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The end result of this "new thinking" about foreign relations was to set the communist regimes of Eastern Europe adrift, under instructions to figure out what reforms might make them palatable to their own citizens. At a Warsaw Pact meeting in the summer of 1989, Gorbachev put it bluntly, "Each people determines the future of its own country. There must be no interference from outside." The meaning was clear to the satraps of Eastern Europe: they should expect no support from the Soviet army if they tried to use force on dissenters at home. Some scrambled to reform, and some resisted, but they were all doomed. Communism was always an alien growth in that part of the world, a Russian occupation enforced by Soviet bayonets.
As the reality of Gorbachev's message dawned, Poland took the lead. Solidarity became a political party, then won a parliamentary election, then at Jaruzelski's request put one of its strategists, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, into the premiership. Soon Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was President of Poland. Meanwhile, Hungary took down its barbed-wire barriers to the West, literally dismantling a sector of the Iron Curtain, and thousands of East German vacationers swarmed through. Demonstrators in East German cities toppled Erich Honecker and his regime, and on Nov. 9, 1989, they dismantled, almost stone by stone, the stark symbol of communism's impotence: the Berlin Wall.
A similar bloodless onslaught, which Czech leader Vaclav Havel called the "velvet revolution," felled the communists in Prague and then in Sofia. In all the East bloc, only the December 1989 uprising that ended Nicolae Ceausescu's reign in Romania touched off bloodshed, and both the ousted dictator and his wife were executed. Still, the contemporary epigram had it about right: in the surge toward freedom, Poland took 10 years, Hungary 10 months, East Germany 10 weeks, Czechoslovakia 10 days and Romania 10 hours.
Gorbachev the liberator was not a success at home. The Soviet economy drifted further into decline, strikes erupted, and most threatening of all the constituent republics of the union began declaring their "sovereignty." Even so, Gorbachev plunged ahead with his version of reform and in February 1990 directed an overhaul of the Soviet constitution that eliminated Article 6, the provision that gave the Communist Party a monopoly on political power. That action marked the end of the cold war. A banner unfurled outside the Kremlin wall carried the reproach and the admission: 72 YEARS ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE.
By now Gorbachev was no longer in control of the forces he had unleashed. His own position and the continued existence of the Soviet Union were both in peril. A new leader, an alternative to Gorbachev, had appeared in Moscow. Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev's sworn enemy, had been elected President of the Russian republic, the largest region of the U.S.S.R. Yeltsin denounced Gorbachev as indecisive and accused him of "continuous compromise and half measures." He seemed about to snatch Russia from under Gorbachev's nose. A Soviet Union without Russia was not only inconceivable; it was impossible.
As another decade began, the next stage of revolution secession was already shaking the Soviet Union. In the neighbor states to the west, dizzying celebrations of freedom were giving way to a sober realization of how painful the road to a market economy was going to be. But Western Europe, jubilantly reassured, burst into a round of what an official rightly called Europhoria. With the end of the cold war, and with returning prosperity, came the political will to move forward with economic integration and the old dream of unifying the Continent. Britain physically joined Europe at the end of 1990 when, after three years of digging, French and British workers broke through to link their two sections of the tunnel under the English Channel. The 12 members of the European Community pledged to join in creating one market, the world's largest, by Dec. 31, 1992. Europe's next transformation would be from Community to Union.
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