrats.

NATTA. Relations with the left in Europe are not straightforward. We see that in Italy from the example of our socialists. If left-wing forces want to be more autonomous, they must have greater ties with the Soviet Union …

GORBACHEV. … One thought. In considering our work, it is important to bear in mind the attraction of the socialist ideal and the socialist future. No one will think of that apart from us. Others, even social democrats, have different ideals, not to mention the conservatives. You are right that there is no prepared position on the left front when the task is to enrich the left-wing movement and gain new allies.

Perhaps intermediate stages will appear on this path, to which we should advance without losing sight of our goals. Some have strayed from the course, searching for answers to the questions posed, but as a result we could lose our position altogether. It is not our task, I believe, to add something to the social democratic experience. We must find points of contact, and, perhaps, temporary alliances. However, the alternative to the bourgeois parties is the communists.

NATTA. We still do not have a majority in Europe. Neither we nor the social democrats. Or even together. A battle is going on for people’s minds.

GORBACHEV. Let the conservatives take responsibility for reorganising the economy. The Communists should be putting forward more topical slogans. …

Two years later Gorbachev and Natta met again. The Soviet leader asked the Italian Communist about the forces of integration in Europe, particularly on the Left (28 March 1988, SA) [26]:

What should be the appearance of the future socialist alternative? … You have already outlined the range of your own searches for unity on the left. I do not think it was easy. Italian experience shows that. And yet more so, on a European scale. I can see that leftwing forces are quite capable of ensuring that the forces of integration facilitate a democratisation of Western Europe, so that tasks of a social character could be resolved. …

What is happening today in West Europe will determine the course of events for many decades and, perhaps, centuries to come. The CPI has realised how important it is to have a new approach to these phenomena, in which many forces are engaged. Without the left, however, it will hardly be possible to defend the interests of the working people. Therefore, we applaud … your efforts”.

Europe’s Mensheviks again eagerly accepted the Bolshevik offer of an alliance. In 1989, the Spanish minister of foreign affairs in the socialist government of Felipe Gonzales visited Gorbachev (3 March 1989, SA) [27]:

FERNANDES ORDONES. In the process of perestroika, the main stake is the outcome of the ideological battle. The success of the ideas of socialism in the contemporary world community depends on the successes of perestroika.

GORBACHEV. Through our perestroika and the new ideas put forward by Western Europe’s socialists we are not moving apart, but the opposite. From our point of view, now, at a crucial stage in the development of human history, there is no reason why two currents of the workers’ movement should again be on different sides of the barricades […] We feel a real, comradely interest, and an understanding of the importance of our cause from countries where socialist and social democratic governments are in power.

By that time there were not so many left-wing governments in the West, but Gorbachev exploited them to the full. Of the major Western countries socialists were then in power only in France, which is why Mitterrand was, to begin with, Gorbachev’s main partner in the “common European home” project. Mitterrand entered history with the reputation of an anti-communist. These documents show him in a quite different light. As one of the architects of the European Union, Mitterrand saw West Europe an integration as merely a step towards “convergence” with Moscow. In 1988, he told Gorbachev “Europe united within the framework of the European Economic Community is merely a first step towards the real goal, which will take much time – 20, 50 years, perhaps a whole century – to achieve. The real goal is Europe in its entirety.”

Naturally, West Germany’s Social Democrats did not remain on the sidelines, especially since Willy Brandt was by then chairman of the Socialist International. Late that year he told Gorbachev (17 October 1989, SA) [28]:

It is very important that perestroika is successful. I would be very grateful if you tell us what is expected from the so-called West and from us Social Democrats … in the way of support for perestroika. There is much talk that socialism is coming to an end and has outlived its purpose. I consider, however, that from a historic point of view we are facing a new beginning with a new type of socialism in a very large part of the world.”

Since it was a matter of their own survival these Mensheviks were ready to commit great acts of deceit to please Gorbachev. Using his position as chairman of the Socialist International, for instance, Brandt urged restraint on the democratic opposition in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania through his Scandinavian colleagues.

… I am concerned about the situation in the Baltic republics. I am in contact with our Northern friends …

We do not have great influence in this region. However, let me assure you that if we use it, then only in the interests of restoring calm. If it proves necessary we shall tell someone that it is simply playing with fire to question the existence of the Soviet federation. Preserving the federation opens wide possibilities for cooperation between the republics.

Under Gorbachev, incidentally, such matters were the concern not only of the Mensheviks and not only in Europe. A curious conversation took place in Moscow at the height of preparations for the “Velvet Revolution” in Eastern Europe. Early in 1989 Gorbachev was visited by representatives of the Trilateral Commission, a mysterious and influential body bringing together representatives of the political elites of the USA, Europe and Japan. David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Valery Giscard d’Estaing made up the delegation. Their role, supposedly, was to persuade Gorbachev to integrate the Soviet Union into the world’s economic and financial organisations (GATT, the IMF, etc), to make the rouble a convertible currency, and so on. Suddenly, Giscard d’Estaing asked to speak (18 January 1989, SA) [29]:

Western Europe is today undergoing its perestroika, and changing its structures. It is hard to say when this will happen – in five, ten or twenty years. However, a new, modern, federative State will appear in Western Europe. We are moving in that direction and the USSR should be prepared to deal with a great United West-European State. This future State will be ready and open for all forms of cooperation.

Then, however, the question will arise in one form or another, officially or in practical terms, of certain States joining it. This most probably concerns Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, though also certain East European countries. We do not intend to stir things up in Eastern Europe and undermine the foundations of stability. We see the danger of destabilisation of certain States and have no interest in provoking it. However, it would be interesting to know what would be your attitude if certain East European countries, while retaining ties of security with the USSR, wanted to become associated members of the EEC?

Kissinger did not raise an objection. He was merely concerned that the USA should be part of this project:

A second group of considerations concern the future of Europe, and the relations between its various parts. What are the prospects for the conception of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals”? What place would be occupied by that part of the Soviet Union which stretches to the east of the Urals? What would be the relations of the USA with a future Europe?

I and my colleagues from the Trilateral Commission would like to make our constructive contribution to the creation of that Europe, in which the USSR and the USA would play an equally constructive role.

Let us remember that this conversation took place at the beginning of 1989 when the draft versions of the Maastricht Treaty – let alone the Amsterdam, Nice and European Constitutions – did not yet exist. Nor should we forget that these agreements had not been approved in referenda or, at least, in the parliaments of Europe’s countries. How then did these four men know exactly what would happen in Europe in 15-20 years’ time?

As concerns the role of the USA, Gorbachev was only too happy to play on America’s global ambitions and on anti-American sentiment among the Europeans. In both cases Moscow was the winner. For example, Zagladin, the deputy head of the International Department, reported a conversation with Henri Froment-Meurice, three times ambassador to Moscow (17 March 1989, SA) [30]:

Recently, he told me, … our objections to military cooperation among EEC countries has stirred particular concern in France. From the very beginning, continued Froment-Meurice, we had no intention of limiting ourselves to the Common Market. And we shall go further, I do not know to what form of political association, but we shall go further. Perhaps, in the end, it will be a federation, a confederation or an alliance but there will be a single political entity. That entity, naturally, will include defence.

I reminded Froment-Meurice that two years ago M.S. Gorbachev said: “We are prepared for contacts with the European Community in the political sphere to the extent that it will act as a political unit.” Those contacts are working. As concerns defence, we are mainly anxious about its future development: that the unification of Europe in a military sense might lead to a new arms race. For at present there has been a tendency towards a reduction in the level of armaments on the continent.

I was assured that no one in the West is thinking about increasing the level of armaments. On the contrary. Then, for some reason lowering his voice to a whisper, he said: “You must understand that this will not be an American unification but European and not within the framework of NATO.” To my objection that most EEC members are participants in the NATO military organisation, he frowned and replied: “Europe wants to have its own defence policy, and then it will discuss the issues involved with you.”

Our conversation on this subject ended with my companion’s wish that we did not push the idea of a common European home and scare away the Europeans.

Only a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 the French foreign minister Roland Dumas hurried to Moscow, to make sure that the old plan was still in force. He asked Gorbachev (14 November 1989, SA) [31]:

Based on the interests of preserving stability and peace, how do you see the movement towards a new European order in the present situation? Does this correspond to your words about our shared European home?

After all, we in Western Europe have already built the first storey of such a home, through West European integration.

GORBACHEV. That is merely one section of the building.

DUMAS. Yes, it may be called a section. But if we are to build the next storeys, we must have some common architectural conception, and try to ensure that these storeys fit together.

GORBACHEV. […] All agree that changes are gathering pace in Eastern Europe. But is the West changing?

DUMAS. That’s a good question.

GORBACHEV. It is important not to lag behind, and to react in good time to positive tendencies and support them. Incidentally, my conversation with you is made easier because we represent two currents of a socialist, workers’ movement. You have not forgotten that?

DUMAS. If you see surprise in my eyes it is only because I wanted to say just the same.

All these plans, naturally, were used to the maximum to keep Eastern Europe and the non-Russian republics of the USSR under control. In 1991, a few months before the end, there was no slackening in the efforts of the parties belonging to the Socialist International to save the CPSU, discredit Yeltsin and support Gorbachev. A report to the International Department (7 June 1991, 6‑S‑552)^ stated

The changes in the States of Eastern and Central Europe, meanwhile, are proceeding as a dismantling of socialism, a growth in the elements of “wild capitalism”, and a lowering in the living standards of working people. This is causing concern among the leading European parties in the Socialist International. They are looking for ways to counteract undesirable tendencies in social development. In this context the Italian Socialist Party, the Spanish Socialist and Workers Party, the Socialist Party of Austria and the German Social Democrats have proposed setting up a European centre for the study of relations between socialists and communists.

The French Socialist Party has been most active in calling for discussion of the problems that have arisen. This can be explained above all by its position as a ruling party and the position of its leadership which, evidently, is alarmed by the prospects for the survival of the socialist idea when it is in crisis in Eastern Europe.

Recently representatives of the French Socialist Party have repeatedly spoken in support of a discussion in the European left-wing movement of a new concept for the actions of the socialist and social democrat parties in a changing Europe. Mauroy[32] has repeatedly expressed his readiness to come to the USSR and discuss this range of issues with the CPSU leadership.

All in all, there is a growing understanding among European leftists that answers must be found to the issues raised by the changing political situation in Europe, including countering the political forces that are actively promoting the ideas of “neo-liberalism” and have already set up their organisations and political structures in Eastern Europe.

I know nothing about the forces of neo-liberalism and their attempts to set up their own organisations in the East. The forces of socialism were engaged in doing so, especially in Poland, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There, thanks to their efforts, Solidarity’s activists continued blindly to observe the ridiculous “round-table” agreement until the collapse of communism in the USSR. Their influence was also felt in other East European countries. Vaclav Havel, it is said, received thousands of letters and petitions from Western European well-wishers, imploring him to preserve “the achievements of socialism” in Czechoslovakia.

The subject that the International Department decided to describe and discuss in detail sounds extremely convincing: “The European Community and Eastern Europe after the unification of Germany: A Challenge to the Left”. As the International Department reported

In our view, the active discussion of this problem and its theoretical and practical elaboration, with the participation of socialist and social-democratic parties in Europe, and the search for joint approaches to the development of the socialist idea under new conditions, will help to strengthen the international ties of the CPSU and its position as a leading force in shaping new approaches within the international workers’ movement to problems of the development of the socialist idea.

It is desirable to draw the attention of international political circles and the public, in this context, to the unconstructive positions adopted by Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia (to be joined, perhaps, by Bulgaria) towards new treaties of those countries with the Soviet Union. It is important to show that the objections of our former allies to an obligation not to participate “in any alliances directed against one another”, and the fact that this policy is being pursued in close contact with the Western bloc, will introduce qualitatively new elements not only into the regional but also the European situation. They do not take account of the conclusions reached by the OSCE conference in Paris, and risk destroying the balance of interests that have opened the prospect for building a peaceful Europe.

The idea that Western Europe could force East Europe to remain within the Soviet bloc, as we can see, is not a figment of my imagination. All these efforts are now well-documented. When Gorbachev came for a meeting of the G7 countries in London (17 July 1991, SA) [33] he complained that “economic ties between the Soviet Union and its neighbours have been destroyed”.

In response, the chairman of the Commission of the European Community, Jacques Delors, suggested that they should “think about a mechanism that would restore your economic ties”: “… you have been forced to reduce you purchases in Eastern Europe, there has been a reduction in your reserves and a growth in private indebtedness. How should we act? I think you must discuss this issue with the [G7] ministers of finance, the IMF, and provide information.” The subject was taken up by Giulio Andreotti, the Italian prime minister:

“Today we are discussing how to support an improvement in relations between the Soviet Union and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. I am glad I have lived to see the day when we are saying to the Soviet Union that it should not withdraw from this region.”

The last nail was hammered home by Dutch prime minister Lubbers, representing the European Community together with Delors. He took Delors’ cautious arguments and Andreotti’s passionate declarations and shaped them into a firmly-worded resolution.

“I would like to support the idea of Mr Andreotti about cooperation between the Soviet Union and the European Community in restoring ties with the countries of Central Europe. That is our shared responsibility. You [Gorbachev] have talked about a divorce after which the former spouses realise how much they needed one another […] Monsieur Delors suggested that we think about creating a mechanism that would make possible the revival of trade between these countries. I support that idea.”

The chairman of the meeting, John Major, the British prime minister, brought all these discussions neatly together and gave them the form of a decision of the G7:

“… having noted that, as President Gorbachev commented, economic ties between the Soviet Union and its neighbours have been disrupted, we shall support the restoration of those ties …”

Or, to put it more simply, to restore the Soviet empire but this time in economic not military terms. Did any of them believe this would be a voluntary return of its East European “spouses” to the Soviet harem? If the Eastern Europe countries did not want this then without any external “mechanisms” trade would be established.

The “survival of the socialist idea” was at stake here and at this very meeting an “anxious” Mitterrand publicly called on Gorbachev not to dismantle socialism [34]:

“I would not advise you to privatise everything and anything. I am a socialist by temperament and I will risk saying that so are the majority around this table. The essence lies in a synthesis between private enterprise, democratic struggle, competition and, at the same time, the role of the State. In all our countries the State is active, the difference is a question of its level. We cannot tell you to act in one way or another. We must respect the traditions of the Soviet Union.”

 Two months earlier, on one of Gorbachev’s frequent visits to France, Mitterrand voiced his concern (6 May 1991, SA) [35] that the collapse of the Soviet empire would lead to “a splitting apart of all Europe and its transformation into a chaos of States from which nothing can be made”. It was essential, he believed, “at any price, to think up structures that would help to restrain all these movements”. In Mitterrand’s view, Moscow and Paris should become two poles of a united Europe and exercise joint control over everything that lay between: “They must be represented everywhere that the problems of the day are being discussed, whether it is the German question, the evolution of the USA, separatist tendencies in Europe, and so on. I used the term confederation. Of course, we could propose something different. However, we must have a common institution, a common structure.”

Like Gorbachev, the European Mensheviks tried to preserve the Soviet Union until the very last moment. Late in 1991, when the Soviet Union continued to exist only in the imagination of Gorbachev, Mitterrand declared (31 October 1991, SA) [36]:

“I am arguing in a quite cool-headed fashion, in the interests of France, so that a central force exists in Eastern Europe. If there is a collapse then we shall return to what there was in Russia before Peter the Great. That is a historical catastrophe and against the interests of France. Centuries of history teach us that France must have an ally in South-east Europe, to maintain an equilibrium. Any collapse in the East would introduce instability. That is why we do not want and shall not support separatist tendencies.

“[…] I am one of those who want to have in your person a strong partner, a new Union. Otherwise what are Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and yet other States? As a result, the situation in Poland will become even less stable. The same may be said of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. […] “If that is what happens then my distant successors must establish firm relations with Russia, since it is the most powerful country to survive the old Union. Before that, however, we may all find ourselves in a state of anarchy. I would like to see your country reborn over a period of 2-3 years on a federal-democratic foundation. That is the best outcome for the rest of Europe.

“You, Mr Gorbachev, are guided by the ideas of a patriot of your country. In this respect, I am basing my views on an assertion of the historical logic behind the development of our continent.”

Chapter Six (iii)…



[1] Brian Hunter (ed.), The Statesman’s Yearbook, Macmillan: London, 1994.

[2] BBC Nine O’clock News, 18 November 1994.

[3] Gerald Frost & Andrew McHallam, In Search of Stability: Europe’s Unfinished Revolution, Adamantine Press: London, 1992, pp 79-80.

[4] See John Simpson, Despatches from the Barricades, London: Hutchinson, 1990.

[5] “A Hole in the Wall” (part 1), shown on 30 August 1994; “The Fatal Error” (part 2), shown on 6 November 1994, BBC2.

[6] Ion Pacepa, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, Regnery Pub., 1st edition, 1987.

[7] Gorbachev, 1990 (SA) – p. 301.

[8] 17 December 1989*, pp. 3-4.

[9] 29 September 1989* (St 105/159).

[10] 18 January 1989 (St 95/62).

[11] Kak “delalas” politika perestroiki, 1989 (SA) – p. 43.

[12] Kak “delalas” politika perestroiki, 1988 (SA) – p. 279.

[13] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 380-381.

[14] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 386, 394-398.

[15] Pavel and Anatoly Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness, Little Brown & Co: London, 1994, pp 364-366.

[16] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – p. 256.

[17] Gorbachev and the German Question, Gorbachev Foundation: Moscow, 2006, compiled by Alexander Galkin and Anatoly Chernyaev, ; see also Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 441 and 442.

[18] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – p. 452.

[19] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – p. 446 et seq.

[20] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 468-469.

[21] Gorbachev and the German Question (2006),

[22] 28 September 1990* (06/2-439), pp. 5-7.

[23] Andrew and Gordievsky, Instructions (1993), Chapter 7, “Europe”, p. 237.

[24] Kak “delalas” politika perestroiki, 1987 (SA) – pp. 109-112.

[25] Gorbachev, 1986 (SA) – pp. 10-12, 14.

[26] Gorbachev, 1988 (SA) – pp. 150-151.

[27] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – p. 56.

[28] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 404, 410-411.

[29] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 15 (Kissinger), 22 (d’Estaing).

[30] Zagladin (SA) – p. 298. Froment-Meurice was then adviser on foreign relations to a major private bank and had recently been appointed to head a commission on joint ventures with Soviet enterprises.

[31] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – pp. 461, 467.

[32] Pierre Mauroy (1928-2013) French politician. From 1988 to 1992 first secretary of the French Socialist Party. In 1992, succeeded Willy Brandt as the president of the Socialist International.

[33] Gorbachev, 1991 (SA) – pp. 607, 612-613.

[34] Gorbachev, 1991 (SA) – p. 609.

[35] Gorbachev, 1991 (SA) – p. 340 and 342.

[36] Gorbachev, 1991.2 (SA) – p. 250.