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.