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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

The Enigma of 1989
J Levesque

(Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1997)
267pp. Index. Hb.: 0-520-20631-2. £35.00.

The great enigma which Jacques Lévesque deals with in this, the best book thus far on the events of 1989, is not why an illegitimate and insecure system of rule collapsed in Eastern Europe, but rather why the USSR allowed it to happen in the first place. Such permissiveness was all the more strange given the apparent importance of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. The answer to this conundrum, according to the author, is to be found in a profound and probably irreversible metamorphosis that had already taken place in Soviet ideology since 1985. Lévesque argues that this alteration in outlook - to what was in effect a latter-day form of social democracy - both made it possible for the Soviet leadership to take risks in Eastern Europe and literally made it impossible for it to use force to repress or contain change in the region. However, as Lévesque readily concedes, what Gorbachev wanted in 1989 and what he got were two very different things. What he aimed for of course was a new political and military partnership with a series of reform-oriented regimes. What he ended with was the complete disintegration of the old social and economic order, the rapid collapse of any Soviet influence, the reunification of Germany and the demise of the Warsaw Pact! Ironically, the only country where Gorbachev's plans were realized was Romania, where following the execution of the Ceausescus, a reform communist in the shape of Ion Iliescu took over. Gorbachev also failed to calculate (and probably did not care anyway) what the consequences of all this would have for Yugoslavia: the least dependent, most open and undoubtedly most attractive of all the old communist regimes. But it was not his problem: nor as the tragic events gradually unfolded, did it seem to be anyone's. Liberation of sorts might have followed in the wake of communist collapse in Eastern Europe. Ethnic genocide was the consequence of freedom in the Balkans. And what is so enigmatic about that, is not that it happened perhaps, but rather that we - the 'liberators' - let it.

Michael Cox, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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