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The 1989 revolutions and the Peace Movement | openDemocracy

Everyone has their own explanation for the 1989 revolutions. It was the economic failure of centrally planned economies. It was Gorbachev. It was Reagan’s decision to introduce a new generation of nuclear weapons. All of these explanations, no doubt, had something to do with what happened, although I am less persuaded by the Reagan argument. But the most important explanation is popular pressure and it was popular pressure across Europe, including the West European peace movement, that resulted in the 1989 revolutions.

History tends to be written from above and the role of social movements is often neglected. The role of the West European peace movement is almost never included in accounts of the 1989 revolutions. I was active in European Nuclear Disarmament (END) along with E.P.Thompson, Robin Cook and others. We saw ourselves as an anti-Cold War movement and not just an anti-nuclear movement. We wanted to end the division of Europe. When we issued the END Appeal in 1980, we explicitly made a link between disarmament and democracy and between peace and human rights.

There are two main ways in which the West European peace movements contributed to the 1989 revolutions. First of all, it was peace movement pressure that led to the Intermediate -range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty in 1987. The West European peace movements had sprung up in response to the American decision to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles in five countries across Western Europe. The theory was that Europeans would feel ‘reassured’ by their presence, which was supposed to demonstrate the American willingness to come to the defence of Western Europe in the event of a Soviet attack. Because the weapons were based in Europe and not the US and because they were more ‘useable’, the theory went, their use might not invite retaliation against US territory and therefore, I kid you not, the Americans would be more willing to use them thereby strengthening the credibility of nuclear deterrence.

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