In the book, 1989, Mary Elise Sarotte used her book to look at the final days of the Soviet Union and the events that helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.  She argued that the events in China did not “transfer to Europe”, the easing of tensions by the Americans first and then the Soviets, the East Germans demanding a change in “the status quo”, “self confidence increase”, and “television transforms reality at a crucial moment.” ((Mary Elise Sarotte. 1989: The Struggle To Create Post-Cold War Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 16.))

One of the more crucial points and one of the more striking things to me, that Mary Sarotte made was the impact the media, particularly television, had on the end of the Soviet Union.  During this section, using the example of the Berlin Wall, she wrote how the media scrambled to get to the wall to capture images of East and West Berliners tearing down the wall.   She discussed how the media not only observed the events but they had also publicized and personalized the events going on.  In particular, she noted two people in East Berlin, “reporter Georg Mascolo and his cameraman Rainer Marz of Spiegel-Tv” who not only took pictures but also filmed the events going on in the East. ((Mary Elise Sarotte. 1989: The Struggle To Create Post-Cold War Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 43.)) During and after the events of the Berlin Wall, photos and footage of the events showed up in Western Media as well as in Eastern German media.  This was significant to the downfall of the Soviet Union because it not only showed the west how ugly events were getting, but it also spurred on more Eastern Germans to take part in separating themselves from the Soviet Union.

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.