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November 6, 2009

Panel of diplomats revisits 1989 revolutions

Consuls from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Austria met at the I-House Wednesday to discuss their experiences of the end of Communist rule in the Soviet Bloc. The event, “With Immediate Effect: the Events of 1989 Revisted,” was part of the Center for International Studies’ special series on the revolutions of 1989.

“Twenty-five years ago, few would imagine that we would be here in Chicago with representatives from Germany, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland speaking freely about uniting Europe,” Hungary’s Istavan Mezei said.

The panel’s moderator, sociology professor Andreas Glaeser, said that while it is evident today that socialism did not work in Europe, for citizens of the Soviet Bloc, socialism “was forever until it was no more.”

The panelists agreed that, at the time, it seemed like the Soviet Union would never collapse and that the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia was a miracle.

“The greatest lesson [from the revolution] was the disqualification of Communism as an acceptable form of society,” Marek Skolil of the Czech Republic said. “We are all better off. That’s why these events are needed to be discussed today.”

The Velvet Revolution, which took place in the winter of 1989, was the third largely bloodless revolution in the Soviet Bloc, following the election of the Solidarity Party in Poland and the reinvention of Hungary’s Communist party. The Soviet Union fell two years later, in 1991.

However, Robert Zischg of Austria said there is still inequality between the previously communist countries and Western Europe.

“The walls in the mind of the people have not come down yet. The acceptance of former Communist countries is not as high as it should be,” he said. “For many people of

Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary...who grew up with the challenge, it is in our minds, the division. This is what Communism has done to Europe.”

The idea that socialism was the only way to run a nation made Central and Eastern Europeans feel that Soviet rule would never end. That socialist ideology made a smooth return to capitalism impossible, Zischg said.