Thursday, April 30, 2009



By Kevin Stoda

Ever since I was a twelve year-old and found myself sitting in a world history classroom and listening to my teacher, a Vietnam helicopter pilot veteran, state with great seriousness that Americans would never forget this date of infamy: “This day, April 30, 1975, will go down in history as the day America lost its first war.”

Naturally, the veteran social studies teacher did quite have his facts right, for example, the USA had high-tailed it out of Nicaragua in 1933 (looking for Sandino) and before that in Mexico (looking for Pancho Villa).

However, selective forgetfulness in teaching, learning, and researching American foreign relations and diplomatic history is obviously a shame.

This is why I suggest that along with September 11, the United States should consider making April 30 a national day of mourning and day of reflection and reconciliation with former enemies and victims of war.


Besides the U.S.A. military abandoning Vietnam on April 30, 1975, the date of April 30 has had other significance for which Americans might wish to reflect. For example, two years earlier, on April 30, 1973, Richard M. Nixon as president of the United States acknowledge his responsibility for what had become known as the “Watergate Scandal”,

Within a 15 months Nixon would no longer be in office. More importantly, much of what happened in terms the abuse of American civil liberties during the Nixon administration (and earlier under J.Edgar Hoover’s leadership of the FBI) also were revealed through linked investigations on the FBI and other national authorities’ abusive and illegal practices over more than a decade.

April 30, 2009 is certainly a good date to commit ourselves as a nation to investigating the Bush (2001-2009) and Clinton (1993-2001) era crimes—if not the Reagan and Bush era crimes of the 1980s and 1990s.

April 30 in 1993 and 1999 saw major violent acts reflecting (1) mislaid jealousies or hate and (2) senseless brutality—both of these tendencies dominate when we review the case of the USA-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On April 30, 1993, tennis player Monica Seles was a victim on global TV of a stiletto attack.

Seles had been attacked by a mentally instable German—sounds like Adolf Hitler, whose birthday was celebrated by Neo-Nazis a few weeks back. The attacker seemed to desire that Seles lose her title to a German tennis champion, Steffi Graf.

I recall in the run-up to the USA invasion of Iraq in 2003 that many American’s used the mentally unstable arguments that Saddam Hussein was:

(1) going to try and attack or takeover the USA or

(2) going to be killed by George W. Bush because it was claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to kill George Bush Sr. in the early 1990s when he visited Kuwait .

Other illogical and/or mentally skewed arguments for invading Iraq included the arguments that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9-11 or Al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile on April 30, 1999 in Soho in London , a bar in a gay-neighborhood was the scene of a hate crime. The cowardly and despicable act was the exploding of a nail-filled pipe bomb.

It was the third such nail bomb in London within 3 weeks that April. Dozens were severely injured and crippled that last day of April 1999.

In short, April 30 is certainly an important date to remember various hate and war crimes—as well as crimes stemming from petty jealousies and misunderstanding.

Don’t you think—we need a day to reflect on Big Lies and Errors?

We could also call April 30, REFLECT ON THE BIG-LIES DATE.

When it came to reflecting on the USA ’s part in the Vietnamese civil wars and independence war struggles from the 1950 through the 1970s, there were enough official lies to bring into question any claim by the DOD or U.S.A. federal government agencies for decades.

For example, the was the Gulf of Tonkin lie,

the lies about its weaponry,

and Agent Orange.


Finally, let us not forget that the Big Lie from George W. Bush on May 1, 2003 was in a simple statement: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Was it a coincidence that the President who took us to wars on lies would be itching to tell a big one on April 30, 2003?

I think not.

The man who did his best to stay out of the Vietnam War himself—a war that one could certainly humbly call a big big big mistake in USA history—had had the Vietnam War on his mind for decades.

If the memory of Vietnam hadn’t hung over George W. Bush’s head (and the heads of Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc.) for thirty-plus years, there might have never have been a great desire for the a second American war with Iraq.

Think about it, America . Either Americans should recall either April 30 or May1 every year with as much zeal as Memorial Day is focused on. How else can we learn and educate future generation OF YOUNG AMERICANS not to do such stupid and evil things?


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arlen Specter and the Miracle Bullet Theory comes to Obama’s Democratic Party

Arlen Specter and the Miracle Bullet Theory comes to Obama’s Democratic Party

By Kevin Stoda, a Kansan in exile

As many of my readers know, I--just like Arlen Specter (U.S. Senator, PA) and former Senator Bob Dole--, am a graduate of a Kansas high school. We are the Sunflower state and examples of very well educated persons interested in public service in a state that has lost its way politically for over half a century.

That is, Kansas is a place that has tried to run and hide from its progressive past for quite some time. Frank Thomas wrote a great book, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?, on the hidden-progressive tradition in Kansas—a state that should be blue but which has been red since before I was born.

Thomas had written clearly: “Not long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay.”

However, when Arlen Specter and Robert Dole were living in Russell, Kansas they moved in the populist vain of conservatism instead of progressivism of their Kansas’ forefathers.


Russell, Kansas’ two native sons Bob Dole and Arlen Specter, used to be little Russell High School’s gifts to the Republican dominated Senate.

Now Dole is long retired and Specter has now jumped to the Democratic party.

That’s right the man whose autobiography is named NEVER GIVE IN has jumped from the sinking Republican ship to the Democratic party after being on the Republican side of the isle for 50 years in Washington, D. C.

It was predictable, though.

The Republican Party has been playing the cultural war card for so long that all the more moderate Republicans have been feeling left out to dry for months—and decades.

According to one Pennsylvania political pundit, “America has figured out it doesn't like what Republicans stand for, and that's a hard opinion to turn around. The "moral" issues aren't working for the GOP anymore as people worry more about their jobs and health care than whether the gay couple down the street want to get legally married, or whether the Hispanic man doing work on their neighbor's house is a legal or illegal immigrant. And good riddance. The Republican right has hurt America for the past 30 years, and we need to get back to real liberal democracy.”

This same political author of the Pennsylvania blog, BY THE RIVER, added in a March 2009 story, “Specter has been urged by Gov. Rendell, Sen. Casey, and Vice President Biden to switch to the Democratic side, but he doesn't show any inclination to do so. Don't be too surprised if he changes his mind. Specter is a consummate survivor, quite willing to spend the year before an election making people forget what they don't like about him. In this case, that he's a member of the party of George W. Bush.”


As a young man, Arlen Specter found himself sitting on the infamous Warren Commission, whereby he co-authored the single bullet theory to explain the death of John F. Kennedy.

On the other hand, Specter claims in his memoir, PASSION FOR TRUTH, that he had drawn up 78 questions to ask (Vice President and then President) Lyndon Baines Johnson "who would, under other circumstances, have been considered a prime suspect" concerning the assassination of JFK.

Personally, Specter claimed “he didn't think Johnson had anything to do with the assassination, but ‘no self-respecting investigator would omit a thorough investigation of the slain president's successor.’”

What commission or committee will the new Democratic Senator now be put on?
Will he soon be put on the committee to research torture in the Bush Administration?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009



BY KEVIN STODA, in exile in Germany

Just as the majority of Americans would like to see investigations of the torture crimes carried out in their names under the Bush-Cheney Administration,

the 20th year anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall now approaches….


You ask, “Is there a connection between the German/German Wall in 1989 and America in 2009?”

Well, yes. In fact, there is?

Even though the Obama administration fails to comprehend the connection, most Americans--and westerners of the Cold War era--recall that the West had once promoted human rights. The Helsinki accords on human rights had eventually led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe as society after society determined that human rights, i.e. no torture, were important values to have.

Now, over 5000 people, i.e. immigrants, have died on the USA border since 1995, when major walls in San Diego and El Paso went up.

The Obama government appears to be hell-bent on further militarizing that border between the USA and all of Latin America to the South (as well as militarizing race relations in the USA).

Hillary Clinton, the USA Secretary of State, and America’s new president Obama have both announced in recent weeks efforts to double the militarization of the border in the name of fighting crime and drug trafficking on both sides of the border.

This sort of America that builds walls—leaving many dead in their wake--and tortures with impunity keeps me living outside of the USA.

1989: East Germany, the Wall and torture.

A quick search on the internet, one discovers: “The last person to be shot dead at the Wall was Chris Güffroy, a young East Berliner who decided to try his luck at escaping on 5 February 1989, months before the Wall finally fell. He had wrongly assumed the East German regime had suspended its order to shoot would-be escapers on sight. Yet Chris Güffroy was not the Wall's final victim. Four weeks later, 33-year-old Winfried Freudenberg died fleeing East Berlin in a gas-filled balloon.”

“The ‘August 13 Working Group’, named for the day the Communist state closed the border in 1961 to halt a mass exodus to the West” has claimed that over 1100 people died trying to cross over from East to West Germany illegally.,2144,1673538,00.html

On the other hand, other German researchers in Berlin claim that no more than 125 to 130 were killed there.

However, due to the secretiveness of the East German and other communist regimes of the Cold War era, the real numbers of those who hated or feared the totalitarian state enough to flee for their lives (or to give their lives) in fleeing their homeland may never be known.

Most of those captured trying to flee had to spend several years in jail, and on many occasion people were certainly known to have been tortured.

I recall one cold winter night approaching the very Wall between the Reichstag and the Spree River in Berlin in the late 1988, one year before the last escapee, Chris Güffroy, was shot meters from there.

I walked up to the Wall and touched it.

A few seconds later an Eastern German border guard yelled at me to get back.
Apparently, near the Brandenburg Gate, two-meters on the West side of the border there was considered East German property—as was the Wall itself.
Torture has far too often been a historical reality in East European history.

However, even modern German leaders in 2005 considered keeping information gathered through torture:,1518,391493,00.html

On the other hand, torture is illegal in Germany nowadays.
How about in the USA?

2009: USA-Mexican Wall and USA on Torture

Over the last decade-and-a-half in the USA, torture and wall-building have suddenly caught on among the political elite.

In the USA in April 2009, we find a government unwilling to even investigate its own crimes related to torture. This Obama government is in power and no one knows if it will ever be toppled.

Yet, as though it fears being toppled, Obama and Obama policy makers seem to fear prosecuting tortures and to continue building walls. The border fencing between the USA and Mexico has doubled and tripled in a few short years.

The border fencing between the USA and Mexico has doubled and tripled in a few short years.

Meanwhile, reports are rife that NAFTA will become further militarized under Obama and America’s overpaid national security departments.

Already Americans who try to provide water to refugees and immigrants coming into the USA are being harassed and fined.


Well, to be fair to the USA and it rise in torture and border walls, the Koreas have the most well-armed common border on the planet.

Ancient Korea had been known as the Hermit Kingdom, and modern North Korea and South Korea have built the most hermitic wall on earth.

While North Korea and South Korea have been known to torture, North Korea is more of a leader in this area in recent decades.

North Koreans who try to flee are shot or severely punished, i.e. tortured upon their return. Torturing of defectors are no secret in North Korea—in contrast to the way torture used to be covered up in East Germany.

Sadly, on the other hand, disappearances in North Korea are reported by Amnesty International to be far too quite common.


Similar, in some ways to the USA-Mexican border, the Israeli walls are being put up with great speed and people are dying at them fairly often as occurs at the USA-Mexican border.

Israeli planners studied both the East German Wall design and U.S. border control designs before going the route of constructing their tall cement walls starting in this decade.

Not a week seems to go by when someone isn’t shot or severely injured at one of the Israeli barrier walls.

As in the case of the USA and Mexico border fences, the new wall in Israel is destroying a lot of the ecology on both sides of the borders.

People on both sides of the border are being displaced, but Palestinians and those of Arab descent lose out more often—just as in the USA the militarization of the border and police network in border states people of Latino descent are being illegally profiled and inconvenienced.

Interestingly, Israel is even known to torture with impunity USA citizens.

As with North Korea, government sponsored torture is done with great impunity generally in the case of Israel.


I would like to suggest that readers write in and describe other borders where torture reigns with impunity.

Perhaps, by shining light on other borders and lands hiding their torture tendencies, we world citizens can help fight the impunity that loves the dark—i.e. a world with no investigators of torture crimes and lots of walls, walls, and more walls, to make investigators go around.




By Kevin Stoda, Germany

NOTE: This is the second part in a series on contextualizing the Revolutions of 1989. The second part can be found at: while the first part is at

Retrospectively, no one could really have predicted what king of Revolutionary Autumn awaited Europe in 1989.

In late April 1989, I found myself traveling to visit Prague, Czechoslovakia for the first time.

I was planning to enjoy the great city’s beauty and legend during its annual great music festival, called the Prague Spring International Music Festival. Since I was traveling on a student’s budget, I slept in a train car coming from Nuremberg into the bulge well-south of the Fulda Gap and none-to-far from where Pershing II missiles (with multiple warheads) had been stationed some years before.

The Prague Spring (International) Music Festival was founded just after WWII, i.e. in 1946.

Originally the festivale was intended to celebrate the end of that horrible war and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Prague Philharmonic. The first festivals focused primarily on Czech music, but the festival eventually expanded to one of the premier international music festivals on the continent—and world.

In an amazing but poignant contrast, modern historians refer with the same phrase “Prague Spring” to refer specifically to the year 1968—when Czechoslovakia’s one-time head, Alexander Dubcek, followed the dreams and voices of his people to create a communism or socialism in Central and Eastern Europe with a much more human face.

Like the ‘Chinese solution” in Tiananmen Square 21-years later, the experiments of the Czechoslovakian people its leadership led to the occupation of various city squares of across the country as heavy-handedly the small country was occupied by Soviet-, Polish-, East German- and other Warsaw Pact states’ military in August 1968.

The people of the Czech and Slovak federation had not originally sought to embrace the West with the fervor of many of those peoples did in 1989-1990. They didn’t perceive of the system as totally broken.

Instead, the Dubcek-led government had simply tried to reform the system by providing more reforms and improvements through people-friendlier governance, administration and an expansion of individual freedoms.

However, as the BBC noted on the 21st of August, 1968, “Russian brings Winter to Prague Spring”.

Meanwhile, between summer 1968 and autumn 1989, the borders between the socialist Czechoslovakian/East German States and West German were always of concern and were seen as a place where tensions needed to be constantly prepared for between Eastern and Western alliances.

Geographically, western Czechoslovakia, provided(s) a bulge, which is threatening to the west, north, and south. This is why German and NATO troops trained each year for an invasion from the Warsaw Pact states, often in and around the Fulda Gap just north of Czechoslovakia.

The Fulda Gap was the most focused on point of concern, but the border between southern Germany’s Bavarian state was also seen as a soft underbelly of the German and NATO defenses.


Early in the morning of the last Friday in April 1989, I found myself trying to sleep very early in the morning (as the sun just began to shine) in a nearly empty train chugging up through Bavaria to the Czechoslovakian border.

As the train rolled to a stop on the German side of the border, a German guard came into my cabin to check my passport. Later, a Czechoslovakian border patrol entered the train and took my passport—apparently to check it and then to stamp it for me.

As I stood in the hallway in front of my cabin waiting for the Czechoslovakian border patrol to return, the man in the next cabin began telling me nervously his own unforgettable narration.

The man stated that he could no longer live in the West and its system.

The man was also obviously home-sick for family and familiar places where he had grown up just across the German border in his homeland.

This middle-aged man was from Czechoslovakia and had only fled to the West several years before. For a few years, he had lived with an aunt along with other Czech exiles and emigrants in Munich--working as a taxi-driver and doing odd jobs, but all-in-all just eking out a living.

After several years of trying to make it living in the West, this middle-aged man—now nervously smoked a cigarette. He made it clear that he had weighed his options and had determined that it would be best for him to return to live with his own family back in Czechoslovakia.

The man observed soberly, “This day, I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps, I will be put in jail when they identify me as a Czechoslovakian national who has overstayed his permit abroad by several years.”

It didn’t matter too this Czech male much any more.

The man assured me that he was ready to pay the price to be reunited with his family and his homeland.

His melancholy was like those shared by the characters in the classic film (1988), THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, based on the book of the same title by Milan Kundera.

In Kundera’s novel, the author is in constant dialectic with Friedrich Nietzsche.

The illusion (and the illusoriness) of the “Grand March” is discussed. For Kundora’s character Franz, the “Grand March” is the belief that history brings progress and positive progress in human existence.

Living is considered “light” by Kundora because one is faced with faced with either trying to give in to ones dreams and scratching out the reality of history. For Kundora, history is simply a straight line where nothing really repeats, and, therefore, if one were to live one’s life over, it would not be better.

In summary, this is the melancholic sense of “lightness” referred to by Kundera in the title of his book. We step on each point in history only once. The river continues on but we are not on the same point on the line when we step on it a second time.

On the other hand, if we were the same person who stepped into the changing river at the same point in time, then the fate or destiny of such a linear river would simply have us repeat the path we had taken before (with all our errors)—never really achieving the illusory progress we would seek on repeat (games) attempts to play out our lives’ differently.

In short, Kundera and the THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING are about destiny and the fact that each individual cannot really do much to change fate.

The system or linear path of history will take care of itself. The individual has much less to say.

Suddenly, my train took off and we began to travel into Czechoslovakia that April 1989 morning. I returned to my train cabin as did the soon-to-be-no-longer-exiled Czech national.

The train quickly stopped on the other side of this border--and eventually took off again.

Suddenly, I realized that I still had not had my passport returned to me.

So, I went back to the cabin where I had met the Czech-national just some minutes before.

He was gone.

Had he been taken to prison? Or was he just taken in for questioning and released? Or had he simply escaped into the trees?


Two years before heading to Prague, I had made a trip to Budapest.

Similar to Czechoslovakia, several decades earlier Hungarians had tried to put a more human face on communism.
That was in 1956, just as the world was settling down to watch Egypt take over the Sinai and Suez Canal, only to find Israel—backed by France and the UK—trying to take it back from Egypt. In the midst of this first post-colonial Middle East War, the USA and NATO were unable to offer any help to the Hungarians in need. They were slaughtered by Soviet forces.

NOTE: For some political reviewers, this would be similar to the passivity today, with which NATO stays on the sidelines in terms of telling Russia to back-off in Georgia, Ukrania, or elsewhere in the Caspian region, i.e. NATO is fairly fully preoccupied with wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

On the other hand, thirty years after 1956, one group of critical Marxists would describe the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution as follows:

“Even though its outcome was a tragic defeat, in which at least 20,000 Hungarian workers were killed and countless others injured, imprisoned and forced into hiding or exile, it nevertheless was undoubtedly the most significant pointer to future developments in the Stalinist states since the consolidation of the bureaucracy around Stalin in the 1920s. It was the most vivid confirmation of the perspectives of Trotsky, that the workers under Stalinist dictatorship, far from accepting their conditions or demanding a return to capitalism, would move in a political revolution to take power into their own hands. The tremendously inspiring events of the Hungarian October are full of lessons for the workers of Eastern Europe and the whole world.”

Looking back on the 1950s, i.e. a time when American’s most cynical anti-communists were painting the decade as the world’s final stand against an all-encompassing (but in many cases imaginary) monstrous-unitary communism, European communism was actually being challenged on numerous fronts.

Earlier in the decade, Tito had already taken Yugoslavia onto its on course. Under Tito, Yugoslavia would come to have a primary position in the non-aligned movement

Albania would eventually soon find its way into Chinese orbit.

These events took place in the 1950s as Khrushchev’s took-over of the Kremlin, and the end to Stalinism had finally led to questioning in Europe of the universalist paradigm for communism. It was no longer held as a truism that communism needed to be seated firmly in the Soviet Union to exist.

“The whole of the Eastern Bloc was awash with discontent. The floodgates had begun to burst even as early as 1953 with a massive strike wave and street fighting in East Germany. In Plzen and Prague, Czechoslovakia there had been riots. In the Hungarian industrial towns of Csepel, Ozd and Diosgyor the masses had come onto the streets in protest against the conditions. Even within the Soviet Union there had been strikes and protests amongst the prisoners within the labour camps. In May 1956 vast numbers of Russian troops and armoured vehicles were sent into Tiblisi, capital of Georgia, to crush an uprising sparked off by austerity measures. In June 1956 the workers of Poznan, in Poland rose. Inevitably this also had an effect on the young people inside the state forces.”

A common image in Eastern (and Western) European communist circles was that the Soviet Union’s bigwigs were eating fat while communist parties and peoples outside the Soviet Union were having to scrounge on what the Soviet occupations left behind.

In short, from the time of the death of Stalin through the collapse of the Soviet Union 45 years later, Eastern European peoples and states were often looking either for economic or political freedom—and some were willing to challenge the Russian Bear to do it.

Often, though, as was the case in Hungary in 1956 and in then Czechoslovakia in 1968, both the people and anti-Soviet portion of the communist party leadership had been forced to back down.

NOTE: It was almost always anticipated that the rise of the independent union, Solidarnosz in the 1980would lead to such a crackdown. Howevr, miraculously, in a period of three years, 1982 to 1985, the Soviet Union saw an unprecedented four leaders.

This meant that Solidarnosz or Solidarity in Poland was allowed to grow--even in time of martial law. This unprecedented topsy-turvy situation in the Kremlin enabled both Hungary and Poland to move towards the West in terms of political economic orientation.

Certainly, by 1982, Hungary was doing many things that no other communist state had done before. For example, that year Hungary became the first COMECON nation to enter both GATT and the IMF. (COMECON was roughly the Eastern European equivalent to the rise of the European Economic Community in the West.) Soon Hungary’s trade with non-COMECON states, especially West Germany and Austria, outgrew its trade within COMECON.

“Goulash (Hungarian) Communism”, as it grew from 1956 onwards, was marked by greater concern for the material well-being of its citizens. In short, over the decades in evolutionary fashion, Hungary’s communism was “mobilized to better satisfy consumer demand by providing a more extensive assortment of goods.” This included allowing limited numbers of market mechanisms to function rather freely in Hungary.

I witnessed many scenes of this market-opening communism first hand as I arrived by train in Budapest in September 1987.

In fact, the city was much more opulent than the wealthier capital of East Germany (namely East Berlin) which I had already visited several times. However, unlike in East Germany poverty in Hungary’s development was not hidden from foreigners. One saw it by the homeless in the railway stations.

Loads of retirees and entrepreneurs met foreigners coming from Vienna on the trade trying to hook passengers up with fun holiday happenings and rooms or homes for rent.

At the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna, I had met two Jews from Latin America, and we had decided to stick together and try to book a room or an apartment. Alas, we had arrived late on a Saturday afternoon and most tourists had already come through the station.

Therefore, the touts and senior citizens at the Buda station were a bit aggressive with the few tourists showing up from Austria when we did that September evening.

Due to the lack of language skills and our own tiredness, we were feeling a bit out of sorts under the pressure to accept rooms sight-unseen at locations far from the city center at prices we did not wish to pay.

Exhausted and frustrated, I decided to sit down on a chair and then refused to talk to anyone until all of the overanxious and persistent peddlers of various flats backed off.

I told the hawkers that I was prepared to sleep there in the station on the floor.

At that moment, Gyorgy Bakunin, came to our rescue.

Gyorgy happened to be in the Buda Train station awaiting friends from Sweden, and he took pity on we three tired and surrounded travelers.

Observing our tiredness (and readiness just to camp-out and sleep on the floor of that train station with many other East Europeans and gypsies), Gyorgy came and spoke in a calming manner to the other Hungarians who had been harassing us with their insistence on our taking a room at their rates.

Finally, Gryorgy announced, “I am George and I have a free apartment for you.”

You see, Gyorgy was an electrical engineer in his early thirties. He had worked especially hard to get his degree, his job and his English skills. Gyorgy usually slept at his girlfriends apartment in the city--or with other family members.

His stable government job afforded him a large flat in the outskirts of the urban landscape. However, the commute was often too long for the average Hungarian worker to make such a round trip—and maintain any social life.

In prior years in that decade, Gyorgy had also tried to make a bit of extra money in the summers by coming to the train station and renting out his flat to strangers. However, he hadn’t really needed the money—he told us—he had done so mainly in order to improve his English skills and to make friends with visitors from the West.

NOTE: As fate would have it, some of his friends from Scandinavia (whom Gyorgy’d first met in 1985) had originally contacted Gryorgy to indicate their arrival on the same train that we arrived in.

Alas, a few hours before the train arrived, these same Scandinavian had canceled his travel plans for the week.

However, since communication between East and West (and even among Eastern) states was dodgy, Gyorgy had shown up at the train station that very afternoon just to make sure he had no friends coming to town after all.


True to his word, Gyorgy gave the three strangers (including myself) from North and South America the keys to his flat for the next 4 night in an area far out on the commuter line past Pest. Soon Gyorgy disappeared into the night, leaving his phone number by the telephone in one of his rooms—along with a map to find our way back to the flat each day.

On our last night in Buda, Gyorgy met the three of us for some coffee in the famous Café New York--which was certainly an honor for anyone who has been their to drink or to listen to music in that city on the Danube.

There was wonderful blues and jazz that night. Gyorgy and I then escorted the Brazilian and Argentinean couple to their night train. (Finally, for westerners the evening was relatively inexpensive. We student-budget travelers would have never been able to afford such a snazzy café in the West.)

I left Budapest the next morning after sharing red-, green-, and yellow paprika with the Hungarian Bakunin in his kitchen. (As we ate the simple vegetable for breakfast, I recalled all the jokes about paprika and goulash communism I had heard over the past year.)

Next, like a guardian angel, Gyorgy took me back to the Buda train station.

Inside the station, we observed more passengers from all over Eastern Europe napping out near the platforms—and in various corners of the station. It was clear to me that this Hungarian named Gyorgy was seeing to it that poor wayfarers from the West--like my Jewish friends and I--did not have to live and sleep like gypsies in the station.

As I boarded the train towards Sopron, I had to ask myself whether, in fact, in the man Gyorgy Bakunin, I had witnessed a glimpse of the “new man” which communism and socialism were supposed to be striving for.

I had seen such glimpses of “the new man” of socialism in Sandinista, Nicaragua in 1983 on my visit there to various state and private projects. I recall that I my tour with international development (ID) students from the U.S. were taken to an open-air prison farm.

There, we met a man--a former Somoza army officer—who had been sentenced two nearly 19 years of prison, but on this particular government project, the prison had no walls and the prisoners were free to come and go as they pleased—i.e. as long as they demonstrated the ideals of living as a new man in the Sandinista world.

That particular prisoner ex-Somocista hoped to be released early (after only four to five years) based on his own remorse, his apparent reform, and his show of improvement as to how he had come to look at and treat his fellow man.


Hungarian Gyorgy wasn’t necessarily an example of communism’s “new man”, but he was certainly an example of something different. He was an Eastern European who saw each international contact as a means of reaching out and saying, especially to Westerners, that we are not enemy’s and you should feel safe with me.

Gryorgy’s spirit (or demeanor) was saying, “Let me share my home or homeland with you. Here are the keys to my abode! Enjoy Budapest and my country Hungary. Trust. Don’t be afraid.”

It would be such demeanor of naïve trust in humanity and hope for a better future--which I would often miss after the Revolutions of 1989 when I visited Eastern Europe.
On the other hand, there is still something in the air of this trusting humaneness which most of us from the West will hardly ever experience again on our travels elsewhere—or even in our homelands. Perhaps it is like a small but closed community in which one feels a sense of safety or “Geborgenheit” as one is taken care of in a somewhat patriarchal manner.

That is, I am certain that this trusting-way and hopefulness-for-the-best-in-man demeanor is something that continues to spawn a reversal-towards-parochialism and nostalgia for the pre-1989 world. This nostalgia is something which many East Europeans are still directly or indirectly passing onto their progeny.

NOTE: In its most negative manifestation, this parochialism leads to an us-versus-the-other xenophobia and misdirected anger.

Incidentally, the location where I crossed the border into Austria from Sopron, Hungary later that September (1987) day was exactly where the barbed wire would be taken down by May 1989.

It was this wide-open border between Austria and Hungary, which would offer and opening for thousands of East Germans to leave their homeland for the West that same summer.

In short, the march towards the collapse of Communism throughout Europe was spawned to a large extant in the hearts and practices of Goulash Communism throughout the 1980s.

In summary, the openness, friendliness and tolerance of Hungary, situated as it was in Central Europe, was bound to lead to changes in the openness and tolerance of all bordering states.


In the year after I visited Hungary, another region of Europe with language-isolates, i.e. the Baltic states, began to throw off the Soviet yoke.

Therefore, I had determined to fly to Soviet Union in January 1989 to find out what kind of attitudes people and Russia had towards these changes going on around them in both Eastern Europe and China—as well as learning about their thoughts on changes going on within their own Soviet federation

Meanwhile, over the previous two years, Latvia had quietly moved into revolutionary footing through a hidden position under the banner of ecology and environmentalism. This movement to ostensibly to support the Latvian environmental demands eventually became a full-fledged independence movement.

NOTE: In the 1980s, similar peace, reform, and independence movements in East Germany and Eastern Europe were able to function either under the umbrella of the church or under the umbrella of environmentalism—or both.

The terrible Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 had made a huge dent in the psyche of even strict Soviet leadership. So, in February 1987, an environmental protection club was formed in Latvia to stop the Soviet Union from building a huge hydroelectric dam. The Soviet leadership allowed this movement in opposition to the dam project to meet freely and openly.

Soon, that and other environmental clubs were able to join with other movements in Latvia, including the commemoration of the great deportations of 1941, i.e. after the Baltic states had been given to the Soviet Union through the 1939 occupation agreement with Nazi Germany.

This protest memorializing the takeover of Latvia was an unprecedented event in the Balkan states.

By August 1989, all three Baltic Republics were leading simultaneous demonstrations—i.e. with Gorbachev unwilling to send in more troops of occupation.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union began to lose control of its own demagogues.

That had already been exemplified when in mid-February 1988, Boris Yeltsin was dismissed from his communist leadership by Gorbachev.

In an unheard of come-back, this populist, Boris Yeltsin, would soon elected in early 1989 again to the Soviet government after capturing nearly 90 percent of the popular vote Moscow.

In the meantime, a very vocal Boris Yeltsin had spoken up many times publicly on the need for greater speed in the reform efforts of the Soviet system.


January 1989, when I visited Moscow, was one of the warmest winters in recent memory. This warmth proved metaphorical for the thaw that was occurring all over as the Cold War came to its surprising end.

It was so warm that January that I even joined local Muscovites during their daily winter swims in the huge round out-door swimming pool, built for the 1980 Olympics.

At that time, in the late 1980s, this outdoor pool was still the largest pool in the world.

It was certainly the largest heated swimming pool ever built. Steam arose from it all day long in the Russian winters.

The warm waters of the steaming pool was a place for people’s of all classes to mingle in the relative safety of the pre-Collapse world of Moscow. I recall simply leaving my clothes and wallet in a plastic bag at the periphery of the swimming. I was told by my Russian acquaintance not to worry about anyone taking my belongings.

I had been invited to swim that 32-degree-faranheit evening by a Muscovite named Igor who had shown us around town the night before.

Igor was not a tour guide. He was an assistant professor at one of the universities in the city--and was a friend of a fellow traveler on our tour from Dusseldorf, West Germany.

Over several nights, we peppered Igor with various questions.

I recall being specifically interested in the future of multi-state Soviet Union.

That is, I was fairly interested in what Igor had to say about the future of his own Soviet—Soviet Russia, the largest of the Communist Republics making up the USSR.

Prior to arriving in Moscow, I had read several articles on the potential break-up (not-just-of the Soviet Empire but) of the great land mass of Russia— a nation, which alongside India and China, make up 3 mammoth-sized multicultural states in various corners of continental Asia.

Upon arriving at our Moscow hotel at the outskirts of the capital of the USSR, I had been impressed and thoughtful of the many Asian-featured Russians I observed staying at the same residence.

How could these Korean-looking peoples be Russian?

Do they feel more or less Russian when visiting Moscow?

What of the Chinese- and Mongolian-looking folks? Are they integrated? Do they feel part of the same federation or state?

How about those Muslims from the various Soviet and Russian–Stans? Such as Dagestan? Or Turkmenistan?

Igor assured me, “From our perspective here (in Moscow) so close to Europe, we see ourselves as European. Many of the other Russians, including those in Siberia and Eastwards do not.”

Igor added, “As a matter of fact, we don’t really understand each other.”

Igor went so far as envisioning a rump Russia of sorts in his nation’s future, i.e. where the Western or European Russians split off into their own country.

I challenged Igor, “Certainly, you don’t imagine Russia peacefully giving up on its great gas- and oil reserves in the hinterland of its mammoth land empire, do you?”

Igor nodded but also countered, “In fact, this disillusionment might ultimately be possible because, in a nutshell, we all see the world so differently. That is, we in the West certainly think much differently than those in other corners of the territory of Russia.”


On the last two nights of my stay in Moscow, I ventured out into parts of the city on my own.

The first night I ran into some young people in their twenties. They were university students.

One pretty young women said she had studied fashion design and would love to leave Russian and to study fashion while working in Italy. Some of the other students had similar dreams.

None of them seemed to be satisfied with the system and were ready to move West. That is, unless the Western investors and capitalists (and democrats) would decide to move East.

I bought these younger (and poorer ) students some hamburgers and these young Russians introduced me to cognac.

That’s right—not vodka but cognac!!

You see, these young people were not interested in things of Russia--or its great past.

They were only focused on the West.

I had to admit that French cognac had much more to it than either whiskey or vodka—even after eating a few tiny western hamburgers cooked a la Muscova.

Similarly, I had to admit not being impressed by what the giant people’s department store GUM (across from the Kremlin) had to offer either its citizens or foreign visiting consumers.

GUM stands for the “State Department Store” in Russian, and the neo-Russian building had been constructed to be window to the West in terms of both Russian--and then later-- Soviet opulence.

Alas, by the late 1980s, what GUM had to offer was little more than a bad joke full of anachronism and low quality. It had much less to offer than a market in Tiajuana. (Admittedly babushkas were still cheap.)

You see, just like in East Berlin and in all the other Eastern European communist bloc, Muscovites had to spend a lot of time in long lines just to get basic necessities—and twice that much time in line to obtain the occasional non-essential gifts or curiosities.

For example, bananas were almost non-existent in Soviet and East German stores. These kind of fruits grew only in warm climates and thus required hard currency generally for their purchase.


The products in the East were usually substandard (and at-best-clunky) as compared to what people in the West could afford—or could find in the market place.

Even people in poorer developing lands, like Peru or Indonesia, often had better quality goods (and more of them) than was often found in Soviet- and communist-dictated planned economies.

The only way Soviet citizens could buy Western products was generally through using western currency or gold.

In East Germany, the stores to go to for these Western goods was called “Intershop”. The name “Intershop” mixes English and Latin to convey a foreign concept of trade for goods and service. Incidentally, these stores were run by the state itself, i.e. in order for the communist state to acquire as much Western currency as possible.

Not too far from where the GUM, the Kremlin and St. Basile’s Church (from which the word basilica comes into Western vernacular) is a bridge of the Mokba River.

At the far end of the bridge, one could easily exchange Western currency illegally for Soviet rubels.

This was large bridge was one of several well-known places to exchange such currency well-below the official Soviet rate.

In retrospect, one has to suspect that this sort of exchange of currencies with dark plain-clothed figures on a bridge in obvious sight of the Kremlin was continuously allowed to occur because (1) it was good for someone with connections at the Kremlin or (2) it was at least good for the police-, military- and/or the KGB as a simple conduit for gaining western currency for their own operations.

As I left Moscow in January 1989 to return to West Germany, I had an inkling that the Evil Empire (and supposedly formidable imperial Soviet Union) and its citizens were ready to cut-and-run from its past.

One month later the Soviet Union would begin its pull out from Afghanistan, i.e. in February 1989.


Unlike the USA, which had been defeated in the Vietnam War (1975) and elsewhere over the decades (such as in Mexico 1916, Nicaragua 1933), the Soviet Bear would not rise from the graves it had begun to dig in Afghanistan.

Within a few short months after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the entire Western half of the Warsaw Pact would begin to move en masse towards the West in order to seek a new future in Europe, especially as consumers of goods and services.

Many Muscovites would have liked to have followed me back to Germany and the West—some would------and some have.

Now, twenty years after the Revolutionary year of 1989, I have returned to Germany to teach again young college students--only to find in the various English and Business training classes I instruct, German students, originally from Russia, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine or East Germany, and the former Yugoslavian states, like Croatia.

Over most of the past half century this has been the case but with 1989 this change began anew.

NOTE: “Immigration has been a primary force shaping demographic developments in the two Germanys in the postwar period. After the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the immigration flow, first into West Germany and later into united Germany, consisted mainly of workers from southern Europe. In addition, the immigrants included several other groups: a small but steady stream of East German immigrants (Übersiedler) during the 1980s that exploded in size in 1990 (389,000) but by 1993 had fallen by more than half (172,000) and was somewhat offset by movement from west to east (119,000); several million ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) from East European countries, especially the former Soviet Union; and several million persons seeking asylum from political oppression, most of whom were from East European countries.”

In Wiesbaden where I live currently, my tiny church has former Russians, Moldovans, Ukrainian, some from Easter Germany or Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, and even Laos—as well as former West Germans and Americans, like me.

In contrast to this reality on the ground today in 2009, at the time I lived in West Germany in the 1980s, I had been told by my ex-German girlfriend with great confidence that only blood-Germans would ever be allowed citizenship here.

Since the late 1990s, this is no longer the case.

Perhaps this change in immigration and integration practices in Western Europe has been the greatest legacy of the Revolutions of 1989.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009



By Kevin Stoda, Germany

NOTE: This is the second part in a series on conctextualizing the Revolutions of 1989. The first part can be found at:

It was early June 1984 as I found myself working in strawberry fields in the western end of Rhineland Palatinate in Germany, i.e. the part of Germany directly north of Alsace and Lorraine, a part of France that two world wars were fought over. I was there as part of an exchange program between Europeans and North Americans dating back to the end of the second world war.

After WWII, Mennonite churchmen in the USA had begun to bring Germans and other Europeans over to work in the USA for a year internship in hospitals, on farms, in schools etc.

The purpose of the trainee program was part of a trend in the USA after WWII to build friendship around the globe and to help obtain a more stable world peace through people-to-people exchanges on both sides of the war’s landscape. These face-to-face work or trainee exchanges have continued into this decade of the 21st century.

European Mennonites reciprocated and created a program called the Intermenno Trainee program to bring young peoples from other lands to live and work in Europe starting in the early 1960s.

In other words, the reason I found myself working on European Mennonite family farms in 1983-1984 was because I was an Intermenno Trainee myself for a twelve-month period between my junior and senior year in university.

As a trainee, therefore, I was working in various strawberry fields that spring in 1984 as fairly huge earth-moving machines announced that they intended to plow through one of tour strawberry fields.

You see. The European Union had agreed over five years earlier to the building of the first large gas pipeline extending from the Soviet Union through Eastern Europe, Germany, and on to France. It was this pipeline that was to go underneath the humble strawberry patch in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the Mennonite Church family Ernst, whom I stayed with and worked for, had planted strawberries over a three year period already.

Even as the Cold War Pershing missile crises created a great cultural and political conflict in the 1979-1983 period in Germany, the Central European lands, and Eastern European states, this trans-Siberian pipeline connecting and anchoring East and West Europe economically, continued to be put into place—and extended itself right through (and underneath) the Strawberry fields a few kilometers southwest of the American military base and airport named Ramstein.

In short, just under the noses of the U.S. military and the rise of America’s national defense in the 1980s, Western Europe was looking to tie itself eve- more peacefully into economic, political and cultural exchange with peoples on various continents—even with stronger relations to Reagan’s evil empire, the Soviet Union.

This meant that exchanges in terms of know-how and economy would be increased throughout the decade of the 1980s.


The Trans-Siberian Pipeline is still one of the main arteries of natural gas from Siberia to Western Europe. It was therefore inevitable that this pipeline of interdependence in Europe with Russia would be at times a source of grave concern.

For example, this very January 2009, 25 years after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Pipeline to France, a new threat to the peaceful coexistence between Eastern and Western Europe would arise after a series of tit-for-tat gas pipeline shutdowns in Russia and the Ukraine had seen gas stoppages taking place on both the Russian side of the border, in neighboring Ukraine, and on through southeastern and western Europe.

Back in 1984 though, the Mennonite farmer for whom I was an Intermenno , Georg Ernst in Rhineland Palatinate, would soon be generously reimbursed by the state of Germany and regional governments. Nonetheless, it is always sad when one has to stand by and watch three years of hard labor plowed up in the name of progress (of a pipeline).

In fact, 1984 eventually saw the natural gas begin to flow from East to West—right through our strawberry field to France .

Personally, I have an enduring image of the Trans-Siberian pipe-laying workers stopping for a few hours to pick strawberries in our humble field near Mittelbrunn village.

This memory has remained with me for decades.

[Naturally, I had to recall this whole episode again and again this winter as Europe discovered again that overdependence on the Russian bear for energy may not be in the best interest of her citizens.]

As these rugged looking Trans-Siberian pipeline-layers chewed down on buckets of strawberries, I recall that they stated over and over: “Schade auf den Erdbeeren.”

That means in English: “Too bad for those strawberries”.

These same strong-looking construction workers repeated this over and over. “Too bad for those strawberries”.

Then a few minutes later these very same workers of heavy machinery took buckets and baskets and picked a few more strawberries, i.e. before plowing through the foliage a few moments later. [Some might call that collateral damage to progress for peace and interdepence or globalization.]

“Too bad for those strawberries”—perhaps --but historical events were happening across Europe in the 1980s, and as each year went by, more tolerance was showing up on both sides of the Iron Curtain.


I visited Hungary myself a few years later and found unbelievable new freedoms for the Magyar citizens to find work abroad and return each year. I stayed with a Hungarian of Jewish ancestry named Gyorgy who told of his being sent to by his company to study business in France as part of an educational exchange program.

Gyorgy had taken to the learning opportunity with great seriousness. He spent his time in Paris learning how a western company functioned and solved problems, but his state-owned company colleagues simply spent their time in Paris partying and celebrating their days in the West.

In short, Gyorgy saw potential in what the West had to offer and wanted to bring back the knowledge and customer-service orientation to his homeland, especially in the area of communications and technology in which he was already skilled. In contrast, his Hungarian colleagues did not have such a long term vision and saw an educational trip simply as a vacation in the west, i.e. not as something that could be implemented back in their homeland.

During this same era, there were many new political and educational exchanges between East and West. For example, my alma mater friend, Mark Jantzen went to the Humboldt University in East Berlin to study theology in the late 1980s.

The West German Green Party sent a delegation to visit East Germany’s Erich Honecker and had criticized him and human rights publicly on TV seen in both East and West Germany. [The Green party openly kept relations with both the Communist Chairman Erick Honecker’s, party and many dissidents in the East German Republic.]

To various other degrees, many other parties, peace groups, churches and student groups encouraged east and west exchanges, too.

Similarly, the West German courts became more and more lenient on West German peace protestors as the Pershing Missile Crisis of 1983 enfolded. This was a marked change from their treatment in 1968 and through most of the 1970s.

As NATO stationed missiles and other weapons tipped with nuclear warheads that could land across the iron curtain in East Germany and neighboring states, millions of Germans and West Europeans protested. The Warsaw Pact saw it in its own interest to support such protests.

In short, peace protests against remilitarization and the further militarization of Germany in the West was often mirrored in East Germany.

According to various East German researchers, “The roots of the organized opposition involving the independent peace movement go back to the early 1960s, when considerable resistance emerged to East Germany's remilitarization, especially in Protestant circles. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Protestant activists objected to the introduction, in the summer of 1978, of compulsory pre-military training for fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds. Soldiers, who had fulfilled their military obligation through work in special military construction units, pressured Lutheran Church leaders to support nonviolence and disarmament. In February 1982, the term peace movement began to be used in connection with peace initiatives that originated outside official party or government circles. The initiatives stemmed from a forum organized by the Lutheran Church that challenged the official government view that peace can be maintained only through armed strength. In the mid1980s , the independent peace movement has sought the formation of a civilian peace service as an alternate to military service and the demilitarization of East German society.”

Peace researcher, John Bacher, noted several decades ago, “The first independent peace activity in the GDR was a response to the introduction of conscription in 1962. Some 3000 persons refused service on the grounds of conscientious objection~ Less than a dozen were actually imprisoned. The national Lutheran church took up their cause, and its pressure resulted in the creation in 1964 of special army ‘Construction Units’ (Bausoldaten) for conscientious objectors. This remains the most liberal provision for conscientious objection in any of the Warsaw Pact states. Popular pressures against militarization since 1975 have increased the civilian quality of this construction corps. Former members of the Bausoldaten have become prominent in the independent peace movement. They have kept in touch with each other and have organized peace seminars. Their distinctive clothes have been called "a uniform for a division of the peace movement, an East Germany speciality."

Lazarus observed, too, “In the 1980s, work for peace began to be decentralized and extended to areas outside East Germany's major urban centers. For example, by the mid-1980s the Protestant student community in Rostock had organized a monthly Peace Worship Service. Every six months a ‘Retreat and Meditation Day’ on the theme of peace took place in the Land-church of Mecklenburg. Standing workshops for peace were formed in numerous student communities, and peace seminars, often attended by hundreds of people, were held in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Meissen, Waldheim, Zittau, Kessin, and elsewhere.”


The churches over several decades had come to be a safe-haven, particularly for those East of the Iron Curtain. Historian Stephen Lazarus writes that “definitely, the mass engagement of East German citizens with strong connections to the church helped assure the success and peaceful nature of the Revolution. One can safely say that the East German Protestant Church was at the forefront of the Revolution, initiating and propelling many of the historical political changes that collectively known as the ‘Friedliche Revolution’ or Peaceful Revolution of 1989.”

Historian Mark Jantzen who studied at Humboldt University in East Berlin and worked with the Mennonite Churches of East Germany in the 1980s tells of his journey with East German theological students and their faculty from East Berlin to Russia at the end of that decade.

These East German students and faculty quite openly took Russian language Bibles (and Bibles of other languages) eastwards into the Evil Empire, i.e. the Soviet Union.

From this example, it seems that the Russian Bear had given up hopes of converting its own masses to atheism or agnosticism by the time the 1980s rolled around.

Similarly, other European borders had been opened to evangelism over recent decades. Poland was an obvious case throughout the 1980s—especially due to the recent appointment of a Polish-born pope, John Paul II, to head the Vatican.

Meanwhile, other Eastern European borders seemed to be open to building links between churches between East and West. I recall that at least one young Intermenno Trainee drove bibles to Hungary and Romania in 1984 without much difficulty. [Yes, the bibles were smuggled in but this was done annually without incident for years by many young Western Europeans without much incident for most.]

Even East Germany, which had tried at times to outdo the Soviet Union in its attempt to have a successful communist-dictated economy, began to show a warmer spot for the role of churches once Honecker replaced Ulbrecht in the late 1960s as communist chair in the German Democratic Republic.

This was first evident in the East German government’s acceptance of conscientious objectors, especially if one’s family included an active minister.

According to Lazarus, “In at least five ways, members of Protestant churches across the country [of East Germany] , most notably in Leipzig and Berlin, but also in smaller rural locales, became engaged in political activity at the grassroots level. Although the Church has had a significant political identity for years, it had never before [the 1980s] fostered as much antigovernment protest as its members did in the final years before the collapse of Communist rule (Burgess. p. 17).”

“The development of special interest activist groups within local congregations is the second indication of its significant political involvement. The base groups were collections of individuals with a variety of social concerns who met to plan events and exchange ideas regarding peace and disarmament issues, human rights, preservation of the environment, and several other concerns (Nielsen, p. 37). They served as a broad umbrella to bring Christians and other activists together into the grassroots organizations that later served as the core of dissent during the Revolution. The church sheltered and defended these groups, who were prohibited from meeting openly. They enjoyed relative safety inside the church walls, although the danger always remained that government informants could also infiltrate the church. John Burgess describes the unique “free space” that these groups provided for activists in contrast to the state-imposed conformity they experienced elsewhere. ‘The church offered a sense of freedom and acceptance,’ he explains, ‘that they did not find elsewhere in society’ Burgess, p.24). The agenda of these groups influenced the Synod’s approach to social issues and helped keep the Church attentive to the political interests of East Germans at the local level (Pierard, p.502),” Lazarus adds.

In short, in East Germany, “The Church served as the key meeting place for dissenters during the Revolution [and before it] and fostered the development of core activist groups. Members of these close-knit pockets of political dissent became instrumental as leaders during the weeks of mass protest.”

In addition, Lazarus and other researchers have noted, “The central role of church leaders and members is[was] evident in their political engagement before and during the Revolution in (1) conducting dialogue between citizens and government leaders; (2) in organizing mass protests; (3) and in providing a safe meeting place for diverse activist groups, which united some of the most vocal dissenting elements in society that challenged the government’s authority.”


One interesting thing to note is that economically speaking, the Western economies, including Japan, were not doing that well prior to the collapse of the Iron Curtain in Central Europe in 1989.

For example, throughout the six years, I lived in Germany and France at the end of the 1980s, unemployment was unusually high, i.e. similar to what these same countries face in our current global economic crisis to date.

Japan was getting reading to face nearly a decade and a half of recession as the Revolution of 1989 rolled around in Eastern Europe.

From 1986 onwards, the U.S. Congress forced a decrease in long-term U.S. defense spending due to the economic hazards--including one major stock market collapse, Moreover, there was a continued lack of increase in standard of living by many Americans throughout the decade. A lot of jobs were being outsourced for the first time, so that companies would have to pay less concern to the social and health benefits to the great masses of American workers.

In the U.S.A., under Ronald Reagan, the social welfare system afforded for 3 generations was being dismantled in the name of free market capitalism—and western employees were getting nervous about what globalism posed for the working class majority.

In short, free market capitalism as such, was not showcasing nearly as much success--in terms of improving the quality of peoples lives--as many writers and western historians and government leaders portrayed to be the case in the 1990s through 2005.


The obvious thing for Eastern Europeans was that in the West, people had it better.
First, those in the West could protest more easily, e.g. they didn’t have to hide within the sanctuary of the church or risk imprisonment for voicing their criticism of the system. East Europeans had been astounded that so many in the West stood up against their own government’s decision to deploy the Pershing missiles in 1983.

Eastern Europeans, too, wanted a future for themselves and their children where they had political space to speak up when something in society is unfair, dangerous or too limiting.

Many already did bypass East European laws against squatting illegally to obtain housing or property and in undertaking illegal renting and subletting apartments all over East Berlin. [Jantzen describes this in detail in his book about East Germany: THE WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL.]

Second and probably more importantly to Eastern Europeans, Western Europeans had access to a greater variety of prices and to a variety of producers of a greater variety of goods.

This was for many even more appealing than any particular new political system that many young East Europeans sought or envisioned in the run-up to the Peaceful Revolutions of 1989.

Anecdotally, Mark Jantzen in THE WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL: AN AMERICAN IN EAST BERLIN DURING THE TIME OF THE PEACEFUL REVOLUTION, records that once he visited a theater in East Berlin. That evening, he noted that for no-obvious reason a shopping cart had been placed to the left of the actors on stage.

The play was “One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest”.

Jantzen had wondered at the time whether the shopping cart signaled the need for much more consumer choice (or some other call for opening up trade or relations with the West.] Perhaps the lack of choice in a society where everyone’s basic needs were taken care of leads to people feeling like locked up crazies, i.e. like someone locked up in an insane asylum.

In short, on the one hand the western ideology of freedom of speech was appealing. On the other hand, it was the western opportunity to choose a lifestyle which East Germans came to the West to join by the thousands before the Wall suddenly opened up on November 9, 1989 (and in the months thereafter).


Over the two decades since 1989, many from Eastern Germany and their offspring have become dissatisfied with what the Western-so-called Capitalist democracies have had to offer them in terms of a better life.

Naturally, they did not know that all then.

Many East Germans, in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre in early June 1989, felt that either they should now protest or flee from their homeland. In a way, the world of East Germany—after decades of totalitarian excess and bad economics—had left many East Germans with a fairly simple identification of what Western Freedom was. Like in the “Billy McGee” song of Janice Joplin: “Freedom is just another word for ‘nothing else to lose’.”

All that the masses knew before the wall-crumbled was that winds of change (or the river of history was flowing) stood against the totalitarian-run state economies that were not able to keep up with the Western smorgasbord of choices.

Once the Wall came down, many discontented East Germans ran faster than their peers in the Church-centered protests of 1989, i.e. those who had led to the toppling of the Honecker regime so quickly after Gorbachev’s visit there—and the realization of the communist bigwigs that (1) Russian wasn’t in the mood any more too make enemies with the West and put down dozens of East European rebellions and (2) the realization that so many East Germans were still ready to flee the system on a moments notice. Finally, these same communist leaders and followers had realized that it was their own offspring who were leading the demonstrations.

The Tiananmen solution was dropped as an option in October-November 1989 by those who took over after Honecker, and East Germany was allowed to spin out of Soviet orbit.

This was followed by the fall of the leaders of Czechoslovakia and Romania by the end of the year.


For two decades the West has tried to embrace the run of Eastern humanity to its borders.

What will the West do now that the mythical neo-liberal free-market system in 2009 appears widely to have been a fraud?

Luckily, Germany has always offered the West a variety of political economic options. Some have been disastrous and some have been productive in many facets. The attempt by Western Germany to build a Social Market economy since 1949 has been embraced by many in Central Europe as a step towards an alternative path to development.

It is more than likely it was the social market economy of Western Germany and the socialism of Scandinavian countries and France which had appealed to East Germans and other Eastern Europeans who sought and succeeded between 1990 and 2009 in joining the European Union. It was not the neo-liberal shock doctrine economy forced on Chile in the 1970s and on Russia in the 1990s, which most Eastern Europeans had rushed to join in a market union.

Sadly, as fate would have it, sitting at the seat of government in West Germany in 1989 was Helmut Kohl and a coalition of free market liberals who would demand that an even stronger market path be followed in subsequent decades in Germany. In short, over the past decade even less social concern has dominated the political discourse in German than had occurred prior to the end of Communism.

In summary, these sort of neo-liberal leaders and political economists have run Germany through 2009, and they have wiped out much alternative dialogue with opposition groups from the left (i.e. some of whom spear-headed change in the late 1980s in East Germany). Eventually, with Hartz IV and other legislative and administrative changes to Germany’s welfare state, these neo-liberals pushed through market reforms that Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and others have admired.

In 1980s East Germany, Churches had played a role in change. These ” members of Christian churches - Protestant and Catholic — became key political actors in these historical events. In the case of East Germany, the Church conducted dialogue between citizens and the government, assuming the role of speaking up for the voiceless in the former Volksrepublik or ‘People’s Republic.’ Church and lay leaders also organized mass demonstrations, emphasizing the necessity of non—violent protest and the virtue in following Christ’s example. Churches also sheltered diverse activist groups, who later led protests, developed, and articulated the ideological basis of the people’s protests. The Church was the main institution to provide an alternative worldview to the Marxist ideology that the Communists preached in the schools, in the workplace and in mandatory indoctrination sessions.”

Will the churches ever again play such a role? This is not certain.

I believe that the great many of those intimately involved in change and involved in East German churches in the 1980s had never anticipated a swing to the West as pulled off by the Kohl government in the early 1990s.

Kohl’s organization worked well with many East German late-comer protestors and newly formed parties, such as the current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, who joined Democratic Awaking only just as the wall was ready to fall.

With such a swing towards radical free-market liberal leadership pushing the momentum, however, East Germans were eventually bound to be dissatisfied with the results of the changes over the past 20 years.,1518,446365,00.html

All polls these days show the vast majority of East Germans do not look on the pre-1989 mostly as the bad old days.

It is time that the totalitarian regime of the GDR be properly studied by students of today. Several babies were thrown out when the two Germanies joined and the God of Free Market Economics took over all of European political economic leadership after 1989.

Many of the protestors in the churches of the East, i.e. who had incubated the collapse of the communist totalitarian system had hoped for a third or alternative way.

However, the East German leadership, elected in March 1990, thought it had been given a mandate to capitulate almost every dream of the free-thinkers to cold-play capitalism.
Soon, the so-called free world leaders in Bonn and Berlin began to jump up and down stating that collapse of the economic system in Germany if East Germany was not absorbed overnight into the West.,1518,365809,00.html

SHOCK DOCTRINE: Germany 1990 and again in the World 2008-2009

In retrospect, the hysteria and drumbeating of the political economic wonks of 1990 in Germany, i.e. those leaders and opinion-makers demanding immediate Anschluss of East Germany onto West Germany, now sound all-too-familiar to us today in 2009—especially after watching the world’s largest bankers and financial firms go after governments (again with such a drumbeat and mantra that the world will collapse) in order to gain trillions of dollars in assistance in less than 9 months.

The similarity of assumed global collapse of the economy today if banks and financial firms aren’t bailed is reason enough for historians to go over our historical recollections and narrations concerning the collapse of communism (and the take over of Western Capitalisms form of globalization in the intervening years).

What will be the political economic system that our children and grandchildren live under? Shouldn’t we be demanding appropriate changes to the whole system, in fact, so that the western, central, and eastern European peoples do not collapse into tyranny as has occurred in Russia over the past 18 years?

Part of the rebuilding work that is required includes: (1) honestly looking at the best and worst aspects of the market and social market economies and (2) really learning from what has really worked well and poorly in the past.

For example, East Germany’s commitment to women and child care was much better in many ways than what West Germany had to offer in 1990—and since then.

Then same is true in most of Eastern Europe in the post-communist era.

Similarly, state youth programs, education, and training options were more varied in the East than is the case for far too many youth there after the collapse of communism.

Next, (3) a proper view to the future cannot use as much tunnel-vision as has the neo-liberal approach during this post-cold war era. To reduce this tunnel-vision, I would suggest that the years leading up to the collapse of communism be studied.

In other words, can any of the babies-throw-out-with-the-washout of Communism be rescued and implemented where they serve people and society better than the current system?


Bacher, John, “The Independent Peace Movements in Eastern Europe,”


Lazeras, Stephan, “Pulling the Curtain down: An Introduction to the Role of the East German Protestant Church in the Peaceful Revolution of 1989”,

Stoda, Kevin “REVOLUTIONS OF 1989: Tiananmen Square & After Effects in Europe”,

Wiesenthal, Helmut, 1996: Post-Unification Dissatisfaction. Or: Why Are So Many East Germans Dissatisfied with West German Political Institutions? Arbeitspapiere AG TRAP 96/6. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Arbeitsgruppe Transformationsprozesse

--END Part 2 REVOLUTIONS OF 1989: Kevin Stoda


Sunday, April 19, 2009

REVOLUTIONS OF 1989—Part 1: Tiananmen Square & After Effects in Europe

REVOLUTIONS OF 1989—Part 1: Tiananmen Square & After Effects in Europe

By Kevin Stoda

As a teacher of history and the social science, I have followed the recent research and discussions on the role of individual memory in how history is retold and what variety of slants the various peoples seem to receive over time concerning historical happenings.

In short, history is very interactive over time, with the memory of viewer of it, and in relation to change in perspectives and evidence concerning humanity.

Generally, history can be defined as a narration of events over time, especially as concerns the human race. At the same time history is often asked to be more complete than that, so historians attempt to provide a consistent and systematic narrative of past events, particularly in reference to groups of people, e.g., families, tribes, corporate entities, nations, nation states, and even international organizations and movements. (Meanwhile, biographies and psycho-history center more on the individual and her relationships to others and world events around her.)


On the other hand, history is also certainly best described in metaphor, like “the river” which one Greek philosopher used to describe it millennia ago.

In that Greek metaphor, “history is like a river because one can never step into the same river twice.”

In his classic history on the black struggle in America, Vincent Harding entitled the work: THERE IS A RIVER. Harding transformed the idea as history being a river to the movement of a people through history being a river.

This phrase perplexed one aging doctor of political science theory at Texas A & M whom I knew--and whom claimed to have never heard the phrase before. However, in that same seminar, one Jordanian (Jordan was once part of the Greek and Roman Empire) student chimed in that he was certain that the author of the phrase was Democritus, probably the most famous pre-Socratic scholars.

NOTE: Over the last decade, I have tried to ascertain whether Democritus, in fact, ever described history as a river and have found no evidence to confirm nor refute this. Nevertheless, this Greek metaphor of “history as a river” has been very important for historians. (I open to a researcher informing me of the roots of the “river” metaphor.)

This river-history metaphor essentially means first:

Organically, no measurement of a single river over time could show that the river’s dimensions and measurements of its waters were 100% identical to the consistency and the dimensions of the river when it was measured previously.

In a way, Greek “ river” metaphor’s perspective on historical accuracy and truth in recording historical occurrences is fairly similar to relativism over time as related to us in quantum in quantum theory --as well as concepts of time noted at the turn of the last century by Albert Einstein. (This should come as no surprise to us if we consider that Democritus was one of the philosophers who created the concept of atomism, accepted now as the bases of building blocks in natural species and objects.)

Therefore, it was extremely surprising and at the same time annoying that in America in this decade, a life-long doctor of political theory did not understand these basic concepts of time and the immeasurability of various historical events over time. Personally, I imagine this demise in theoretical conceptualization in political science and in political theory is reflective of the increasingly detrimental effects of specialization of the Social Sciences since the 1960s.

This has led to many manipulations of modern education by vested interests of bean counters and those who use the social and political-economic sciences to have control of modern society.


Some of the great myths about the Revolution of 1989 in Eastern Europe include the belief that Ronald Reagan’s going to the Berlin a few years earlier had a great deal to do with the opening of that same wall a few years later.

According to popular American school syllabi, this speech of Reagan’s at the Brandenburg Gate in June 1987 had a fairly direct influence on what occurred within two to three years in Eastern Germany—and Eastern Europe.

Nonsense! Most of the European press on both sides of the Wall ridiculed Reagan’s naivety at the time.

If, in the end, Reagan was correct in indicating that Gorbachev would be the one to open the Iron Curtain between East and West Germany, it was only correct due to the fact that Gorbachev was young enough not to die in office as had his predecessors as head of the Soviet Communist Party in 1982 (Brezhnev) , 1983 (Andropov) , and 1985 (Chernenko).

Another myth from 1989 memories and historical narration is that the combined Carter-Reagan arms build up led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This second myth actually has a bit more teeth to it, but it, too, is not easily measured over time. Like with the U.S. economy today, there is no clear argument to state that the arms build-up, with its huge budget deficit in the USA, needed to lead directly to a change in the system in the Soviet Union.

Yet, both political scientists and historians in Europe and the USA continue to make such connections year-after-year as though these myths are scientific fact.

Basically, these are a few of the great American history myths. The facts in Eastern and Western Europe, especially in the Germanies were quite a bit different. I think, for example, that in the narration of what was happening in East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of increasing tolerance of opposition, the role of the churches as an umbrella of incubation of democratic reform are ignored in American historical memory.

(In contrast, the history of the big man, like the Pope John Paul II and the institution of the Catholic Church in Poland are almost never ignored. This is because this movement could be described from the American perspective as a Western-driven movement, i.e. not always a clearly locally developed or indigenous movement.)

As another example, I also explained to my one-time professor of political theory at Texas A & M that it would not be difficult to claim that the image of the Tiananmen Square massacre had a more direct effect on what occurred in autumn 1989 in Eastern Europe than what Reagan had said at the Wall in 1987 or how much money the USA had spent or wasted on weapons from 1978 through 1989.

In short, with this first writing on the Revolutions of 1989, I need to emphasize that history reveals and will continue to reveal that the image of the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square in China in June 1989 had a much more profound and direct effect on the peoples and leaders of the Eastern Block and Soviet Union than did anything that Ronald Reagan said at the Wall two years earlier.

How do I know what the River of History was like in Europe in the 1980s?

Well, first of all, I lived it. I mean: “I lived in that River of History.”

For all but one year between 1983 and 1990, I lived in either Western Germany and France. Moreover, I made about ten visits to East and West Berlin between 1987 and 1990. The last visit found me climbing over the Wall with thousands of others in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Between 1987 and 1989, I also traveled to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union before the Wall came down in Berlin.

Not only did I personally have the pleasure of climbing over the Wall at Brandenburg Gate on December 31, 1989, but in Wuppertal, Germany I had been leading weekly discussions (1987 to 1990) over “current political affairs, social issues and environment” for adults from across West Germany, Poland, Romania, East Germany and other European states, i.e. as the Wall opened up in November of 1989. (Note: These discussions were held at the Elberfelder-Volkshochule or Adult Continuing Education Center.)

Finally, through my own church interests, I had been involved in the following activities related to understanding the German-German conflicts:

(1) First, in 1987 I had the opportunity to lead groups of youth from socially disturbed or Sozialbrennpunktfamilie areas of West Berlin in retreat to Western Germany. Don’t forget that West Berlin was an island cocooned inside the East German Democratic [Communist] Republic.

(2) I had friends who were living in East Berlin and reporting on church and student activities from 1988 through 1991. I, myself also took several tours and made personal visits to East Berlin through these friendships. [I also met a soon-deported East German from Quedlinburg in East Berlin in May of 1987.]

(3) In November 1989, I actually had been preparing a visit to Rostock, East Germany with a university campus Christian organization right up until the very moment when the Wall came down [Instead of going to Rostock, we Western German Christians invited the East German Christian Youth from Rostock and East Berlin to West Germany, i.e. so we were able to debrief and encourage them face-to-face that Revolutionary autumn.]

Finally, I had a front-row seat to the rise and end of the Chinese student movement in Germany between April and June 1989.

Let me explain.

For most of the period between 1986 and 1989, I lived in a student housing unit in Elberfeld, West Germany just off the campus of the Bergische University in North Rhine Westphalia. In this housing complex were Western Germans and students from dozens of other nations.

In both East and West Germany, Chinese students were studying diligently—as they often do now in the USA. Both East and West German governments competed with each other to show their support to the developing world and offered scholarships and training programs for many from all corners of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Some of these students even went on the same study tours as I had to East and West Berlin.

Bergische University is a technical university and many Chinese students had chosen to study there. Therefore, on occasion, I had been invited to eat with some of these Chinese student-neighbors of mine in their various kitchens. Some had even studied the Bible with friends of mine.

Meanwhile in late April and May 1989 Chinese students began to gather publicly on campuses in Europe and around the world gathered to support their peers in Beijing who were standing up for freedom and accelerated reform.

Moreover, some of these same students in Wuppertal occasionally came to various English courses I had offered on campus.

In short, by the end of May 1989, as a whole, Chinese students in Germany (after the time I arrived at the Technical University in North Rhine Westphalia in 1986) had become more open and fun as each year and month went by.

On the one hand, this trend of change was barely noticeable, but as April and May 1989 rolled around (and the students of Tiananmen were doing their large protests for hope, more freedoms, and democracy in their land), the Chinese students at the Bergische University were virtually bubbling with joy.

NOTE: This opening in Spring 1989 for Chinese college students could be greatly contrasted with the secretiveness in 2000-2002 with which I found many students on Texas A & M University operating whenever references to reform in their homeland were made in the Political Science Department in the George Bush Building in College Station. Chinese students of that era were simply defensive and fully believed the party line when it came to any criticism of their own regime.


If one doesn’t recall history in order of time on a continuum (or river) of history very well, let me remind you that the protests in Tiananmen Square began in the weeks just prior to a visit was planned and undertaken by the Soviet Union’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev in May 1989.

The purpose of those talks was to end 30 years of infighting or “estrangement” between the two large Communist behemoths of the Asian continent.

NOTE: Perhaps had the two sides buried the hatchet a decade earlier, world history would be greatly different.

Quite possibly, the Soviet Union would have added a capitalist element to its economic development in time to possibly have slowed down the collapse of the Soviet system,i.e. which would follow two years later (after the Tiananmen Massacre.).

By the time, Gorbachev arrived in mid- to late May, Chinese students had built a statue to Democracy—i.e. a Liberty Goddess of sorts--,and some had even begun hunger strikes demanding more freedom and choice in their futures.

Because, throughout May, the confused Chinese Communist controlled leadership had not struck down the protests, Chinese youthful pride, vigor and hopefulness was flowing everywhere that spring.

Then a sort-of-pre internet technological miracle occurred in my West German dormitory.

Namely, the West German government (Deutsche Telekom-) run public telephone system broke down in my dormitory and hundreds of students—many of them Chinese—stood in line for well over 72 hours calling their friends and families all over the world for free.

Due to this technological accident (or miracle), unbelievable amounts of up-to-date information came to the Chinese students on that North Rhine Westphalia campus.

It was as if the internet had been invented and millions of pieces of new information about one’s homeland were suddenly available to the Chinese at the Bergische University—all for free.

Finally, as June arrived, the telephone system at my dormitory was no longer free, but the long lines to China continued.

However, the tones of those Chinese calling home became at first cries of anger, of frustration, and of pain.

It was, on June 3 and June 4, 1989 that the happiness and joy of the Chinese students in Germany disappeared quickly in trails of tears running all through the corridors of my campus dormitory in Wuppertal.

The Chinese cracked down quickly, thousands of students and supporters were arrested, hundreds killed and many more disappeared in Beijing in a matter of hours.

After two days of crying and tears, fears of reprisal (and of possible communist spies on campus) swept through the Chinese communities in Western Germany--and around the world.

Quickly an eerie silence took its place. Chinese were afraid of being ratted on by their peers.

The silence of the Chinese in the corridors of my dormitory was deafening that June 1989. However, the silence also sent fear and forced changes along in Eastern Europe at a more urgent pace over the next few months of that memorable year.


In summary, the same silence, sadness and hopelessness relating to the June3-4 Tiananmen Square massacres continued to reverberated across Eastern Europe.

Dr. Mark Jantzen, who served in East Berlin as both a theological student at the Humbolt University between 1988 and 1991, was also serving as the eyes and ears of the Mennonite Central Committee and for the Mennonite Churches of Europe at the time of greatest change in modern Eastern European history. In his book, THE WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL: AN AMERICAN IN EAST BERLIN DURING THE TIME OF THE PEACEFUL REVOLUTION (1993), Jantzen noted that the massacre of youthful seekers of democracy left its imprint in the peaceful movements for democratic change in East Germany throughout the rest of 1989.

In short, as October and November 1989 rolled around, the ghost of Tiananmen would float like a phantom over “the river of history” in the minds of those involved with the decisions for making peaceful protest as well as in the hearts of East German communist leadership alike.

Poland responded in 1989 by quickly producing stamps recognizing the victims of Tiananmen Square.

Meanwhile, East Germany was celebrating the 40th anniversary of its existence in 1989, so the totalitarian government led by Communist Erich Honaker was expecting a visit in October 1989 by the Soviet Premier Gorbachev.

Everyone wondered throughout the summer of 1989 how Honaker and his communist cohorts would respond to similar student and youthful protests if such protests were permitted to arise there.

One response to both Tiananmen and the opening up of Poland to Democracy was soon clear, though.

East Germans began to vote more-and-more with their feet starting that May 1989.

First, taking advantage of changes in Hungary’s relationship with the West over the previous decade, the Hungarian Communist leadership and neighboring Austria had taken down their barbed wire fences by late Spring 1989.

Suddenly, thousands of Eastern Germans in summer 1989 decided it was a necessary or important junction in the river of history to try and flee the despotic state East of the Elbe, known in the West as East Germany.

However, the East German’s voting for a life in the west involved a rather circuitous route most of 1989 would be indirect. First, many tried to get to West German through Hungary and Austria. Then others tried Poland. When that option was closed off by the East German authorities, the East German citizens tried to leave through Czechoslovakia.

In conclusion, on the one hand, people in Eastern European lands feared a crackdown, like in Tiananmen Square.

On the other hand, the fear emboldened some even as it made cowards of a few others.

Some East Germans chose to flee their homeland. Others decided to fight harder than ever to change the system that had run their lives for so long.

All across Europe from the Baltic to the Balkans, citizens were asking themselves: “Was a major crackdown coming across Eastern Europe in the next months as had just occurred in China?”

This uncertainty pushed unforeseen changes on both the Eastern and Western halves of Europe from June 4, 1989 onwards.



--END Part 1 REVOLUTIONS OF 1989: Kevin Stoda