The protests held in Poznan in Poland in 1956 triggered the shaking of the Stalinist system in Eastern Europe from inside. The revolution of the workers from Poznan was followed by the Budapest revolution and the process of de-Stalinization and democratization in Eastern Europe started this way, Romanian historian Florin-Răzvan Mihai, scientific researcher of the National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism of the Romanian Academy, stated in a public debate hosted by IPN. According to the doctor of history, the process of de-Stalinization was difficult and embraced the countries of Eastern Europe one by one and ended with the entry of East-European states into the European Union.
Florin-Răzvan Mihai said the Poznan protests in which the Polish workers demanded better work and living conditions represented the irreversible start of de-Stalinization of the East European countries. The wish of freedom and democracy, fuelled by the Western ideas, covered the states of Eastern Europe, leading to their subsequent liberation from the supremacy of the Kremlin.
“Two events that make us ponder over them took place in 1956. First of all, there was the Polish summer or the uprising of the workers from Poznan, which had bloody consequences. It was a rebellion that created a model. Fifty-three people died on that occasion. The conflict started from the claims referring to the poor living standards and impoverishing working norms. It was a social conflict that generated the illusion that the system can be changed from inside. This was also the hope of Hungarian statesmen in 1956, when the revolution occurred in Hungary and this resulted in victims. Tens of thousands of people who were injured, exiled, deported. They demanded then openly to liberalize society, primarily within student circles. That was the start of the fight against the system from inside. The revolution of Budapest of 1956 was brutally suppressed with the involvement of Red Army tanks,” stated Florin-Răzvan Mihai.
According to the historian, the fact that Romania led by Nicolae Ceausescu didn’t take part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a turning point in the Kremlin’s relations with the satellite countries. In 1968, when the Soviet, Hungarian, Polish and East German occupation troops invaded Prague, the dictator from Bucharest condemned the intervention.
“The year 1968 is another moment of great tension inside international communism. This is the rule of Brezhnev, which was characterized by evident stagnation. In 1968, under the management of the Soviet Union, another four states entered Czechoslovakia, where Alexandr Dubcek and other statesmen tried to build socialism with a human face, borrowing Western ideas. So, the tone started to be given by the West. Gradually, Eastern Europe in a timid way followed this model, tending to more democratic, liberalized measures and looking for alternatives to the Bolshevik and Stalinist models. In 1968, one of the countries, Romania, refused to intervene militarily, creating a new tension camp between the Soviets and the satellite countries,” said Florin-Răzvan Mihai.
He noted that de-Stalinization in Eastern Europe ended during the rule of Gorbachev, when the first democratization processes started in the USSR. However, the Stalinist method of terror and suppression of all the basic human rights and freedoms are now used by Vladimir Putin, while Putinism becomes as dangerous as Stalinism.
“There were more attacks against the idea of the Kremlin’s hegemony and they were more efficient as they occurred inside the system or this system couldn’t have been shaken otherwise. The final blow was given also from inside, under Gorbachev, with his famous reforms Perestroika and Glasnost, which enabled society to think freely and to seek more civil rights. The path of de-Stalinization was long and it resulted in the democratization of the East. The countries from the East later joined the European Union and adopted Western values. But the big threat now is posed by Putinism,” said the historian.
The public debate entitled “Stalinization and de-Stalinization in European context” was the 14th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.