22 August 2019

1989-1992: A Global Pivot

By George Friedman

It was a time that changed everything.

Thirty years ago this month, the world began a massive pivot from one era to the next. It started in August 1989, when Hungarians, Austrians and East Germans gathered for a pan-European picnic in the Hungarian border town of Sopron. Hundreds of East Germans took the opportunity to flee to the West, and the once-feared Hungarian border guards did nothing to stop them. On Monday, European dignitaries – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, two rivals competing for the soul of Europe – marked the occasion at a ceremony in Sopron. European history was defined there some three decades ago, but since then, the Continent has been trying to come to a common understanding of that definition.

Hope and Illusion

The events in Sopron were the beginning of the end of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. In 1945, the Soviets had reached as far west as any Russian power ever had before. But by the late 1980s, the Soviets had been unraveling for some time, in part because the decline in oil prices and the rise in defense expenditures weakened them in such a way that their already inefficient system could not cope. Mikhail Gorbachev tried to buy time and gestured that...

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