The Magic Lantern: 3,2,1…

This book is a composition of 5 essays; the first four are Timothy Ash’s first- hand accounts of the East European “Revolutions” in in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the fifth and last essay is his conclusions based on the observations he made in the first four essays.

Main points:

■ As a historical observer, Ash describes meeting opposition leaders, and the evolvement of the Solidarity movement as an opposition to the Eastern Bloc (AKA Soviet Bloc). This was a social movement in Poland that used methods of civil resistance to promote cause such as workers’ rights as well as social change.

■ Ash shows how the democratic movements succeeded one another in a way that proved inevitability. He gives perspective on the natural procession of movements throughout Eastern Europe and uses experiences from individual accounts to depict the events. He tells a story of a German who crossed the border several times just for the hell of it after the wall was taken down. He also includes narratives of East Berlin residents picking up their 100 Deutschmarks (“greeting money”), and going shopping.

■ Ash reveals his small contribution to the revolutions after meeting Václav Havel in the backroom of a pub he frequented. He had told Havel “In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will take ten days!”, to which Havel responded by summoning over a camera team. This opened up the doors for Ash to the “Magic Lantern” theater; the headquarters of the main opposition coalition in the Czech lands, the Civic Forum, and therefore the revolution. This allowed Ash inside access to decisions in regards to the revolutions.

■ Although Ash gives the reader a variety of plausible theories as to the cause of these revolutions, he proposes his own explanation  in three words–“Gorbachev, Helsinki and Tocqueville”; the amalgamation of Soviet liberalization, a global understanding of human rights and the absence of a rational right to rule were all factors that caused the revolutions in Eastern Europe.


■ How did Ash’s political involvement in the revolutions affect his historical account and interpretation?

■ Ash’s presentation of the natural procession of the movements makes them seem logical, even obvious. How come these changes to Eastern Europe weren’t predicted?


■ Ash never produces a complete comprehensible theory of the political shift in Europe or pretends to know the answers to the many questions it raises. He does, however, substantially articulate the questions that need answering.

The Magic Lantern

Three Points:

1) Timothy Ash’s accounts begin in Warsaw, Poland. He describes the progression of the Solidarity movement, and how it came to replace communism. With Hungary, the end of communism came with the funeral of Imre Nagy, thirty one years after his death. However, this did not result in any type of extensive mobilization on the behalf of Hungarian society. Ash names several traits as being distinctive of Hungary’s government at this time. Its government contained multi-party politics, composed of members of the old-new party, and the economic crisis had worsened as a result of the “refolution” occurring.

2) Ash goes on to relate his experiences in Berlin, explaining the factors that led to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Some of the most important of these include the system that the Wall represented and upheld, and the Gorbachev Effect, which explains East Germany’s reliance and proximity to the Soviet Union. Ash mentions that East Germany’s youth were raised upon the saying that “To learn from the Soviet Union is to learn to win”, an expression that accurately explains the Gorbachev Effect. Ash describes the rush of people into West Germany as a threat to the politics and economy. The only solution to resolve this threat was to unify the German economy as fast as possible.

3) Finally, Ash writes on his experiences at The Magic Lantern, where the Civic Forum has its headquarters. The Civic Forum had democratic values, and was considered the headquarters of the revolution. Ash goes on to explain the events that unfolded over the next few weeks in Prague. The defining factor in the revolution that occurred in Czechoslovakia was the speed at which it developed. It’s noted that Czechoslovakia had what was called “advantages of backwardness”, as it could learn from its own mistakes and also from the examples of others.

2 Questions:

1) Towards the beginning of his book (page 22), Ash speaks of the importance of television at the time. Do you think television is still important to the documentation of history? Has social media replaced television in this sense?

2) At the end of the book (page 145), Ash talks about how Poland considered a “nation” to be different from a “society”. Is a nation different from a society?


What sets this book so far apart from any other book about 1989 is the proximity in time that Ash wrote to the events that occurred- early 1990. I’m curious as to what compelled Ash do this, instead of waiting a few months or years to write.

The Magic Lantern by Timothy Garton Ash

3 Points

1) The 1989 revolution in Poland was based on a desire for free elections. Strikes in shipyards led by Solidarity and negations carried out for the reformers by Lech Walesa were central to the reforms that took place. In Poland, the revolution worsened the economic situation because of the chaos and duration.

2) Hungary’s revolution was characterized by the funeral of Imre Nagy, a Hungarian communist leader who was killed in the 1956 uprising by the Soviets. Emotions released in 1989 were built up from 1956 but surprisingly did not result in much violence at all. The student led movement in Hungary contrasted the worker led movement in Poland motions released in 1989 were built up from 1956 but surprisingly did not result in much violence at all.

3) Czechoslovakia’s revolution inspired the title of the book because the brains of the revolution were in the Magic Lantern Theatre. The reformers working tirelessly in the theatre fed material to the protestors in Wenceslas Square. The revolution was started by students. Unlike Poland and Hungary, the revolution did not worsen the economy, mostly because it began and ended in less than a month.

2 Questions

1) At the end of the book, the authors considers the idea that the revolutions were inevitable due to history and geography. He shares his belief that this is false because of the people he witnessed. Which side do you support?

2) The author writes that no entirely new ideas were created therefore, these events were not really revolutions. Were these events revolutions?

1 Interesting Observation

1) Garton Ash notes the idea that democratic revolutions are almost always be carried out undemocratically. I believe this is true because setting up an entirely democratic government is a complicated process best carried out over time. Revolutions must have some speed to them otherwise they will be crushed or fall apart from the inside.

Is multi-kulti dead?

3 Main Points:
1. Germany is experiencing a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, and public figures such as Thilo Sarrazin have argued that “with the country’s population shrinking overall, immigrants and the underclass are having too many children, well-educated native Germans too few. Biologically, culturally and professionally Germany is dumbing down.” This is alarmingly reminiscent of the political climate in Nazi Germany.
2. Many Germans have expressed that they are in favor of sharply restricting Muslim religious practice, and think that the country has been overrun by foreigners. In addition to the sentiment of the general public, many politicians have bandwagonned onto this idea and stressed that Germany is not an immigrant land and does not need more Arabic or Turkish immigrants.
3. Initially, Germany expected its large immigrant population to work for a time and then leave and return to their original countries. This has not been the case, and the German government has begun to promote a national integration plan, “which mandates German language courses and seeks to shepherd immigrants into employment.” The program emphasizes that integration is a two way street, and immigrants may be forced to choose between their actual identity and a German one.

2 Questions:
1. How is it possible that Germans are experiencing and expressing this type of racist and xenophobic sentiment again, less than a century after the Holocaust?
2. What are the consequences for Germany from the international community should these sentiments and policies continue?

1 Observation:
“Multi-kulti” is actually an Islamophobic racial slur, and its usage here is rather strange.

Deutsch Multiculturalism

3 Points:

1. Cameron states that Germans “accentuate the negative” and are stubborn to progress, as they find it difficult to “come to terms with the changes they are witnessing”  Many Germans support restricting Muslims from practicing their religion and other social constraints on other minorities.

2.One main issue Germans have is on what terms immigrants are permitted to enter the country, such as the requirement to learn German culture.

3. Many of the immigrants within Germany drop out of school and live off of social welfare within the German system.  Additionally, there is also “a worrying minority form “parallel societies”, and a few actively plot harm against their German neighbours.”

2 Questions:

1. What changes would you make to the immigration system?

2.Does this article change your overall opinion on Germans?

1 Interesting note:

I found the situation quite similar to what we have in the United States, especially the split between the populace in how to best solve the issue.


Three poignant things:

1) People in Germany do not particularly want it to become an immigrant state, as it has effects on both on the families already existing there and the new immigrants. But because immigrant workers are staying and not moving back to their old countries as many German citizens expected, they are staying, aggravating many Germans.

2) Islam is becoming prevalent in German culture as well as other countries in western Europe. According to the economist, many German citizens are wary of practicing Islamists, and are calling for some type of restricted practice, which would be a step backwards in social/religious rights and tolerance.

3) People are afraid of the decline or the original German, as younger German generations are not reproducing at the same rates as young immigrant generations, which could eventually lead to a massive national misplacement.

2 Questions

1) How do the older generations interpret immigrant labor as opposed to the younger generations?

2) How could Germany’s history of intolerance perhaps force them into an unwanted position? Are they under the international microscope and must tread more lightly with immigrant reforms than other countries would have to?

1 Interesting Point

1) A lot of comments disagree with the article, is this most likely a politically biased minority? Or an general reflective demographic?

Multiculturalism in Germany

3 Points 

1 – Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the Bundesbank’s board, proclaimed that because of the country’s shrinking population, immigrants and the underclass are having too many children, and the well-educated native Germans too few. He argued that Biologically, culturally and professionally Germany is dumbing down.

2 – Germany isn’t doing enough to bring immigrants into the social and economic mainstream.

3 – For several decades Germany expected workers from Turkey and elsewhere to leave like polite guests. It then had the idea of multi-kulti – that they could live in Germany without fully belonging to it. Recently Germans, or at least the political class, had begun to accept that Germany is an “immigration country” with a responsibility to integrate immigrants fully into national life.

2 Questions?

How should Germany proceed with multi-kulti?

How did Sarrazin come to this conclusion as an economist, when there is evidence that the German economy is doing very well?

1 Point – 

Germany’s economy is doing very well currently, and German businesses longs for more immigration as long as the new immigrants have useful skills. The government is working on a law that would make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in Germany with professional qualifications to have them recognised so that they can contribute more to the economy and complete meaningful jobs.

Cameron on European Union

3 Points

Cameron makes a point to emphasize that Europe’s transition from warfare to tranquility did not happen overnight and took serious determination and willpower of its people over a span of time.

He also contends that millions of people now live in freedom, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, which was the main purpose of the European Union when it was initially formed. Now, almost a half-century later, the goal of the European Union is to sustain and promote peace and prosperity.

Cameron directs our attention to what he describes as the “urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change.” He states that it needs to redirect itself to the goal of delivering prosperity and maintaining the support of its people.

 2 Questions

Why do you think Cameron acknowledges the United Kingdom’s reputation for being argumentative and strong-minded? What past experiences may have contributed to the formation of this kind of reputation for the UK?

Why does he say that Britain has come to the EU with a “frame of mind that is more practical than emotional”?

 1 Interesting Point

I thought it was interesting that Cameron addressed the European competitiveness.

The Beginnings of Change

1. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev decided to reform the Soviet Union.  These reforms were called “glasnost” or openness.  They were both social and economic reforms designed to allow more political freedom to the people of the Soviet Union.  Because of this, other communist countries were forced to give in to their people’s demands for reforms in one way or another. In East Germany the people and reforms were trying to be suppressed completely.

2. Gorbachev made it clear that the Soviet Union would no longer militarily intervene if any satellite states had a reform movement or if the government wanted to reform.  He condemned the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that Moscow had the ability of put down any reform movement that was against communist ideals, with force.

3. Economic crisis in Eastern Europe left many politicians and citizens searching for a way to help combat the economic problems.  A planned economy run by the government had only a few ways to raise revenue in order to pay off debt.  One of those ways was to raise prices for living essentials such as food and energy.  The wages were not increasing though, and this turned the populations’ displeased eyes towards the government.  In turn, the governments were forced to initiate reforms to compromise with the growing unrest amongst the people.


1. Were these points contributing factors to the fall of the Berlin Wall?

2. Did the new reforms in the Soviet Union and other states have an impact in Central and South American politics or were they mostly untouched by Cold War ramifications?

Observations: It’s interesting that reforms in the Soviet Union and other communist countries was happening at the same time that President Reagan was increasing the U.S. military strength.

The change of economic system in Hungary

Three points

1. Hungary planned to change a domestic economic system from communist economy to mixed-market economy because communist economy made peoples’ standard of living decline.

2.The power-oriented price system caused a conflict with actual industrial system because people came to pursue their private benefits, while small number of people tried  to control the whole domestic economy in the power-oriented price system.

3. In the communist economy, thee wage system did not take into account the productivity and actual market movement. Therefore, Hungarians could get cheaper salary than workers in other European countries.

Two questions

1. How long had Hungary continued the economic system with no market mechanism?

2.Were there any historical events that promoted Hungary to reconsider domestic economic system?


This movement can reflect the change of society because the old economic system caused  a conflict with the current industrial system. The change of industrial system created a necessity to change domestic economy.