8.2.3 Chap. 3: ‘The Year 1989’

Back to 8.2.2

Unit 8 Contents

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The chapter title is a little misleading because, while it centres on 1989, it does not discuss what actually happened in that year very directly.  It certainly doesn’t give a narrative of events.

The short slide show, ‘Mapping the fall of Communism’, which you looked at on the last screen, showed that the changes began in Poland with the election of a non-Communist government in summer 1989.   You will recall that in Unit 4 we looked at the Solidarity trade union that had formed in Poland a decade earlier (4.3.4). This shows that what happened in 1989 had been a long time in the making.  In the first part of Chapter 3, John Paul refers to this longer term context.  In a striking passage (the first part of which was quoted in 8.1.4 also), he says:

Certainly, the decisive factor which gave rise to the changes was the violation of the rights of workers. It cannot be forgotten that the fundamental crisis of systems claiming to express the rule and indeed the dictatorship of the working class began with the great upheavals which took place in Poland in the name of solidarity. It was the throngs of working people which foreswore the ideology which presumed to speak in their name. On the basis of a hard, lived experience of work and of oppression, it was they who recovered… the content and principles of the Church’s social doctrine. (#23)

The chapter ranges widely and can be quite hard going.  I suggest that you read it quickly.  It is worth being aware that in some countries, especially Poland and East Germany, the Christian churches were at the centre of opposition to the Communist regimes.

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Reading (c.8pp)

Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus,

Chapter 3: ‘The Year 1989

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Some historians and commentators have argued that John Paul himself, through his public witness as a Cardinal in Poland before 1978, and then through his multifaceted activity as Pope, was one very significant factor in bringing about the changes of 1989.  If you have time, look at these three short articles which assess this claim.  The first two were written at the time of John Paul’s death in 2005.  The second includes some vivid testimony of his witness in Poland.  The third article puts the Pope’s own influence in the context of that of the Church more widely – thereby combining (in the terms introduced in 8.1.4) an ‘elitist’ explanation with one of ‘history from below’.

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Optional reading

BBC News Channel, 2nd April 2005: Angus Roxburgh, ‘Pope’s role in Communism’s end’

Washington Post, 6th April 2005: Anne Applebaum, ‘How the Pope “Defeated Communism”’

The Tablet, 12 December 2009: Jonathan Luxmoore, ‘Untold story of 1989: The Catholic Church and the collapse of Communism’

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Reflection

In light both of the outline of different kinds of historical explanation in 8.1.4 – namely: elitist, ‘people’s history’, materialist, and idealist – and of reading CA chapters 2 and 3 (as well as, perhaps, the three articles above), what factors do you think were most significant in bringing about the end of Communist regimes in 1989-91?

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On a different topic, here is a final note on the first three chapters of CA.  In chapter 2, the text of #18 says that, “it is true that since 1945 weapons have been silent on the European continent…”

This was of course hyperbole (given terrorist violence in various places in Europe).  But, even recognizing that, the observation soon had a hollow ring.  CA was published in May 1991 and within a few months warfare had broken out in the former-Yugoslavia, following the fall of Communism there.  This lasted for four years and many more than 100,000 people were killed.  It was this terrible period of war, including the siege of Sarajevo and mass murder at Srebrenica, which brought to an end the great moment of celebration that had followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Yet after that statement, the Pope more or less anticipated such a turn of events in chapter 3:

Many individual, social, regional and national injustices were committed during and prior to the years in which Communism dominated; much hatred and ill-will have accumulated.  There is a real danger that these will re-explode after the collapse of dictatorship, provoking serious conflicts and casualties, should there be a lessening of the moral commitment and conscious striving to bear witness to the truth…” (#27).

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End of 8.2.3

Go to Chapter 4: ‘Private Property and the Universal Destination of Material Goods’

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