Narration: The Berlin Wall: part of the Iron Curtain that cut Europe in two.Beyond the wire, armed force had always held down the peoples of the Communist world.In 1989, the Wall was still intact, but there was a new mood in Moscow.
Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party"The use of force had discredited itself completely. It was no longer possible to stabilize the world by military methods."
Interview: President George Bush, United States"We saw a real opportunity, because of this recognition on the part of the Soviet Union, that they weren't going to win an arms race. They weren't going to, quote, 'Bury you,' unquote. We were the beneficiaries of this."
Narration: December 1988. Gorbachev met George Bush and outgoing President Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev had decided that the Cold War must be brought to an end.The Americans remained cautious.
Interview: President George Bush, United States"There were pressures on Mr. Gorbachev from his right, if you want to call it that, from his military, God knows from who else, who didn't want to see the rapidity of this change."
Narration: By 1989, Gorbachev was determined to loosen Soviet control over the nations in the Communist bloc.Gorbachev told the peoples of Eastern Europe that they had the right to choose their own futures. But his listeners wondered what would happen if non-Communists won power. Would the Soviet Union really stand aside?
Interview: Anatoly Cherniayev, aide to Mikhail Gorbachev"Gorbachev was convinced that when these countries got their freedom, they would choose socialism with a human face. He believed they would not turn away from Moscow, nor run off to the West. He thought they would be grateful to Moscow and keep up ties of friendship with the Soviet Union."
Narration: But not everybody wanted freedom from Moscow. Communist leaders like East Germany's Erich Honecker relied on Soviet support to stay in power.
Interview: Frank Joachim Herrman, aide to Erich Honecker"To imagine that the Soviet Union, after 40 years of alliances, would leave every socialist country to fend for itself and turn its back on them, as if there had never been a brotherly community -- this was unheard of."
Narration: Hungary 1956. Soviet tanks smashed the Hungarian attempt to win democracy and independence. Imre Nagy and the other leaders of the uprising were executed.Economic reforms improved life for a while, then hit disaster. By 1989, the Communist government was losing control.But Soviet troops remained in the land. The Hungarian people were growing angry again. Fear drove the regime to promise political changes, and more democracy.
Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister"The country was in a ... close to an abyss, close to a total crisis situation. Economically we accumulated by that time a huge debt. Politically all the key players within the country realized that there is no way to get a better life via reforming the socialist model."
Narration: In March 1989, Prime Minister Nemeth visited Moscow. The Hungarian leaders were planning free multi-party elections. But would this be too much for Gorbachev?
Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister"I said, 'I don't know as of this moment when we will have the first election. But knowing that you stationing in the territory of the country roughly 80,000 soldiers, and having in mind the experience of '56, when your tanks crushed the revolutionaries and all the forces who fought at that time for freedom, will you repeat the '56 exercise or not?' And Gorbachev without hesitation responded quite clearly to me, 'I don't agree with the multi-party system ... the introduction of the multi-party system in Hungary, but that's not my responsibility, that's your responsibility. There will be no instruction or order by us to crush it down.' So that was quite important message."
Narration: A nameless grave in Budapest hid the murdered leaders of the 1956 uprising. Now the government agreed to rehabilitate them, the dead and the living.
Erzsebet Hrozova was 18 when she fought in the uprising. She spent 12 years in prison.
Interview: Erzsebet Hrozova, 1956 Hungarian revolutionary"I felt as you do when a plaster is removed and at last you can breathe freely. You don't have to lower your head any more. I felt I could breathe again."
Narration: Imre Nagy and his comrades were given a public funeral. The government declared that the 1956 revolution was justified. The crowd listened to the names of the martyrs.Everyone knew that this was not just an act of mourning. It was a national cry of outrage.
Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister"I was stunned to see that on that list young boys when they imprisoned them, arrested them, they were 14 ... 16 years old and they waited till they celebrated their 18th birthday. And next morning they killed ... some of them. The reburial meant to us a reconciliation with our past and history. It meant a new start, a fresh start, especially in the political side of our life -- and a renewal."
Narration: A month before, the Cold War had lost a symbol. The Hungarian government took down the barbed wire on its border with Austria and the West. The Soviet Union did nothing. Although travel was still not completely free, the Iron Curtain was starting to unravel.
Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister"I refused to give to the Home Minister money in that year's budget for the renewal or the refurbishment of the old, old barbed wire system."
Interview: Imre Pozsgay, Hungarian Politburo"They said that the Iron Curtain was technically obsolete -- it didn't work as a barrier any more. They should not maintain a construction that endangered people's lives."
Narration: Hungary's boldness alarmed the hard-line Warsaw Pact leaders. None was more shocked than the East German ruler, Erich Honecker. His state formed the Soviet empire's frontier with the West.
Interview: Gunter Schabowski, East German Politburo"Honecker's first reaction was to send the minister of foreign affairs to Moscow to protest against this decision. Moscow's answer was: 'We can't do anything about it.' This was unique. It was the first time that Moscow had said anything like this to us."
Narration: The Poles, like the Hungarians, were breaking with the communist system. Faced with a wave of political strikes, led by the opposition movement Solidarity, the regime had given way.
Interview: Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader"I knew that the communist system was finished. The only problem was, what would be the best way to get rid of communism."
Narration: In 1981, with Soviet approval, Solidarity had been crushed by the Polish army. Its leaders were imprisoned.Now, in early 1989, the government opened round-table talks with Solidarity. The Polish Communists were prepared to share power, to discuss a shift towards democracy.
Interview: Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Polish head of state"Democratic institutions were being formed. They were substitutes for a full democracy, but we were different compared to the other countries of the bloc. We were in a way a heretical island."
Narration: In June, elections were held.They produced a stunning defeat for the Communists. Solidarity won 99 out of 100 seats in the Senate. Within weeks the first anti-communist prime minister in the Soviet bloc took office.
Interview: Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader"When we knew that Gorbachev was thinking about reform, we saw he would not oppose our reforms, and that was important to us."
Narration: At the Warsaw Pact Summit, the leaders were divided. Honecker, like Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu, was alarmed by what was happening in Poland and Hungary.
Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party"Honecker and particularly Ceausescu were against our reforms. On one occasion we were having a meeting with him in his residence on the outskirts of Bucharest. He and his wife, Raisa and myself, were having a discussion. Our passions really ran high. We spoke in such loud voices that we had to remove all our security people so that they wouldn't hear us."
Interview: Imre Pozsgay, Hungarian Politburo"We heard that Ceausescu of Romania, Jakes of Czechoslovakia and Honecker were organizing some sort of conspiracy. They wanted to talk Gorbachev into intervention against Poland and Hungary. They said that these nations had already passed the limits of what was acceptable in socialist countries."
Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister"When I heard the first proposal from Ceausescu on this, I looked at the other side of the table at the Soviet delegation was seated and our eyes crossed each other's eyes. He was signaling to me that, 'OK, don't argue against it.' So in other words he send me by his eyes an important message: that you don't have to say a word. It will not happen. And it did not."
Narration: In July, President Bush visited Poland and Hungary. The West gave them moral support for democratic change, but little more.
Interview: President George Bush, United States"We did have some modest economic packages for both countries, but really we did not want to kind of pump money down a rat hole either. We wanted to be sure that the economic reforms, the moves towards free markets -- those things -- were for real, that they were going to continue."
Narration: In Hungary, Bush was presented with a piece of barbed wire, a souvenir of Hungary's dismantled Iron Curtain.
Archival Footage: President George Bush"... We believe that the artificial, physical and spiritual wall still existing in the world some day shall collapse everywhere. And that is just beautiful. Thank you, sir."
Interview: President George Bush, United StatesI dunno, I'm kind of an emotional sort of person anyway. I cry too easily. I did then. I do now, and I had tears in my eyes when I ... when I was given this symbol of the end of the Cold War.
Narration: On his Wyoming ranch, James Baker, Bush's secretary of state, discovered a real friendship for Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister.
Narration: Baker confirmed to Shevardnadze that the United States would tread carefully in Eastern Europe and would not exploit Soviet problems there.
Interview: James A. Baker III, U.S. secretary of state"What was achieved at Jackson Hole was, I think, a new atmosphere of trust. Everyone on the American side, as a matter of fact, felt it was very important that we assist Gorbachev and Shevardnadze and the reformers in the Soviet Union in any way we could to arrive at a soft landing. The Cold War didn't have to end with a whimper -- it could have gone out with a bang."
Narration: Already, in communist China, a surge of demands for human rights and democracy had ended in tragedy. On Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, tanks and troops had attacked peaceful demonstrators and slaughtered them.The world shuddered. Would reform in Eastern Europe end like this?Erich Honecker, in East Germany, admired the Chinese solution to political protest. Honecker refused to admit that anything was wrong with his own system.
Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party"I told them that they were responsible for the situation in their own countries: 'You decide what reforms you need. We need perestroika. Whether you need perestroika is up to you.' Honecker said, 'We've done our perestroika, we have nothing to restructure.'"
Narration: But in reality, East Germany was rotting away. Pollution, poisoned air and water; the economy was running down; the police state stifled all initiative. There was apathy in public, daydreams in private.
Interview: Gisela Kallenbach, Leipzig resident"Most people in the GDR withdrew into their private lives. You went to your job, saw to it that your private life was protected from harm. Then you withdrew into your home, with your friends, in your own private world. You criticized society at home, but only among people you trusted."
Interview: Ulrike Poppe, East German opposition"There was a video camera installed in the building opposite us which was trained on our window. Every private word we said, every dispute about who had to do the dishes, every argument with the children was listened to and noted down. Everyone who entered our house was videotaped."
Narration: That summer, East Germans rushed to take holidays in Hungary. There was an escape hatch; Hungary's border with the West was weakening. In Budapest, East Germans besieged the West German Embassy, demanding help to emigrate.
Interview: Hans Dietrich Genscher, West German foreign minister"It was known that every German from the GDR who chose to live in freedom and democracy would get all possible support from us."
Narration: The West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had confidence in Gorbachev. Kohl planned to rescue the Hungarian economy if the East Germans were allowed to go West. He trusted Gorbachev not to block the deal with the Hungarians.
Narration: The Hungarians agreed to let the East Germans cross to the West.Honecker called the refugees moral outcasts.
Interview: Frank Joachim Herrman, aide to Erich Honecker"I believe he felt a mixture of anger and utter contempt for these masses of people -- these ungrateful people -- who had run over to the 'other side.'"
Narration: The refugees had been traveling from East Germany to Hungary in the hope of getting to the West. Now East Germany blocked travel to Hungary. Desperate, the fleeing East Germans turned to Czechoslovakia.They gathered at the West German Embassy in Prague.
Interview: Birgit Spannaus, East German refugee "We had no prospects. I didn't want my child to grow up under that repression. It wasn't just that we couldn't travel -- it was small everyday things."
Narration: When the embassy was full, the refugees climbed into the garden.
Interview: Birgit Spannaus, East German refugee"We didn't know what was going to happen to us. We knew there were many people inside waiting, but we weren't sure whether there would be police inside or even the state security police -- the Stasi. We walked fearfully along the fence and then people from inside the embassy came up and said: 'Don't you want to come in?' We were astonished and said 'Yes.' 'Wait,' they said, 'we'll get a ladder.' We climbed the fence and were inside. At first we saw just people. It was frightening. People everywhere."
Narration: More and more refugees crammed themselves into the embassy and refused to leave.The Czech police made futile attempts to stop the inrush. Inside the embassy, the overcrowding and squalor grew worse day by day. Both German governments, East and West, were at their wits' end.West Germany's foreign minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, came to Prague. Under Soviet and West German pressure, Honecker had consented to a face-saving deal.
Archival Footage:Genscher:"I have come to tell you that today your emigration is agreed."
Narration: The refugees could go to West Germany, but only if their train crossed East German territory first. Then Honecker could claim that he had expelled them and canceled their citizenship.
Interview: Birgit Spannaus, East German refugee"The train stopped. Two men opened the doors. 'Good day, we are from the state security and will collect your identity cards now.' And I will never forget how they had to bend down to collect these documents, because the people threw their identity cards at their feet. The feeling was, 'There's your card -- you can't threaten me anymore.' It was very satisfying."
Narration: Back in Prague, a new wave of refugees stormed the embassy fence.Their last chance of reaching the West seemed to be vanishing.Within a few days, another 7,000 people had scrambled into the embassy gardens.Some East Germans chose to stay and protest.The Lutheran churches were sheltering an opposition movement. Inspired by Gorbachev, the protesters dreamed of turning East Germany into a democracy.
Interview: Ulrike Poppe, East German opposition"Gorbachev gave us great hope. First of all, he tried to change his country in the same way as we wanted to change our country, through perestroika -- a gradual liberalization."
Narration: In Leipzig, the police struck back. On September 4, Western journalists filmed plainclothes security men as they attacked the demonstrators.Soon came a new chant of defiance: We are staying here!
Interview: Jochen Lassig, East German opposition, Leipzig"'We are staying here' was a protest against what the GDR had done: namely to drive young people to leave the country because they had no prospects. That was a turning point, and people said, 'We still have hope.'"