There were only a few details left, when a student raised her hand and said, "The best part of all this is how excited you are."
I was taken aback, but recognized how true the moment was. I didn't have time to think about an answer, and so the thoughts and words that followed were a pure and sincere reaction, "I lived through all this!" I exclaimed.
This was the end of the Cold War.
I, like many fellow Americans and even my German friend, had only paid attention on the night that Tom Brokaw was broadcasting from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Germany. We hadn't been aware of the forces working to bring down the wall, the tragic symbol of communism vs. democracy. But there it was, that great wall of oppression, being chiseled away, dismantled by West Berlin fire fighters and East Berlin Police. The moment was spectacular; most Berliners danced in the street. My friend Lori, who had left her sister behind on the other side in the late 1940s cried. Her daughter asked, "Mom, why are you crying?"
"Tonight, all of Germany cries."
And now, for the first time in my life, I have an understanding of why, what, and who lifted the Iron Curtain. No wonder students could feel my excitement. Yet, there are so many pieces of this puzzle; it's like a 1000 piece jigsaw, and I've only put in the first 500 pieces. But, it is a start, and with my classes, I started with the Prague Spring of 1968.
Czechoslovakia had suffered under the communist thumb for 20 years. The country had failed to thrive under communist promises. Many goods were sold and shipped to the USSR for government controlled prices which were less than the manufacturing costs. Growth was staggering, famine threatened, and manufacturing had declined. The people started to revolt. The leader Anton Novotny, was a communist party hardliner and the party felt the forces against him. He was replaced by Alexander Dubcek who wanted to give socialism a "human face." Ultimately he was for the people. He loosened restrictions for free speech. He eliminated the hard party members from government. He freed political prisoners and artists, and implemented reforms that took Czechoslovakia away from communist policies of the USSR.
His tactics were scaring the Kremlin and other control parties of Soviet bloc countries.
Send in the tanks.
Brezhnev's doctrine required intervention if any satellite threatened the perpetuation or continuation of communism. In the evening of August 20, Soviet tanks, soldiers, along with most of the Warsaw Pact countries, invaded Prague and the surrounding country.
To silence the rebellion, to quiet the voices, took only three days, but beneath the stamped out plant of protest, were the seeds of a power, that in its right time would germinate, sprout, emerge, and help destroy communism.