Resistance

Politics

Resistance

After the establishment of single-party systems and political police in the people’s democracies, and after the USSR’s repression of the attempted uprisings in 1953 (Berlin), 1956 (Budapest) and 1968 (Prague), collective resistance no longer seemed possible in any form. The rare opponents were dissidents, often from intellectual or artistic backgrounds. By the early 1970s, however, the worsening of the economic situation and deterioration of living conditions in the Eastern-bloc countries, along with increased acceptance of Western tourists and the possibility, within the framework of détente, for certain Easterners to travel to the West, facilitated comparison between living conditions and levels of freedom in East and West, particularly for the younger generations, both students and the working class. Depending on the country, resistance soon took on a variety of forms: intellectual and artistic movements, appeals and petitions, samizdats, illegal labor unions and strikes, religious revival or resurgent nationalism. Through a sort of “domino effect,” this resistance was spread and reinforced after 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR and his refusal to intervene in Eastern Europe. It eventually led to negotiated changes in Poland and Hungary, mass marches that toppled regimes in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Bulgaria, and a violent revolution in Romania.

Archive

The November 4th Strike at the Alexanderplatz

On November 4, 1989, a huge televised strike on the Alexanderplatz, in East Berlin, brought some one million people from around East Germany together to demand the right to freedom of opinion, freedom of reunion and just plain freedom.

country: Soviet Union / year:

On November 4, 1989, a huge televised strike on the Alexanderplatz, in East Berlin, brought some one million people from around East Germany together to demand the right to freedom of opinion, freedom of reunion and just plain freedom. It was the largest anti-governmental strike in the history of East Germany, and the culmination of a series of large demonstrations that had been organized in East German cities since September. As in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, the masses took to the streets peacefully to demand reform. Here a cable drum is rolled along at the front of the demonstration, with the inscription: "People’s roller, you can’t turn back the wheel of history.”

The Working Commission to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry For Political Purposes in the USSR

Arrests and internments “anti-social, anti-Soviet, Zionist extremists” – in 1977, when the KGB decided to “sink” a demonstration by a group denouncing “abusive, politically motivated psychiatric internments,” no holds were barred, nor any terms, either.

country: Soviet Union / year:

Arrests and internments “anti-social, anti-Soviet, Zionist extremists” – in 1977, when the KGB decided to “sink” a demonstration by a group denouncing “abusive, politically motivated psychiatric internments,” no holds were barred, nor any terms, either. This group, composed of a few activists, and led by the dissident Dr. Alexander Podrabinek, was founded by certain members of the famous Helsinki Group, whose goal had been the application in the USSR of the Helsinki Accords on Human Rights. Forced incarceration of sane people in psychiatric hospitals, one of the KGB’s preferred methods for containing dissidence, was a blatant violation of those Accords, which were legally binding, as they had been signed by Moscow in 1975.

A KGB document on the soviet dissidents of the Helsinki Group

Arrests and internments “anti-social, anti-Soviet, Zionist extremists” – in 1977, when the KGB decided to “sink” a demonstration by a group denouncing “abusive, politically motivated psychiatric internments,” no holds were barred, nor any terms, either.

country: Soviet Union / year:

Arrests and internments “anti-social, anti-Soviet, Zionist extremists” – in 1977, when the KGB decided to “sink” a demonstration by a group denouncing “abusive, politically motivated psychiatric internments,” no holds were barred, nor any terms, either. This group, composed of a few activists, and led by the dissident Dr. Alexandre Podrabinek, was founded by certain members of the famous Helsinki Group, whose goal had been the application in the USSR of the Helsinki Accords on Human Rights. Forced incarceration of sane people in psychiatric hospitals, one of the KGB’s preferred methods for containing dissidence, was a blatant violation of those Accords, which were legally binding, as they had been signed by Moscow in 1975.

"They call themselves independent"

After the repression of the Prague Spring, the Communist regime began “normalization” of the police, judiciary and media

country: Czechoslovakia / year:

After the repression of the Prague Spring, the Communist regime began “normalization” of the police, judiciary and media, thereby managing to contain the rise of opposition led by signers of Charter 77. These dissidents had nevertheless succeeded, through marches, tracts and petitions, in keeping the resistance movement alive, especially among younger people. Reforms in the USSR and the “contagious” changes in neighboring countries (massive exodus of Eastern Germans, return of pluralist parliamentary democracy in Poland and Hungary) reinforced the people’s support for these opponents to the regime.

Strike at the Gdansk shipyards.

Poland had already faced working-class rebellions in 1956 and in the 70s

country: People's Republic of Poland / year:

Poland had already faced working-class rebellions in 1956 and in the 70s, because of a series of economic crises.  Since the official unions defended the State, the strikes led first to the birth of illegal unions supported by the intelligentsia, then to free unionism, with Solidarnosc, which was soon supported by the other great force of resistance to Communist authority: the Catholic Church. Other free unions that appeared in the late 70s in Romania, East Germany and Czechoslovakia were quickly repressed, their leaders being either interned or jailed.

A Young Democrats Association meeting in Hungary.

Born in 1963, Viktor Orban, student of English and Law, was one of the founders of the liberal and anti-Communist Young Democrats Alliance

country: People's Republic of Hungary / year:

Born in 1963, Viktor Orban, student of English and Law, was one of the founders of the liberal and anti-Communist Young Democrats Alliance (Fidesz) in 1988.  He was representative of those young people, born during the period of détente, many of whom had studied and traveled, sometimes even to the West. In both student and working-class circles, some of them contested official ideology. Some of them – sometimes the same ones – also turned towards traditional religions, which experienced something of a revival. Others, who were accused of “hooliganism,” lived on the outskirts of society (rock music, alcoholism, violence.)

Vandalizing Klement Gottwald statue in Bratislava.

Monumental statuary was a major instrument of propaganda and personality cults in the people’s democracies.

country: Czechoslovakia / year:

Monumental statuary was a major instrument of propaganda and personality cults in the people’s democracies. This group, sculpted by Tibor Barfay, had been erected in 1980 on Klement Gottwald Square, named after the founder of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, resistance fighter, head of the Czech coup of 1948 and first president of Communist Czechoslovakia, who organized repression against his opponents in 1950 and the Prague trials of 1952 to purge the party. It was one of the first to be destroyed in Czechoslovakia after the wall fell in 1989.

The Bucarest Palace Takeover

In Nicolae Ceaucescu’s Romania, opponents were rare

country: People’s Republic of Romania / year:

In Nicolae Ceaucescu’s Romania, opponents were rare (a few intellectuals, some priests), and they were under heavy surveillance by the Securitate, but a few Party members had begun to put some distance between themselves and the dictator, and the  people’s discontent was deep. Violent repression of the Hungarian and German minorities in Timisoara sparked the revolution, which reached Bucharest, where crowds stood up to the armed forces for a week. Unlike other people’s democracies, the Romanian authorities did not hesitate to unleash a bloodbath before they were driven out.