THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN by Gale Stokes

THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN

The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Authoritative, cogent, and compelling account of the upheavals in Eastern Europe. Stokes (History/Rice; Politics as Development, 1990, etc.--not reviewed) blends meticulous research and narrative drive, covering Communism's weary decline after 1968 with an epic sweep that takes in not only such expected landmarks as the Prague Spring, the birth of Solidarity, and the entrance of Mikhail Gorbachev, but also myriad telltale incidents of tension and dissension from Budapest to Bucharest. The author renders a full and damning account of Communism's economic failure, but he steers clear of economic determinism, treating economic collapse as a necessary but insufficient cause for the political earthquake. Ideology is the real battleground here, its heroes the leading figures of the late 70's dissident movements--both celebrated figures like Havel, Walesa, and Adam Michnik, and less familiar ones like the Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova. These humanist ``antipoliticians'' confronted their oppressors' moral and political bankruptcy with their own efforts to ``live in truth'' (Havel's term)--to recover the cultural integrity of their countries in the creation of a parallel civil society that, when the moment came, was ready to accept the mantle of legitimacy. Stokes recounts these dissident struggles with obvious admiration, yet always objectively, and with an eye for the telling detail or the grimly humorous--such as abandoned Trabant automobiles ``spring[ing] up each morning like mushrooms'' in summer 1989 on Eastern European streets, discarded by their asylum-seeking East German owners. The author discerns a grand historical narrative, too--the eventual victory of enlightened democratic pluralism in a three-cornered ideological contest with ``antirationalism'' (fascism) and ``hyperrationalism'' (Stalinism). But there's no trite cold war triumphalism here--a bleak and cautionary last chapter describing Yugoslavia's plummet into bloody civil war is a reminder that, throughout Europe, the lifting of Communism has also unleashed atavistic nationalist passions that could yet imperil freedom. With magisterial command, Stokes does full justice to his momentous subject.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-506644-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993