Back in '89 the rhetoric was all democracy, freedom, liberty, the end of oppresion for Eastern Europe, coming from all the TV channels in the U.S., coming from all the State department officials, Presidents, Vice Presidents, etc... What's lost in the recollection of this celebration of freedom by us, what was not present during the events themselves, at least as far as I remember as a kid, is the reality of what recently had been going on in Central America, which was not for freedom, which was not for democracy, which was not for the ending of oppression.
The United States, supporter of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe all of the sudden, had supported a bloody war to overthrow a socialist government in Nicaragua which came to power with the overwhelming support of the people. The sponsored death squads, were on the side of the oligarchs the Somozas who had run the country like a personal fiefdom for several generations. The United States supported the pro-government forces in El Salvador during their civil war, leading to the reincarnation of the hunter/killer model of counter-insurgency developed in Vietnam under the Phoenix program: seemingly random, covert, murders of innocent people designed to produce a psychological effect of intimidation among the populace. This on top of normal death squad activity against suspected guerrillas and their suspected supporters. This was not democracy. This was the furthest thing from democracy that could be imagined.
They supported genocide in Guatemala, where the government, bolstered by U.S. support coming from Honduras, the staging ground for all of the Central American conflicts on the U.S. side, brutally suppressed the populace thought to be anti-government with mass murder.
Now forward a few years to '89. These conflicts started in the late seventies, '79 when the Sandanistas assumed power to be exact, and lasted through the eighties. Fake elections orchestrated by the U.S. and U.S. sponsored peace talks typified the end of the eighties in central america.
Now, straight from supporting the killing fields in Central America, the U.S. comes out in favor of democracy and liberation in Eastern Europe. Yay for taking down the wall! Yay for leading revolutions against the government! We love you guys! We're only concerned about extending peace and liberty throughout the world, and you guys rock.
How can this be? How can a government go from repressing a popular rebellion to supporting a popular rebellion? From committing mass murder, being an accompliss, to supporting people in the streets of Germany who want democracy, dissident groups that had worked for years to try to do things like hold their country accountable to the Helsinki accords on human rights, who wanted to form their own, alternative, political party, which was neither the Communist Party or a traditional western style party?
The answer has to be that they didn't, that the U.S. did not really support these people. Behind the rhetoric the U.S. still had the agenda which it had in Central America and elsewhere, and it shaped events, flexed its muscles to co-op the pro-democracy movements for its own purposes, as it wanted.
There are quite a few paths in Eastern Europe which could have been taken which weren't because of the U.S.' influence. One was the idea of East Germany post-democracy retaining its identity as an independent country and only gradually reintegrating with the Federal Republic, as West Germany was officially known. Author Günther Grass, Nobel Prize winner for "The Tin Drum", penned a short book entitled "Two countries, one nation?", which argued forcefully for the West Germans and the East Germans to take reintegration, which had been a prime concern since World War II, slowly and not to make East Germany over in the image of West Germany. Grass wasn't against democracy by any means; what he was against was the pro-democracy movement in East Germany being swallowed up by the bulk of West German influence, thereby negating any chance at real self determination by the East Germans, self determination which may have meant keeping elements of the socialist system intact, which was anathema to the West. But what happened was a shotgun marriage between the East and the West. Within a year and a half of the wall falling Germany was reunited. What happened to the dissidents in East Germany? They merged with the Green Party in West Germany, which gives you a fair idea of what their politics were like. You can still find Grass' book if you look for it online.
But what of other things which happened, like the poet Vaclav Havel becoming a neoliberal once in power? Or Croatia declaring independence solely on the basis of support from Germany and the United States, which was a major trigger of the Balkan conflict?
In the case of the Czechoslovakia and elsewhere dissident hopes were channelled by a willing and waiting State Department into neoliberalism and Reaganite conservatism. People who wanted democracy were getting inspiration from Milton Friedman, who supported the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile because he implemented Friedman's pet economic policies.
Pro-democracy movements were turned into Real Politick by the United States, which effectively strangled any chance for an independent course which these movements may have wanted to pursue.
Considering the blood bath in Central America was there any chance that the United States would have acted differently?