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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 42: Memorandum from the Bogomolov Institute, “Changes in Eastern Europe and their Impact on the USSR”, February 1989

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok

Texte intégral

1Like the International Department memo above, this assessment is sent to Yakovlev (and read by Gorbachev, according to his aides) as part of the analytical process commissioned by the January 21 Politburo discussion. But the think-tank reformers here go much further than the Central Committee staff, both in terms of frank description and support for change. The head of the institute (officially, the Institute of the Economy of the World Socialist System) is Oleg Bogomolov, one of the “people of the Sixties” who was disillusioned by the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. (He publicly opposed the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.) This memo does not just refer to the crisis of the socialist system, but concludes that “[t]he model of economic and political development imposed on these countries after 1948 has clearly exhausted itself.” Compare the word “imposed” to the word “transferred” employed as recently as October 1988 by Shakhnazarov (see Document No. 29). The document explicitly warns that “[t]he direct use of force by the USSR, its intervention in the course of events on behalf of conservative forces that are alienated from the people, will most evidently signify the end of perestroika and the crumbling of trust on the part of the world community in [our reforms]. But it will not prevent a disintegration of the social-economic and social-political systems in these countries.”

2At the same time, the Bogomolov memo provides reassurance about the outcomes of reform and even about more fundamental processes that might occur—what historian Timothy Garton Ash would later call “refolution.” The memo says: “By itself the fact of a transfer of power to alternative forces does not mean an external and military threat to our country.” Likewise, even though an Eastern Europe that successfully instituted perestroika would inevitably gravitate to the West economically, they would be “pioneers” not traitors; and the process would benefit the USSR.

3Missing from even this radical vision, however, is any sense of how much of their legitimacy the region’s communist parties have already lost; any inkling of the possible dissolution of the WTO; and any foresight that East Germany might end up folding into West Germany rather than becoming a neutral confederated state. The memo tracks remarkably with the actual attitudes that Gorbachev would display through 1989, indicating that it may have been an important influence on, or reflection of, his thinking. As such, its limitations would explain in part why Gorbachev would be so ill-prepared for the eventual discussions on German unification.



4Societies in the Eastern European countries are beginning to change their character. Attempts to build socialism with Stalinist and neo-Stalinist methods, not without active involvement by the Soviet side, have ended in a deadlock. This situation carries with it an aggravation of contradictions and crisis developments.

5The degree and scale of conflicts vary from more or less hidden social-political tensions pregnant with sudden explosions to a chronic crisis without any visible ways out—a crisis that signals the beginning of the disintegration of the social-political system and also does not exclude cataclysms. Such processes are irreversible; they result from the long-term evolution of the regime, and in a majority of countries they favor the transition to a new model of socialism but can also possibly lead to the collapse of the socialist idea. In the last year or year-and-a-half there has been a rapid acceleration of developments in Eastern Europe, and there are more elements of unpredictability there.


6Crisis symptoms are visible in all spheres of public life inside those countries as well as in relations among them.

7In the national economy, the intensity of these symptoms varies from a slowdown of economic growth, a widening social and technological gap with the West, a gradual proliferation of the deficit in domestic markets and the growth of external debts (GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria), all the way to the real threat of economic collapse (Yugoslavia, Poland). Particularly dangerous is the open and hidden inflation that has become a common phenomenon and only varies by degree: creeping and galloping inflation are predominant, but one cannot exclude its escalation into hyperinflation (Poland, Yugoslavia). A “black market economy” and corruption are gaining in strength everywhere and periodically burst forth in scandals and “affairs” that carry political connotations.

8In the political sphere, the crisis manifests itself first of all in the dramatic decline of the position of the ruling communist parties, in some cases so dramatic that one can speak about a crisis of confidence in them. Some of these parties are undergoing an internal crisis: their membership is decreasing since rank-and-file members do not want to share responsibility for decisions that had nothing to do with them. The old social base is eroding. Infighting in the leadership is pregnant with split-ups (most likely in Yugoslavia; there are also obvious symptoms in Hungary and low-key signals in Poland and Czechoslovakia). Under pressure from multiplying and growing alternative political structures (embryos of new parties, clubs, and movements) the HSWP and PUWP have become so weak that they have to share power and accept coalition forms of government, as well as agree to a transition to a genuine multi-party system and the legalization of dissenting opposition forces. This is occurring in somewhat different forms in the UJC [Union of Yugoslav Communists]. Alternative forces are developing an international character. Conservatives are acquiring international contacts (for instance, GDR—ČSSR—SRR).

9A very much crisis-ridden field is that of ideology. Its old forms block the renewal of the socialist order and provide the rationale for counter-reformism (GDR, Romania, Czechoslovakia). Dogmatic social sciences are incapable of working out a convincing ideological rationale for long-needed reforms. In public opinion, particularly among the youth, there is the spread of apathy, a sense of doom, nostalgia for pre-Revolutionary times (i.e. pre-World War II or even earlier), and a lack of faith in the potential of socialism. Extreme manifestations of these sentiments can be seen in the increase in emigration (Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Romania). The positions of some social groups are becoming dangerously radical; there is a growing trend towards anarchy and violence (Poland, Hungary, GDR, Czechoslovakia, the Yugoslav Confederation). The spread of video equipment, satellite broadcasting, and personal computers with printers is producing an explosion of independent culture (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia).

10The degradation of common ties is taking place in various forms. Interest in present-day forms of integration is visibly lower, as are the hopes for substantially increasing its effectiveness through direct ties and cooperation in technology. Due to profound structural problems and flaws in the mechanism of trade cooperation, bilateral trade exchanges with the USSR are dropping, which is producing very negative consequences for the national economies of our partners and is creating additional obstacles in the way of economic reforms (underutilized capacities in most countries, inflation of mutual in-kind [klivingovoie] indebtedness). In some cases inter-ethnic relations have grown worse: the Hungarian-Romanian conflict has become explicit; and mutual antipathy between Germans and Poles, Poles and Czechs, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians has increased.

11Two groups of countries stand out by the degree of their crisis tendencies.

12In Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, crisis processes are developing intensely and openly: having broken to the surface once, they have acquired a certain inertia. The acuteness of the social-political situation in these countries stems first of all from the mass scale of workers’ protests. “A new working movement” is being born. Its scope is such that it is no longer possible to treat the strikes as sporadic excesses or, as was the case in Poland, to attribute them to the influence of anti-socialist forces domestically and from abroad. The strikes obviously are escalating into the ongoing social conflict between the working strata and the party and government techno-bureaucracy. Rank-and-file communists often actively take the side of the strikers. Trade union movements are being rapidly politicized (some symptoms of this can also be observed in Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia). Official trade unions are beginning to play the role of the legal opposition; independent trade unions are proliferating; trade union pluralism is taking root.

13In all three countries, the living standards of very substantial parts of the population are sinking; their revenues are shrinking to the social minimum and lower. Simultaneously, differentiation in income is becoming more pronounced, and a speculative stratum is emerging.

14Public opinion is becoming aware of the processes heretofore hidden from it, such as the fact of the continuing exploitation of employed labor. Some leaders of the UJC have publicly admitted the existence of a struggle for redistribution of added value produced by workers, and the fact of their exploitation (for instance, through inflation). Discussion about specific forms of exploitation has begun in Poland.

15The public consciousness of the working class and other working people is increasingly being formed outside of the ruling communist parties. Pressure from “below” plays an ambiguous role: by pushing the leadership to enact reforms, it simultaneously curbs and even sometimes blocks attempts to revitalize the economy, and to modernize structures of public production at the expense of income growth and living standards. When an ongoing crisis erupts from time to time (“crisis within a crisis”) without getting a peaceful and constructive resolution, problematic and even deadlock-type situations emerge as a result. The probability of social explosions is getting higher.

16The social-class nature of ruling parties that are undertaking the turn toward radical reforms is in question now since there will be problems relying on the entire working class, particularly on its largest groups employed in the coal industry, metallurgy, ship-building industry, and other traditional industries which are in decline all over the world. Besides, it is well known that Marxist-Leninist parties traditionally saw their historic mission first of all as expressing the interests of workers as the most progressive class, and whose interests objectively coincide with the interests of the working people. Under present conditions this understanding has been increasingly complicating practical steps towards the revitalization and modernization of the economy since the short-term material interests of the working class (at least its substantial part—those employed in physical labor) clash with longer-term interests of society at large. […] The governments of Poland and Hungary are seeking to accelerate changes in the structures of public production by carrying out the policy of “socialist Thatcherism.” Since such a policy hurts substantial segments of the working class and lacks ideological justification, the workers, among them rank-and-file party members, rise in protest while referring to old ideological formulas.

17The ruling parties fail chronically and badly in their reaction to the course of social-political developments. None of them has so far proved to be capable of seizing the initiative. Apparently this is due to the lack of clear prospects for renewal, the lack of a contemporary socialist vision. So far this problem has been alleviated because of the absence of alternative constructive platforms. But today the opposition has most obviously been attracting intellectual potential (Poland, Hungary) and has been developing its own ideology and political program.

18The developing situations in Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Poland touch on the geopolitical and geo-strategic interests of the Soviet Union to varying degrees. Whatever the outcome of the Yugoslav crisis, it would only marginally affect our society without any serious, direct ideological effect. On the contrary, the course of events in Hungary and especially in Poland will affect us directly and very painfully by buttressing the position of [our] conservative forces and breeding doubts about the chances of survival for perestroika.

19In Czechoslovakia, GDR, Bulgaria and Romania (all the differences in economic position notwithstanding) analogous internal social-political conflicts are still implicit and hidden, even though they are clearly detectable. They tend, however, to exacerbate [matters], and there are telling symptoms that demonstrate (to political scientists) real harbingers of tension:

  • Under-fulfillment of excessively optimistic plans and programs (particularly regarding consumption); unexpected growth of inflation; declining indicators of living standards; proliferation of uncontrollable, spontaneous processes in economic life.
  • Growing dissatisfaction with the existing situation in the distribution of material goods and equality of opportunities; aggravation of the problem of social justice.
  • Intensifying discussions at party congresses; more frequent resignations of politicians, reshuffling of the staff.
  • Ferment within the intelligentsia, particularly in its creative components.
  • Exacerbation of the generational conflict.
  • Crisis of morale; proliferation of social pathologies (crime, drug-addiction,
  • etc.).
  • Accumulating feelings of social frustration (deprivation) in large social groups spilling over into “witch hunts,” sometimes into aggressive ethnic conflicts, and anti-worker and anti-intellectual sentiments.

20These symptoms are manifesting themselves in various combinations and at different volumes. Social-political conflicts remain hidden largely due to harsh controls exercised by repressive structures over public life and to strict limitations on mass media. But in some cases these factors are no longer sufficient to prevent acts of protest (in Czechoslovakia, GDR, and even Romania). A further tightening of controls and more persecutions can either trigger an uncontrollable chain reaction—all the way to an explosion (quite possible in Czechoslovakia)—or encounter a negative reaction in world public opinion and the introduction of very painful economic and political sanctions. For instance, the repressive totalitarian regime in Romania is increasingly finding itself in international isolation, and amicable contacts with N. Ceauşescu, while promising no preferential treatment on the part of the SRR today, even less in the longer term, may only compromise politicians [who engage in such contacts] in the eyes of world public opinion.


21In the countries of the first group, the crisis has acquired visible forms and the sides in the conflict are lined up, but the prospect of further developments is not clear; there are several alternatives. None among them would presuppose the preservation of traditional forms of governance by the ruling parties and their full control over society. Despite all assurances and words, real chances to keep developments within the framework of socialist renewal are shrinking. The existing model of socialism can be transformed only with enormous difficulty into a more effective and modern social setup. There are serious obstacles to a less-than-cost-ly resolution of the crisis. Furthermore, scenarios of deadlock and catastrophe are coming to the fore.


221. Most favorable scenario: The conclusion of a so-called anti-crisis pact at the “Roundtable” talks, which could mean an unstable compromise between the PUWP (and its allied parties), Solidarity (and the forces of the opposition intelligentsia) and the GCITU [the General Council of Industrial Trade Unions]. The gradual transition to a mixed economy, and de-centralization and privatization of “the giants of post-war industrialization” through shareholding. Transition to one or another variant of a market economy. Advancement towards genuine party-political pluralism (free elections, redistribution of seats in the Parliament, co-optation of representatives of the present opposition into the government, access of the opposition to mass media) could increase support on the part of the population of the country and the West. The latter could ameliorate the situation with payments on external debt, and by opening channels for new credits, which could somewhat reduce internal economic tensions. However, even in this case popular protests would hardly be neutralized, and political instability would continue for a long time, producing micro-crises periodically. This would complicate a decisive and energetic program of reforms. The weakening of the PUWP would inevitably continue as a result of the ideological crisis and internal struggle, but it would take a more gradual course in a form that could allow an explosion to occur. Relations with the USSR would remain ideologized while Poland would remain a member of the WTO.

23Terms of realization: preservation and consolidation of the authority of the present-day party-political leadership (W. Jaruzelski); containment of pressure from “below” in a framework that would preclude the radicalization of both trade union confederations.

242. Pessimistic scenario: Failure of the anti-crisis pact resulting from a clash between the conservative forces in the PUWP, a radicalized GCTU and the extremist wing of Solidarity, while minimal political contacts between the party-government leadership and the opposition survive. A protracted “deadlock” situation. Slow and ineffective changes in the economy, a de facto pluralism in society without effective mechanisms for taking and implementing decisions. Growing elements of anarchy. Transformation of Poland into the chronically “sick man of Europe.”

253. Deadlock scenario: Failure of the anti-crisis pact followed by an aggravation of relations with the opposition. Rapid escalation of the conflict until an explosion (the most probable timing in this case—spring 1989). Renewal of martial law or a situation approximating a civil war—“Afghanistan in the middle of Europe.”

264. Recently, the first weak symptoms of yet another scenario have emerged. It is close to the first but is related to the formation of the Christian Democratic

27Party of Labor which, hypothetically, may grow into a big political force if supported by Solidarity (in the role of a Catholic trade union) and the oppositionist Catholic intelligentsia. The PUWP may well welcome such a scenario since it could promise cooperation with the Church, which seeks to avoid an explosion. Yet existing information provides no clues as to the change in the Church’s position, which has so far preferred to remain in the role of mediator.

28This last month produced good chances for developments according to the first scenario. There is no absolute guarantee that this will be realized, since there are no assurances that the traditionalist forces would not defy the course of the 10th Plenum of the CC PUWP at the forthcoming party conference, and that Solidarity would and could contain the rising mass protest and observe the two-year armistice. Specific conditions in Poland may lead the first and especially the second scenarios to a dead end. The chance for an explosion in the PPR is far greater than in other countries of Eastern Europe.

29In a longer-term perspective even the most favorable scenario does not ensure preservation of the socialist choice. Evolution towards a classic bourgeois society of the type of Italy or Greece is highly likely.


301. Most Probable Scenario: Radical reforms in the state sector of the economy, partial re-privatization of industries and agriculture, transformation of the economy into a mixed one, functioning on the basis of market relations. Further strengthening of organizational ties with the European Union and perhaps with EFTA [European Free Trade Association] growing cooperation with Austria. Step-by-step rebuilding of the parliamentary system on the foundations of party pluralism. Along with the inevitable decline of cooperation with the CMEA and formal continuation of membership in the WTO, there will come a tendency towards neutralism and possibly a movement towards some kind of Danube federation if this idea takes shape and gains support among Hungary’s neighbors.

31Terms of realization: as a result of a considerable strengthening of the positions of the reformist wing in HSWP’s leadership and in the party as a whole, the reformist wing is seizing the initiative in transforming social-economic and political structures; the gradual formation of a coalition with the Social Democratic movement (not excluding the transition of a considerable number of party members to the Social Democrats or the peaceful split into two parties). Even if the influence of other parties increases in the short run, the course of events will probably become a modification of the first scenario since none of the movements can compete in strength and influence with the reformist circles of the HSWP and the forces of Social Democratic orientation.

322. Pessimistic scenario: Concessions to the conservative wing of the party, which retains strong positions in the medium and lower ranks. Attempts to minimize deviations from the traditionalist schema. Inconsistency and compromises in carrying out reforms. The growth of economic and political tension. Further decline of living standards, the growth of a strike movement, politicization of trade unions. Possible declaration of bankruptcy on the external debt, aggravated relations with creditors, including international monetary-financial institutions. Building obstacles on the way to the legal construction of some oppositionist parties and movements. Postponement of parliamentary elections. Further drop in the authority of the reformist wing in the present-day leadership of the HSWP and of the supporting forces in the party and state apparatus. Weakening electoral chances of the HSWP (including an electoral defeat). Transfer of initiative to alternative political forces. As a result, there is a return to the necessity of radical reforms but under new, economically and politically less propitious circumstances. […]

33The first scenario’s implementation is not yet out of the question, but the most probable seems to be some kind of middle way between the first and the second scenarios. The inevitable aggravation of the internal situation in this case may propel events towards the first scenario or raise the chances of complete slide-back towards the second scenario. […]

34In the longer term, the present-day situation in the countries of the second group appears to be more dangerous for the future of socialism and crisis phenomena there will inevitably take an open form. Czechoslovakia is the first candidate. In Bulgaria and Romania (possibly, also in the GDR) changes will come with a change of leader, which will occur from natural causes. The character and tempo of subsequent events will depend on the degree to which the new generation of leadership, willing to defuse the accumulated tensions and raise personal prestige, comes to decrease the grip of the repressive apparatus over society. The available data provides no evidence for a substantial forecast of alternatives, but it seems obvious that the more the tension is driven inside, the higher the chances for an explosion in one of these countries, with all the consequences that flow from this.


  • 1 On the anniversary of the February events and of the death of T. Masaryk this crack-down will prob (...)

35With a high degree of probability one can expect rapid escalation as soon as this coming spring or in the fall. Causes: a combination of strong public discontent with the unjustifiably harsh crackdown on the last demonstration1 with the first unpopular results of the economic reforms (the absence of bonuses in many unprofitable plants, etc.). Preventing such a course of events is possible by undertaking, at M. Jakeš’ initiative, a resolute change in a considerable part of the current party-state leadership, removal of publicly compromised people, joint efforts together with L. Adamec and the initiation of practical steps towards socialist renewal and broad democratization. However, first, since the General Secretary of the CC CCP has already twice failed to live up to public expectations and to declare himself an advocate of a new course, and, second, since there is too little time left for preparation of such a step, the chances for such a favorable outcome are minimal. Extrapolation of the current situation points to a crisis, where order would be restored by force and all problems would again be driven inside.

36In the course of events, one may expect the appearance of a new political force in the country’s political arena—the Club of socialist perestroika, headed by well-known leaders of the Prague Spring, C. Císař and Černík, who adhere to socialist positions. This group has a solid constructive platform and can expect an influx of a large number of supporters—possibly up to 500-750,000. In a struggle with this political adversary, the leadership of the CCP has minimal chances of victory. However, the struggle against the politicians and ideas of 1968 will be acute and will lead to a quick and rapid escalation of the crisis.


371. Favorable scenario: Changes take place in the leadership of the country. As a result, N. Ceauşescu is replaced by reasonable politicians capable of carrying out radical reforms and ideas for the renewal of socialism. There are good preconditions in Romania for the use of market-type relations, for a relatively dynamic restructuring and modernization of the people’s economy with a real unfettering of economic initiative and the creation of a multi-sector competitive economy.

382. Middle-dead end scenario: The present leadership of the country stays and so too the policy. If the resources that are freed as the external debt is paid off are used for reducing social tensions, then it is possible to maintain general political stability for quite a while, while conserving political problems in the country and ensuring a slowdown in technological-scientific progress. If, however, the leadership chooses to ignore the task of improving living standards for the population and diverts the obtained resources for the realization of new ambitious projects, then one cannot exclude a social explosion. In a case where renewal processes in other socialist countries by that time have not proven the feasibility of reform, there could be a danger of a decisive turn by the country—[i.e. Romania], whose population gets disenchanted with socialist values and is traditionally raised in the spirit of common destiny with the Latin [romanskii] world—in the direction of the West (including its exit from the WTO). Financial and material support from the West, highly probable under conditions of real change, may prove to be very effective for a country possessing a good deal of natural and economic resources.

39Since the regime still has not exhausted its resources and has recently been accumulating the experience of combined repressive measures and social maneuvering to maintain social stability, the second scenario seems to be more likely. In its favor there is also a relatively low level of national self-consciousness and an absence of organized opposition in Romania. At the same time, the obvious irrationality of the policy of the current leadership produces growing dissatisfaction not only on the grass-roots level but even among the ruling elite [verkhushki]. Therefore, the possibility of some kind of changes “from the top” cannot be excluded.

German Democratic Republic.

40The conservative nature of the party leadership, the sectarian and dogmatic character of its positions on ideological questions, authoritarianism and harsh control of the repressive apparatus over society are weakening the prestige of the party and heightening tensions in the country, as well as negativist sentiments among the population. Nevertheless the current line may survive the change of leadership for some time.

41There is no formal center of opposition in the GDR, although non-conformist movements with more or less formalized platforms do exist. So far they do not represent any force capable of applying palpable pressure from below and of destabilizing the situation. With a degree of probability one can surmise that there are forces in the current ruling apparatus who not only can evaluate the situation soberly and analyze critically, but who can work out a constructive program of changes. Reformist sentiments do not come to the surface, most likely because potential advocates of a new course do not have sufficient assurances that the process of renewal in the USSR is inevitable. Besides, they understand that far-reaching reforms in the GDR will hardly remain an internal affair and may trigger a change in the status quo in the center of Europe.

42With this in mind, perestroika in the GDR, if it occurs, will require from the USSR and other socialist countries the reevaluation of a number of established assumptions and perhaps a reappraisal of its interests in the center of Europe. Under conditions of democratization and glasnost, this question will probably become the central one, and the mode of its resolution will depend on the determination of the [GDR] leadership in carrying out reforms. In the long run, one can foresee the declaration of such goals as the creation of a unified neutral German state on the basis of a confederation. A mid-term slogan, “one state—two systems,” may be also advanced.


43Underground ferment and differentiation of social-political forces have become fact. So far they manifest themselves in local, impulsive flashpoints of resistance to the official ideology and the concept of social development, without growing into any significant movements. Further dynamics and the direction of social-political shifts will be determined primarily by economic trends.

44The country’s leadership has worked out a concept for economic reform, but practical measures for its realization have not yet been sufficiently prepared, so in the near future real results can hardly be expected. A deterioration in the economic situation is more likely, particularly because of the growing debt to the West and the threat of bankruptcy, which will inevitably bring about unwanted social, and then political, consequences. Against this background hotbeds of tension might proliferate—including strikes, particularly among non-qualified and less-qualified workers.

45The party’s ideological influence on society is declining. There are opposition sentiments among intellectuals who resent the use of force against ecologists and the persecution of a number of scientists for critical speeches. There are seeds of alternative movements, and extremist elements are coming to the fore. Alternative political forces are still weak and not organized, but they could broaden their social base.

46The withdrawal of the present number one in the party from the political scene may provide an impetus for intra-party differentiation between the supporters of the old leadership and those who seek a genuine renewal. Forces capable of carrying out more balanced and reasonable policies do exist in the party; they enjoy enough authority, but they will face a difficult legacy.

47The overall trend of social-economic and political development in the country tends to repeat the Hungarian scenario—with certain deviations, time gap and national peculiarities, and the eclectic emulation of experiences of other countries. The fate of the Hungarian experiment may exercise a serious influence on future developments in the PRB.

Possible consequences for the USSR

48The prospect of the weakening of the ruling parties’ positions—including their removal from power, its transfer into the hands of other political forces, the decline of Soviet influence in the countries of Eastern Europe, and its attachment to the orbit of Western economic and political interests—require the formulation of a more rational and deliberate reaction by the Soviet Union. We face a dilemma: to thwart the evolution described above or take it in stride and develop the policy accepting the probability and even inevitability of this process.

49Attempts to thwart emerging trends would be tantamount to fighting time itself, the objective course of history. In the long term, these kinds of steps would be doomed and in the short run would mean wasting means and resources for an obviously hopeless cause. Attempts to preserve in Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia the status quo that has lost its objective foundations, as well as the support of conservative forces in the GDR, ČSSR, Romania and Bulgaria will weigh as an excessive burden on our economy, for the price of maintaining existing relations will increase in time. The use of forceful pressure from our side will inevitably reinforce the conservative wing in the upper echelons of power, rupturing reforms where they have begun, and worsening the crisis. Social-political tensions in societies will increase, anti-Soviet sentiments will grow stronger, which might spill over into a delicate balance on the brink of a most acute social-political conflict, with an unfathomable outcome. The direct use of force by the USSR, its intervention in the course of events on behalf of conservative forces that are alienated from the people, will most evidently signify the end of perestroika and the crumbling of trust on the part of the world community in [our reforms]. But it will not prevent a disintegration of the social-economic and social-political systems in these countries, nor will it exclude mass outbreaks of protest, including armed clashes. Besides, not only nationally isolated events, but mutually interacting, chain-reaction “fuse-type” explosions can be expected.

50In the framework of possibilities created by new thinking and cooperation between the USSR and the United States, East and West, the “architects” of American foreign policy can be seen as changing their priorities. They prefer the support of perestroika in the USSR and the creation of an external environment favorable to its success. Serious Western politicians warn against playing on the problems of the socialist community, and on its disintegration, which in their opinion may bring about unexpected consequences for the Western world. Western circles of authority are coming to the conclusion that, by cooperating with reformist forces, they can achieve more than by attempting to pull the socialist countries from the USSR’s sphere of influence one by one.

  • 2 In the political dictionary this term mostly signifies the return of our neighboring states to the (...)

51Working through the options for a future Western strategy towards Eastern Europe, bourgeois political scientists and some think tanks are considering a “Finlandization” scenario for a number of countries of the region.2

52What could be the possible consequences of such a scenario for the USSR? The following aspects should be considered: military, international politics, internal politics, economic and ideological.

531. Poland will certainly not leave the WTO, since this is against its national, state, and geopolitical interests. Hungary will also hardly raise this issue in the foreseeable future. The forthcoming withdrawal of a portion of Soviet troops stationed on the territories of both countries will significantly reduce the political acuteness of this problem. The GDR will also not raise the question of leaving the WTO since its party and state cadres consider this organization as one of its props. Only in the long-term, if detente and the construction of a “common European home” progress sufficiently, will the issue of a unified German confederate state possibly be put on the agenda. From the international angle, this will most likely end up in the neutralization of both parts of Germany and the establishment of special relations between the GDR and NATO, and the GDR and the WTO. The positions of Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia depend on many uncertain factors, but they will hardly leave the WTO in the foreseeable future. If relations with us worsen, the Romanian leadership may take up this issue, but with skillful ideological orchestration of this step we will not lose anything since its geopolitical location will force the self-isolated Romania to consider our interests. In the case of Yugoslavia, as is well known, the question of the WTO does not figure at all.

54So we can expect that the WTO—at least in the foreseeable future—will not necessarily sustain significant losses; and we can expect that all of the Eastern European countries, which are currently undergoing serious transformations, will stay in alliance with us.

552. As long as new foreign policy trends emerge in the countries of Eastern Europe, which became the object of special aspirations for the U.S. and the West as they conducted their policy of differentiation, the USSR may consciously take over the initiative from the West as well as from the oppositionist, social-reformist forces inside those countries (Poland, Hungary) by consciously adopting a certain degree of “Finlandization” of these countries. Such a policy will demonstrate the seriousness of our global aims to get involved in world economic, political and cultural ties. Renunciation of the diktat with regard to the socialist countries of Eastern Europe will nurture a more benevolent image of the USSR in the public opinion of these countries and around the world, and it will make the U.S. seriously correct its foreign policy towards Eastern Europe.

56The very chance that European socialist countries may take a mid-way position on the continent will intensify the interest of Western Europe in maintaining the economic and political stability of Eastern Europe as well as in stimulating the process of disarmament and detente on the continent and around the world. Inevitable consequences of this will be the growth in significance of the European factor in world politics and economics, which will favor Soviet efforts aimed at containing an anti-Soviet consolidation of the Western world and at developing a “common European home.” The economic burden of the USSR will be alleviated. Anti-Soviet and nationalist influences will operate on shrunken ground, and the prestige of the Soviet Union and its ideological-political influence on broad strata of the population will grow—of course, the political shift will be viewed as a result of our conscious decision and not a result of the pressure of hostile forces. This will be a “revolution from above” in foreign policy, which will prevent a “revolution from below.”

573. It cannot be excluded that in some countries of Eastern Europe the crisis will have gone so far and reforms will have come so late that the ruling parties will not be able to retain power or will have to share it in a coalition with other political forces. By itself the fact of a transfer of power to alternative forces does not mean an external and military threat to our country. On the contrary, history provides examples of when the Soviet Union developed relations with non-communist leaders of Eastern European countries that were not too bad. Normal political activity by communist parties (along with other political parties) should not instill the fear in non-communist governments that, under the guise of international aid, there will be a violation of popular sovereignty with a possible violation of its will expressed through free elections. Guarantees of non-interference in the internal affairs of neighboring countries and respect for their political stability should, under present circumstances, be seen differently than in the 1950s-1970s, for we ourselves have recognized the need for a different understanding of socialism in principle, and have stopped trying to expand over the entire world the model that was in existence in our country. We have begun to realize the need in the socialist model for accounting for some basic characteristics of the Western mode of development (markets, competition, civil society, civil liberties, etc.)

58There is no question, of course, of renouncing the support of communist and workers’ parties, but an obligatory precondition for such support should be voluntary recognition of their leadership by their people, their legitimacy. For the loss of trust, they should pay as any other party in normal democratic society. Similar logic dictates to us the need for support of business, civilized contacts not only with those political parties in the countries of Eastern Europe which are currently at the tiller, but also with the internal opposition, the constructive opposition in society—equal to our practice toward non-socialist states. An unwillingness to accept contacts with alternative forces in these countries could be interpreted as a form of interference in internal affairs, i.e. something which we have rejected as a matter of principle.

594. The objective outcome of the natural development of the trends towards “Finlandization” could be a new, middle-of-the road position on the part of the East European countries since they, according to their internal order, the nature of their economic ties and their real international position, would pass from the sphere of monopolistic influence of the USSR into the sphere of mutual and joint influence by the Soviet Union and the European “Common Market.” It cannot be excluded that in the near future the European Economic Union will convey associate member status to some countries of Eastern Europe. They could, in this case, become the pioneers in the process of integration between East and West. This process not only poses no threat to the interests of the USSR but, on the contrary, will allow the benefits we receive today from our cooperation with Finland and Austria—by linking to Western markets—to multiply. [These include] the achievements of Western science, know-how and technology, When a common market starts functioning in Western Europe in 1992, East European countries involved in the orbit of the EU may facilitate our access to this sphere.

605. In a new situation, we will have to liberate ourselves from certain persistent ideological stereotypes, for instance the assumption that only a communist party in power can provide guarantees for the security of Soviet borders. We will have to rethink the notion of a “world socialist system.” But the utility of these [notions] was purely fictional; it existed only in a realm alienated from life, in a didactic ideology which we have been striving to overcome. Consequently, the rejection of such categories and dogmas may only promote a new system of ideological coordinates that are emerging in the process of perestroika and the formation of new political thinking.

61An optimal reaction by the USSR to the evolutionary processes taking place in Eastern Europe would be, as it turns out, active involvement which would place them [the processes] under control and make them predictable. Even if some decline of Soviet influence in Eastern European affairs takes place, this would not cause us fatal damage but, perhaps on the contrary, resulting from self-limitation, it would place our means in rational harmony with our capabilities. For we speak about a voluntary abandonment of only those levers of influence that are not in accordance with the principles of international relations proclaimed by the Soviet Union in the spirit of “new thinking.”

62Of course, such a turn may produce collisions and conflicts, for example if openly anti-Soviet, nationalistic groupings are legalized in this or that country. But their persecution, their underground existence will only help them gain in popularity, and their legalization against the backdrop of our reserved policy, and with thoughtful criticism of them on the part of friends of the USSR, will lay bare the lack of perspective and short-sightedness of anti-Soviet assumptions.

63Favorable international conditions for the progress of reforms in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe will lend a powerful side-effect to the process of internal perestroika in the USSR. Structural modernization of their economies, and the development of market relations will help to overcome the elements of parasitism in their economic relations with the USSR and to transfer them to the healthy ground of mutual profitability.

Possible practical steps of the USSR

64In light of the aforementioned, the following measures seem to be justified:

65Work on a strategic program to develop our relations with the East European socialist countries within the framework of the new model of socialism and a calibrated reflection of this program in official documents and speeches.

66Advancement of our proposals to reform the Warsaw Treaty Organization, presupposing a bigger role for the fraternal countries in the management of the WTO, and the creation of regional commands (taking the example of NATO) under the leadership of representatives of hosting countries. This would help to “tie” them into the WTO, which in practice is still regarded as a predominantly Soviet construct.

67A further gradual reduction of our military presence in Eastern Europe taken at our own initiative and upon agreement with the hosting countries, working on a schedule for withdrawal of troops, the creation of the most propitious conditions for demilitarization in Central Europe (with its possible neutralization), and a reduction of American presence on the European continent.

68Working through bilateral consultations on mutually beneficial measures to alleviate the consequences of restructuring in the countries of Eastern Europe, particularly where strong tensions might end up in an explosion.

69In case certain proposals are made, we should agree to some form of continuous and periodic consultations with West European countries and the U.S. on the issue of preventing explosions in this or that country of Central and Eastern Europe.

70Developing a practice of genuine consultations on issues of foreign policy with our allies instead of informing them about decisions already taken.

71Carrying out a serious analysis of the activities of Soviet embassies in the East European socialist countries, in some cases leading to replacement of ambassadors and leading officials of the Embassies who act against the interests of our foreign policy in its new phase. Special attention should be paid to our cadres in the countries where a potential escalation of tensions and even explosion are possible. During the change of cadres we should send to these countries those officials whose appointment will be a sign of the attention and high priority the USSR assigns to relations with socialist countries.

72While arranging summits in socialist countries, one should borrow the methods utilized in leading capitalist countries (the organization of appearances by leading Soviet scientists, cultural figures, etc.)

  • 3 The terms “blank pages” or “blank spots” referred to events in the history of Soviet relations wit (...)

73It is necessary to work out without delay an integral line of behavior on the issues of “blank pages”3 in relations with each East European country. (We should not ignore the accumulating negative fallout that resulted from our postponement of the resolution of these problems with regard to the PPR and HPR.)

74It is highly important to radically change our informational policy with regard to events in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, to cover in an objective light and to explain and justify the processes that are taking place there, since it is equal to the explanation and justification of the measures that lie ahead for us in carrying out our economic and political reforms.

75While covering events in the fraternal countries and responding to the speeches of their leaders, we should express a manifest support for those pronouncements which signal their acceptance of reformist ideas (particularly with regard to the leaders of the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania), thereby showing on what side of the forces and trends the sympathies of the Soviet Union lie.

76Popularization of Soviet publications merits all kinds of support. Proposals of our embassies in some countries to eschew such support are clearly in contradiction with our interests.


77Overcoming the crisis in the countries of Eastern Europe presupposes outright de-Stalinization. This should encompass their domestic life as well as their relations with the Soviet Union. The model of economic and political development imposed on these countries after 1948 has clearly exhausted itself. The search for more fruitful ways and means of development is leading to a rethinking of the socialist ideal, including the revival of assumptions that formed in the communist and workers’ parties of the East European countries in 1945-1948 (mixed economy, parliamentary democracy, etc.). This means a return to a natural, historical form of social progress—instead of one deformed by external pressure—that stems from the national peculiarities of each country. To a certain degree, one may speak about overcoming the Yalta legacy of splitting the world into two enemy camps, and about the gradual formation of a more varied and simultaneously more united Europe.

78From the world socialist perspective, any attempt to stop this evolution by force could have the gravest consequences: the inevitable slide of the East European countries back to the ranks of the poorly developed (the so-called “fourth world”), the undercutting of the socialist idea in all its versions, and the provision of a new hand of cards to neo-conservatives in the West to use in their offensive against the social achievements of the working masses. Besides, Eastern Europe will inevitably acquire “hot points” [goriachie tochki]” and quasi-dictatorial regimes which would continuously deplete the material resources of the Soviet Union and effectively exclude the prospects for renewal of socialist society in our country. However, the peaceful evolution of East European states (without serious explosions) would to a great extent improve the world situation and enhance international relations. In that way, the chances of accelerated development in Eastern Europe would grow, as would the prospects of certain socialist elements that can be found in the practice of highly developed capitalist countries. Overall, the prospects for forming humanistic and democratic post-capitalist societies in accordance with socialist ideals would be preserved.

79[Source: Donation of Professor Jacques Levesque. Document on file at the National Security Archive and at the Gorbachev Foundation. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]


1 On the anniversary of the February events and of the death of T. Masaryk this crack-down will probably take place again. [Footnote in the original.]

2 In the political dictionary this term mostly signifies the return of our neighboring states to the mode of capitalist development while preserving special, friendly relations with the Soviet Union that guarantee the security of its borders. Such an understanding of the notion of “Finlandization” overlooks two significant moments in relations between the USSR and Finland. First, they are built on the neutrality of our northern neighbor which does not join any military bloc; second, the Finnish communist party by definition cannot come to power and carry out a revolutionary coup which guarantees the stability of the [Finnish] social-political regime. Since the countries of Eastern Europe will hardly raise the issue of leaving the WTO in the near future and the ruling parties, even provided their rapid weakening, will retain for a while some social base, “Finlandization” can be used here only with very significant qualifications. [Footnote in the original.]

3 The terms “blank pages” or “blank spots” referred to events in the history of Soviet relations with the East European countries that were controversial or censored in Soviet history books, such as the massacre of Polish officers at Katyń in 1939.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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