“1989 Revolutions of Eastern Europe: Few people remember Günter Schabowski. Schabowski, the spokesman for the East German Communist Party Politburo, played a vital role in the toppling of the East German Communist government in the fall of 1989. During a press conference on November 9, 1989, a reporter asked him about new travel regulations issued by the government that seemed to indicate the possibility of easier travel into West Berlin through the Berlin Wall. Schabowski had only recently received a copy of the new regulations and had not yet read them carefully. The reporter asked when, exactly, East German citizens could begin to take advantage of these new travel rules. Schabowski shrugged and responded, “from now.”
That evening Reuters reported (incorrectly) that East German citizens could cross into West Germany by any border crossing and West German television news programs reported that the Berlin Wall was opening. Within minutes, thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of Berliners, both East and West, began converging on the Berlin Wall. Without orders for how to handle the surging crowds, the East German border guards simply opened the gates. Crowds poured through in both directions and within minutes began tearing down the wall that had for so long symbolized the division of Europe into a Communist East and a non-Communist West.
The night that the Berlin Wall collapsed was certainly one of the most dramatic moments in the cascading events of 1989, events that brought the era of Communist rule in Eastern Europe to a close. Textbooks often describe the events of that year as the inevitable collapse of a repressive system in favor of a freer democratic form of government. But the reality is much more complex. Many forces, both internal and external, conspired to bring down the Communist regimes, and not every government that replaced them could be described as fully democratic.
What follows is an examination of the intersecting developments that led to the collapse of the Communist regimes in 1989. As you read this essay and as you explore the resources on this website, ask yourself what common threads appeared across the region during a time of rapid change? What trends are unique to one or only a few countries? By engaging in this sort of comparative analysis, you can begin to make sense of the complex events of 1989.”