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The Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, King’s College, London & The Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The British Embassies and the East European Revolutions of 1988–89 5 November 2018 The Court Room, Senate House, University of London Edited by: Dr Sue Onslow & Dr Michael Kandiah ISBN 978-1-912250-26-4

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Table of Contents Introduction

3

Participants

7

Brief Chronology

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Background Document Despatch from Sir Geoffrey Howe to HMA Warsaw on ‘British Policy towards Eastern Europe’, 5 September 1985

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Witness Seminar: Session One

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Session Two

46

Session Three

59

Appendices Gordon Wetherell, CMG, Counsellor/Deputy Head of Mission, Poland 1988–1992

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Richard Thomas, CMG, Ambassador, Bulgaria, 1989–1994

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Michael Atkinson, CMG, Ambassador, Romania, 1989–1992

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Introduction This volume contains the edited transcript of a witness seminar on the British Embassies and the East European Revolutions of 1988-1989, organised as a collaborative event between the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Witness Seminar Programme, King’s College London, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It also contains three written contributions, which can be found in the Appendices, and which provide further reminiscences of British diplomats who were on the spot in Eastern Europe. We are grateful to the authors for kindly giving us permission to include these in this volume. Additionally, there is a brief chronology of the events, and an archival document written by Sir John Birch, which, as will be seen, defined British policy to the region within a strong Cold War context. What is a Witness Seminar? A witness seminar is a type of group oral history, or group interview. Certain aspects resemble a focus group, but there are three significant differences. The first is that a witness seminar is a public event. The second is that that participants generally know each other and the third is that there is an informed audience which can interact with the participants. The proceedings of the witness seminar are recorded and transcribed, and the agreed transcript, with all the participants identified with their utterances, is published. Since 1986, the Witness Seminar Programme, now based at King’s College London, has conducted nearly 100 witness seminars on a variety of subjects. Most recently, the witness seminar series has explored the work, role and functions of various UK Embassies/High Commissions, including Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Canberra, New Delhi, Pretoria, Latin America, and the Caribbean. These witness seminars have been well received by both practitioners and the academic community who have increasingly come to see that it is important to examine and analyse the function of British overseas missions, as well as to capture the perspective of contemporary actors of recent events. The significance of history and the importance of gathering and utilising oral history interviews have also been identified in the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Role of the FCO in UK Government (published 29 April 2011). In oral evidence, Foreign Secretary William Hague stated: ‘history is vitally important in knowledge and practice of foreign policy’. He further stated, ‘One of the things that I have asked to be worked up is a better approach to how we use the alumni of the Foreign Office, [and]... continue to connect them more systematically to the Foreign Office.’ He went on to say: ‘these people who are really at the peak of their knowledge of the world, with immense diplomatic experience, then walk out of the door, never to be seen again in the Foreign Office.’ For these reasons it is important to gather the memories of those FCO alumni who worked at embassies in East European capitals during the momentous events of 1988–1989. The Context It is now thirty years since the ‘walls came tumbling down’ across communist Eastern Europe. This has been described by Timothy Garton Ash as ‘the year of truth’.1 Journalist accounts of the time generally describe a stunned public, with Western policymakers taken very much by surprise, and caught off guard.2 The astonishing speed with which the region’s geo-political landscape appeared to change is backed up by diplomats’ comments in this 1

Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague (1990), Chapter title, ‘Year of Truth’. 2 Timur Kuran, ‘Now out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989’, Papers in Political Economy, Political Economy Research Group, The University of Western Ontario (2000). 3


Witness Seminar—who point out that the events in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania came as a surprise to East European dissidents too—as well as their amazement that these were remarkably peaceful transformations, with the sharp exception of events in Romania in December 1989. Looking back, while each revolution (with the Bulgarian version described as more of a ‘reshuffle’) had its own unique components and differing forms and sources of dissent, this Witness Seminar underlines the importance of the political cascade effect across Eastern Europe: Poland’s ‘slow burn’ crisis; Hungary’s low-key but essential role in ‘punching a hole in the Iron Curtain’,3 the gathering political protests in the GDR leading to the momentous events in Berlin in November 1989, which stoked ‘people power’, students’ and workers’ protest in neighbouring Czechoslovakia; the domino effect in Bulgaria; and violent unravelling of Ceausescu’s brutal form of Stalinist authoritarianism in Romania by the end of the year. As academics have pointed out, the crucial licence for this far-reaching change came from Moscow, as the Soviet bloc populations and their governments gradually realised that the USSR would not intervene to preserve the East European status quo by force,4 although this was not immediately evident at the time.5 This Witness Seminar has sought to capture recollections and insights from British diplomats on the spot: they have shared with us their crafted memories, and their analysis of events. Ideally, this volume should be read in conjunction with Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III: Volume XII, Britain and the Revolutions in Eastern Europe 1989 (Routledge, forthcoming 2019).6 Inevitably—because these participants were focused primarily on political affairs, rather than economic and military matters, or covert penetration—the testimonies offer a personal and a partial picture of British policy and engagement. In the larger British missions in Eastern Europe, such as Warsaw, this was also a product of deliberate silos of knowledge and responsibility. The view point and contribution of diplomatic wives is also missing7—this is important not least because it was still standard Foreign Office practice in the 1980s for a married male diplomat’s annual appraisal to include a section of assessment of his wife’s contribution ‘in post’. Additionally, this Witness Seminar should also be read alongside two other witness seminars undertaken respectively by the Witness Seminar Programme and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, relating to the fall of Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification of Germany.8 These two witness seminars provide insight the broader context within with British policymakers were operating, which included—obviously—the Cold War but also Anglo-American relations, the challenges to British defence policy that were posed by collapse of communism, and the changing nature of Britain’s relations with European allies. The overwhelming impression of this transcript—and the other two witness seminars

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8036685.stm [Accessed 7 May 2019]. Continuing Debate: Ceaușescu’s Appeal for Joint Warsaw Pact Action on 19 August 1989, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/continuing-debate-ceausescus-appeal-for-joint-warsaw-pact-action19-august-1989 [Accessed 7 May 2019]. 5 Ol’ga pavlenko and Peter Ruggenthaler, ‘Recent Studies on the 1989 Revolutions in Eastern Europe and on the Demise of the Soviet Union’, Contemporary European History, 24, 1 (2015), pp.139–50. 6 In relation to events in Germany, two other DBPO volumes are relevant: Series III, Volume VI: Berlin in the Cold War 1948-1990 and Series III, Volume VII: German Unification, 1989-90 (both 2009). 7 See for example, Alison Barrett, The View from My Tower. Letters from Prague March 1985–May 1988, Kindle edition. 8 M. Kandiah and Gillian Staerck (eds), Anglo-German Relations and German Reunification (2003), and Witness Seminar: Berlin in the Cold War, 1948–1990, and German Unification, 1989–1990 (2011) https://issuu.com/fcohistorians/docs/full_transcript_germany [Accessed 13 May 2019]. 4

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also mentioned—is the breath-taking speed of the unravelling of the communist system in Eastern Europe which had endured since the end of the Second World War. These diplomats had a ring-side seat of the ‘political earthquakes’,9 the dynamics of which they could only partially understand because of opaque systems, limited access to local information as the result of the systems of government that operated in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and self-censorship and an admitted lack of perspective. In the German unification witness seminar, Sir Michael Alexander, UK Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council, 1986–92, commented that ‘We saw what we wanted to’ with regards to the longterm sustainability of the Soviet Union and countries behind the Iron Curtain, and policymakers thus failed to foresee the events of 1989.10 Nevertheless, British foreign policymakers did have a strategy of sorts to destabilise these regimes. This can be seen in John Birch’s 1985 background paper as well as in Witness Seminar participants’ references to the Helsinki Accords and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) process, which stretched from the early-1970s to the end of the 1980s. This strategy included the promotion of human rights and other initiatives, such as cultural exchanges. There is a Witness Seminar and testimony collection on this subject, The Helsinki Negotiations: The Accords and Their Impact, which gives a longer-term context to British policy in the region.11 Some participants and commentators in this Witness Seminar saw the events of 1989 as the fulfilment of their policies; others, however, were not so sure. This was particularly evident in the written submissions of Sir Reginald Hibbert, K.A. Bishop, and Lawrence O’Keeffe to this volume.12 The testimony given by participants in this and the other Witness Seminars underlines the perception of UK policymakers that Britain was an integral part of a broader Western sustained attempt to undermine communism, rather than a unilateral diplomatic actor or decisive strategic player. The stress is firmly that British diplomats, who confidently regarded their country as a leading NATO power and major player in the European Economic Community’s economic and political bloc, were relegated to the status of mere bystanders in the tumultuous events of 1988-1989. What comes through powerfully, even thirty years later, is their sense of watching history being made around them. Dr Sue Onslow, Deputy Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London and Dr Michael Kandiah, Director, Witness Seminar Programme, King’s College, London

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Charles Gati, East-Central Europe: The Morning After, 69, Foreign Affairs 129 (1989–1991). Sir Michael Alexander, Anglo-German Relations and German Reunification, p.48. 11 M. Kandiah and G. Staerck, The Helsinki Negotiations: The Accords and Their Impact (2006). 12 Ibid, pp. 75–102. 10

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Selected Bibliography: Gyorgy Dalos, Der Vorhang Geht Auf: Das Ende der Diktaturen in Osteuropa (2009) Timothy Garten Ash: The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of 1989, Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (1990) Jeffrey A Engel (ed), The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989 (2009) Stephen Kotkin, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (2009) Jacques Levesque: Chapter 15, ‘The East European Revolutions of 1989’, in O.A. Westad and M. Leffler (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, volume III: Endings (2010) Constantine Pleshakov, There Is No Freedom Without Bread! 1989 and the Civil War That Brought Down Communism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) Mary Elise Sarotte, 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe (2009) Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009) Matthew Stibbe & Kevin McDermott (eds), Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe: Challenges to Communist Rule (2006) Matthew Stibbe & Kevin McDermott (eds), The 1989 Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe: From Communism to Pluralism (2013) Gail Stokes: The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (1993) Vladimir Tismaneanu, ‘The Revolutions of 1989: Causes, Meanings, Consequences’, Contemporary European History, Vol. 18, No. 3, Revisiting 1989: Causes, Course and Consequences (Aug., 2009), pp. 271–88

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Participants: Host: Dr Sue Onslow, Deputy Director, The Institute of Commonwealth Studies Chair: Dr Richard Smith, Senior Historian, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Witnesses: Michael Atkinson, CMG, MBE, HM Ambassador to Romania, 1989–92 Sir Stephen Barrett, KCMG, HM Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, 1985–88, and HM Ambassador to Poland, 1988–91 Sir John Birch, KCVO, CMG, HM Ambassador to Hungary, 1989–95 Alan Clark, Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Bucharest, Romania, 1986–90 David Colvin, CMG. Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Hungary, 1985–88 Ann Lewis, CMG, Deputy Head, East European Division (EED), Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London Peter Harborne, Deputy Head of Mission, Budapest, 1988–91 Sarah Lampert, Third (later Second) Secretary, Bulgaria, 1991–94 John Malcolm Macgregor, CVO, Deputy Head of Mission, Prague, 1986 Nigel Thorpe, CVO, Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Warsaw, 1985–88 Audience: Stuart Laing, Counsellor, Prague, 1989–92 Dr Thomas Maguire, King’s College London A.Z. McKenna, King’s College London Professor Philip Murphy, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Dr Effie Pedaliu, London School of Economics Professor Anita Prazmowska, London School of Economics Professor Jack Spence, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

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Brief Chronology The following is not meant to provide an exhaustive chronology of events in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It is intended to help refresh people’s memories by covering significant events and milestones, with reference, where relevant, to the UK and to other significant world events.13

Poland June 1979 August 1980

September 3 1980 September 22 1980 September 19 1980

December 1 1980

December 5 1980

February 9 1981 February 18 1981

March-April 1981 May 1981

Pope John Paul II visit to Poland. Gdansk shipyard workers strike, demanding an independent trade union and reinstatement of Solidarity leader, Lech Wałęsa. Strikes and protests spread to other Polish cities. Edward Gierek replaced by Stanisław Kania as Polish Communist Party First Secretary. USSR loan of $100m to Poland. Registration of Solidarity, with Lech Wałęsa as leader. Strike activity continues across Poland. Under threat of national strike by Solidarity, Poland’s Supreme Court agrees to delete provision that Solidarity recognised the Polish Communist Party’s ‘leading role’ in Poland’s unions. (The phrase is inserted in a separate protocol). Polish Communist Party Central Committee remove four members from the Politburo, ostensibly on the orders of Moscow. US President Jimmy Carter deplores the ‘unprecedented’ buildup of 55,000 Soviet troops along Poland’s borders. NATO adopts US proposal to warn the USSR that invading Poland would end the détente policies of the 1970s. Stanislaw Kania meeting with Warsaw Pact members in Moscow. Kania’s proposal to resolve the crisis by making no more concessions to ‘anti-socialist elements’ in Polish society and using Polish security forces to ‘normalise’ the situation, is endorsed. Continued demands for reforms by Polish workers, students, and professional groups. Polish Defence Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski becomes Prime Minister. Some student groups win right to form a union; some farmers reach accords with the Warsaw government on farm prices. Wildcat strikes and confrontations between police and demonstrators continue. Reforms continue slowly. Rationing of basic food stuffs, the first food restrictions since 1945. (The US gives $70m of surplus food to Poland as relief effort.) Strikes, demonstrations and protests continue

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Compiled by Dr Sue Onslow using a variety of open access online sources. See also P. Salmon, K.A. Hamilton & S.R. Twigge (eds) German Unification 1989-90. Documents on British Foreign Policy Overseas Volume 7 (2009). 8


June 1981 July 14-20 1981

September 17 1981 December 12 1981 December 13 1981

December 16 1981

December 29 1981

October 8 1981 November 14 1982 November 29 1982 December 23 1982 July 21 1983 August 3 1984

October 30/31 1984 February 1985 August 20 1985 October 1985 November 6 1985 November 20 1985

Eleven West European banks reschedule $2.75 of long-term debt followed by US loan of $35m to purchase corn. Polish communist party session reorganises leadership, and elects 300 Central Committee members by secret ballot. Edward Gierek and 6 associates are ousted, strengthening the power of Prime Minister Jarulzelski announced, together with 110 per cent price increase on most products. USSR calls for crackdown against strikes and protests, which spread to students. Solidarity issues new set of demands. Declaration of martial law. Solidarity is suspended and all its leaders temporarily imprisoned. Western countries react strongly. US President Reagan suspends all aid to Poland and warns of ‘grave’ consequences if repression continues. Foreign banks refuse further loans to Poland, and insist on payments and interest on prior loans. The Soviet Union, as well as Jarulzelski’s government, is blamed for invocation of martial law. Reagan administration extends sanctions to sales of electronic and computer equipment, oil & gas pipeline equipment. Japan and NATO countries reject US request to extend sanctions, and continue economic relations with the Eastern bloc. Poland bans all trade unions, including Solidarity. Lech Wałęsa released from internment. A further 327 protestors released. Release of all but 7 Solidarity leaders arrested for violating martial law. Martial law ends. Prime Minster Jaruzelski is granted wider powers to arrest and detain dissidents. Reagan Administration lifts ban on cultural and scientific exchanges with Poland, restores LOT landing rights in USA. However, agricultural and trade sanctions remain in place. Abduction and murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko by state security forces. Further austerity measures (yet more are announced on 1 May) prompt Solidarity demonstrations. Lech Wałęsa calls for new talks with the Polish government. Solidarity publishes a 500-page report containing plan to address Poland’s social and economic difficulties. British Ambassador John Morgan and Nigel Thorpe meeting with Lech Wałęsa. Jaruzelski resigns as Prime Minister, and is replaced by Zbigniew Messner. The 17 Western nations (the ‘Club of Paris’) which had loaned Poland $12bn between 1982–1984, agree to reschedule. $1.3bn over a 10-year period, with a 5-year grace period, to help the Polish economy. 9


July 24 1986 1986–1987 February 1987 November 29 1987 February 1988 April -May 1988 May 11 1988 August 15 1988 August 31 1988 September 19 1988 September 27 1988 November 1988 November 1988 January 18 1989

February 6 1989

April 4 1989

April 25 1989 June 4 1989

July 13-19 1989

July 18 1989 August 15 1989

Poland begins amnesty programme to release political dissidents. Release of almost all political prisoners. President Reagan lifts economic sanctions against Poland. National referendum on economic reforms is boycotted by Solidarity. Polish government again raises prices. Widespread workers’ strikes. Polish parliament grants government emergency powers to resolve strikes. Second wave of workers’ strikes, demanding re-legalisation of Solidarity. Lech Wałęsa is invited to Warsaw to begin discussions with the Communist authorities. Solidarity calls an end to the strikes. A Parliamentary investigation criticises government economic policy. Mieczyslaw Rakowski is appointed as Prime Minister. UK Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher’s visit to Poland. Solidarity and Polish government begin discussion of Round Table Talks. After turbulent meetings of the Plenary Session of the United Workers’ Party, Jaruzelski succeeds in getting party backing for formal negotiations with Solidarity leaders for its re-legalisation. Communist authorities begin talks with Lech Wałęsa and other leaders of the banned Solidarity movement on power-sharing arrangement. Round Table talks conclude with landmark deal on partially free elections. Both sides agree to the establishment of a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly comprising the Senate and the Sejm. The Presidency is given more powers. Solidarity is legalised again. Soviet troops begin withdrawal from Eastern Europe. Solidarity overwhelmingly wins elections, taking all eligible seats (161) in the Sejm (the United Workers Party & their allies have 65 per cent of Sejm seats [294]), and 99 out of 100 available seats in the (freely elected) Senate. President Bush European tour. Visits Poland (and Hungary) and promises financial aid from the USA and World Bank. At G-7 annual meeting in Paris [July 14] G-7 members also agree to provide aid to Hungary and Poland. Joint session of the Polish national assembly elects First Secretary Jaruzelski as President of a democratic government. Czeslaw Kiszczak due to be premier but cannot form a coalition. Two long-time coalition partners of the Polish communist party, the United People’s Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party (SD), break their alliance with the PZPR and announced their support for Solidarity.

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August 19 1989 September 12 1989

(November 9 1989) January 1990 December 1990 Hungary December 1985

June 2 1987 June 25 1987 July 20 1987 May 23 1988

October 1988 November 24 1988 January 12 1989

February 1989 March 15 1989 April 22 1989

April 25 1989 May 4 1989

The non-communist Tadeusz Mazowiecki is nominated as Prime Minister, and confirmed by parliament on 24 August. Solidarity-led government takes power in Poland. The 23-member cabinet has 11 Solidarity members, 11 members from the United Workers Party and its allies and one independent member. Fall of the Berlin Wall. Polish United Workers Party dissolves itself, and reforms as the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. Lech Wałęsa elected President of Poland.

Visit by US Secretary of State George Schulz. Talks with János Kádár. Schulz privately praises Hungary’s successful economic reforms, and offers to help Hungary obtain MFN (Most Favoured Nation). US renews MFN status for Hungary. Announcement of President Pál Losonczi’s and Prime Minister György Lázár’s retirement. Replaced by Karoly Nemeth and Károly Grósz. Economic austerity programme to address hard currency trade deficit: price of consumer goods is raised, reduced subsidies to certain businesses and value added tax instituted. János Kádár, leader since 1956, is ousted from the Political Committee of ruling communist party with others. He is replaced by Károly Grósz. Constitution guaranteeing human rights is adopted. Appointment of Miklós Németh as Prime Minister. Hungarian parliament adopts a ‘democracy package’. This includes trade union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new electoral law; and a radical revision of the constitution. Hungarian Communists renounce ‘leading role’ and propose multi-party-political system. Mass demonstrations on Hungary’s National Day. Talks between democratic parties and government begin. The talks include the Communists (MSzMP) and the newly emerging independent political forces Fidesz, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz), the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the Independent Smallholders’ Party, the Hungarian People’s Party, the Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Society, and the Democratic Trade Union of Scientific Workers. Later on, Democratic Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) are also included. Soviet troops begin withdrawal from Eastern Europe. Hungarian forces begin dismantling 240kms border fence with Austria.

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June 16 1989

June 24 1989

July 13-19 1989

August 1989 September 10 1989

September 18 1989

October 9 1989

October 16-20 1989

October 23 1989

(November 9 1989) November 16 1989 March 28 1990

250,000 Hungarians attend the reburial of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian prime minister executed for his role in the 1956 antiSoviet uprising. Mounting pressure on the government to allow free elections. The Communist Party’s Central Committee is reformed. A 4member presidium is set up headed by reform advocate Rezső Nyers, who becomes party chairman. The other presidium members are Party General Secretary Károly Grósz, Premier Miklos Nemeth and Minister of State Imre Pozsgay. US President Bush European tour. Visits Hungary (and Poland) and promises financial aid from the USA and World Bank. At G-7 annual meeting in Paris [July 14] G-7 members also agree to provide aid to Hungary and Poland. First GDR refugees leave Soviet bloc via Hungary. Hungary opens border with Austria to allow the departure of East German refugees. In the next 36 hours, an estimated 10,500 East Germans cross Hungary’s border into Austria. Overall, more than 30,000 eventually reach the West in the first big exodus of East Germans since the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Round Table talks conclude, with signature of agreement on six draft laws that covered an overhaul of the Constitution, establishment of a Constitutional Court, the functioning and management of political parties, multiparty elections for National Assembly deputies, the penal code and the law on penal procedures. Separation of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party from the state apparatus. Half the deputies to be elected on proportional basis, half appointed on the majoritarian system. After an extraordinary Hungarian Socialist Workers Party Congress, the party disbands, and is reformed as the Hungarian Socialist Party. It forms a 24-member presidium and elects reformer Rezső Nyers as President. National Assembly adopts legislation providing for multi-party parliamentary elections, and a direct presidential election; furthermore, the assembly approves laws codifies civil and human rights, and form separate executive, legislative and judicial entities. Constitutional reference to the communist party’s leading role is deleted. At a rally celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the 1956 uprising, Hungarian President Mátyás Szűrös declares ‘the free Republic of Hungary’ replacing the People’s Republic of Hungary. Fall of the Berlin Wall. National referendum decides Hungary’s president should be elected by parliament, not by popular vote First democratic multi-party elections bring the democratic opposition to power.

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June 19 1991

Soviet troops withdrawn from Hungary.

East Germany (Germany Democratic Republic) April 25 1989 Soviet troops begin withdrawal from Eastern Europe. September 30 1989 The East German authorities agreed that East Germans at Prague embassy could go by train to the West, a decision which precipitates mass flight of approximately 10,000 East Germans from Dresden, boarding trains coming from Prague en route to the West. Clashes with East German police in Dresden. October 7 1989 East Germany’s 40th anniversary overshadowed by emigration crisis, and massive street demonstrations in East German larger cities. Gorbachev visits GDR, and encourages reform and independence. Gorbachev tells his East German host, President Erich Honecker: ‘Life punishes those who delay’. October 18 1989 Honecker resigns, replaced by Egon Krenz, who promises reform. Protests continue in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin, and are met with police violence. November 9 1989 East Germany opens Berlin Wall in a desperate bid to placate people. Reform Communist Hans Modrow is appointed prime minister days later. March 18 1990 Free elections: German CDU wins election; SED gets 16 percent of vote. October 1990 Germany is reunified and is confirmed as a member of NATO; the communist German Democratic Republic ceases to exist. Czechoslovakia 1977 November 1987 December 1988

January 15 1989

April 25 1989 May 1989 September 30 1989

Formation of Charter 77, following signature by Czechoslovakia and 34 other nations of the Helsinki Accords Miloš Jakeš appointed First Secretary of Communist Party Czechoslovakia, following ouster of Gustáv Husák. Following small protests, Charter 77 calls for mass demonstrations in January 1989 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the self-immolation of student, Jan Palach, in protest at the 1968 Soviet invasion. After 6 days of protests, Czech police use water cannon to disperse demonstrators led by Václav Havel, leader of Charter 77. Czech press agency CTK reports that the demonstrators are ‘undermining the incipient process of democratisation’. Havel and 400 other protestors are arrested. Havel is sentenced to 8 months’ in prison. Soviet troops begin withdrawal from Eastern Europe. Czech authorities are persuaded to release Havel. Over the summer anti-government demonstrations continue. Over 5,500 East Germans had taken refuge in West Germany’s embassy in Prague, requesting to emigrate to the West. The East German authorities agreed that East Germans at Prague embassy could go by train to the West, a decision which precipitates mass 13


October 28 1989 (November 9 1989 November 17 1989 November 19 1989 November 20/21 1989

November 23 1989

November 24 1989

November 27 1989 November 28 1989

November 29 1989 December 10 1989 December 28 1989 June 27 1991 Bulgaria December 1985 July 28 1987

1988

flight of approximately 10,000 East Germans from Dresden, boarding trains coming from Prague en route to the West. Clashes with East German police in Dresden. 100,000 protestors in Prague are met by riot police. 355 arrests. Fall of the Berlin Wall) Riot police suppress student demonstration in Prague. This sparks a series of mass street demonstrations. Meeting of opposition leaders, including Havel. Opposition unites with the Civic Forum. Demonstrations culminate with more than 200,000 people in Wenceslas Square, cheering Roman Catholic Primate Cardinal František Tomášek who declares: ‘We cannot wait any more’. Former leader Alexander Dubček addresses rally in Bratislava in his first political speech since he was ousted in 1968. The Czechoslovak Army says it will defend socialism. Dubček tells more than 300,000 people in Prague his ideal of ‘socialism with a human face’ is still alive in the minds of the younger generation. After a day-long crisis session Communist Party leader Miloš Jakeš steps down. Entire Presidium of the Communist Party, including President Gustav Husák, resigns. (Husák remains President until 10 December.) Two-hour general strike across the country. Power-sharing discussions between new communist leader, Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec with Civic Forum leaders. Czechoslovak communist party announces it will relinquish power and dismantle the one-party state. Czech parliament removes constitutional clause on the communist party’s ‘leading role’ in government. Marián Čalfa becomes Czechoslovak premier and forms a cabinet of 10 communists and 11 non-communists. Czechoslovak Federal Assembly elects Václav Havel as President of Czechoslovakia and Alexander Dubček as speaker of Parliament. Soviet troops formally withdraw. Visit by Secretary of State George Schulz. First Secretary Todor Zhivkov adopts Gorbachev’s perestroika reform programme. In a speech to the Bulgarian Communist Party’s Central Committee, he calls for the restructuring of the State Assembly and Politburo. Zhivkov also argues for Bulgaria to adopt a free market economy that would give the currency (the lev) a value equal to the USSR’s rouble, and approve free market relations for state enterprise. More than one candidate is allowed to run for each local office.

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July 20 1988 April 25 1989

October 1989 November 3, 1989

November 10 1989

November 17 1989 December 7 1989

December 11 1989

December 27 1989

January 3 1990 February 2 1990 April 1990 May 14 1990 June 1990

Zhivkov instructs Communist Party Plenum to initiate specific economic reforms to implement the 1987 proposals. Soviet troops begin withdrawal from Eastern Europe. Campaign against ethnic Turks. Over 300,000 are expelled by summer 1989. Demonstrations on environmental issues. There are also demands for political reform. More than 4,000 Bulgarians join Eco-glasnost march in Sofia in the first unofficial public protest for 40 years. Demonstrations are suppressed. President Todor Zhivkov, Eastern Europe’s longest-serving leader, resigns as Communist Party chief and head of state. He is replaced by Petar Mladenov. Immediate repeal of restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. Mass demonstrations, and formation of non-communist movements. Nine opposition movements untied as Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). Demands for further reform, including the removal of the constitutionally mandated leading role of the Bulgarian communist party. Mladenov announces the future termination of the communist party’s monopoly of power, and planned multi-party elections in 1990 The government and 9 opposition groups agree to abolish the communist party’s leading role, to hold free elections, to expel President Zhivkov from the Communist party and to appoint Petar Mladenov as party leader. Round table discussions begin. The government resigns after opposition parties refuse to join a coalition until free elections. The Bulgarian Communist party foreswears Marxist-Leninism and re-constitutes itself as the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Agreement reached on transition to democracy. First multi-party elections.

Romania

December 1985

Prolonged Communist Party interference in the affairs of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Transylvania. Leading critics István Tőkés, and his son László, are harassed by the Romanian securitate, and are increasingly at odds with the official Church hierarchy. Visit by Secretary of State George Schulz. Urges President Ceaușescu to stop Romania’s discriminatory policies against Jews and German Christians, and to allow them to emigrate if they wished. Offers to help Romania to obtain MFN status.

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November 1986 February 1987

May 6 1987

June 2 1987 December 14 1987

February 1988 March 3 1988

July 7 1989

November 1989 November 16 1989 December 15 1989 December 17 1989

December 18 1989

Labour uprisings in the major industrial centre Cluj-Napoca and Nicolina, against reduced salaries and proposed layoff of 15,000 workers Workers’ protests spread to Iași and culminate in a massive strike in Brașov, one of the largest cities in the country. This is suppressed by force. About 300 protestors are arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Prominent dissidents are detained or put under house arrest. Gorbachev visits Romania, and presents his concepts of glasnost and perestroika to the Romanian publicly, (implicitly criticising Ceauşescu’s resistance to reform.) US renews MFN status for Romania. In his address to the Romanian Party Conference, Ceauşescu reiterates his commitment to rigid central economic planning and insists that market forces are incompatible with Communist society. When dealing with the reforms advocated by Gorbachev, Ceauşescu argues that he has already applied similar measures in Romania. Ceauşescu renounces MFN status with USA, in response to growing American criticism of his treatment of dissidents. Announcement of renewed drive for ‘systematisation’. At an address to the National Conference of Presidents of People’s Councils, Ceauşescu announces ‘we must radically reduce the number of villages from about 13,000 at present to 5,000 to 6,000 at most’. Revelations about the demolition in Bucharest of churches and other architectural heritage by an ever-expanding drive to extend the area of the presidential complex, together with the systematisation plan, prompt environmental groups in the West to coordinate both national and international protest. Warsaw Pact annual meeting in Bucharest. Gorbachev suggests emulating Soviet reform ideas, and calls for ‘independent solutions to national problems’. The meeting’s final communique states there are ‘no universal models of socialism’. Ceauşescu reelected as leader of the Romanian Communist Party. Announcement of arrest and exile of local Hungarian Calvinist minister, László Tőkés, for sermons criticising the government. Riots in Timisoara. Protests continue for five days. Vigil in support of Tokes turns into major demonstration. Army intervenes and fires on the protestors. Initial number of casualties estimated to run to several thousand, but eventually revised to 122 fatalities. On Elena Ceauşescu’s orders, 4 bodies are transported to Bucharest and cremated, to avoid identification. Peaceful demonstrations by industrial workers in Timisoara, escalate into massive street protests.

16


December 20 1989 December 20 1989

December 21 1989

December 22 1989

December 25 1989

May 20 1990

Soviet Union November 10 1982 November 12 1982 February 9 1984 March 10 1985

June 11 1985

Timisoara is declared a free city. Romanians learn the number of fatalities from Western radio broadcasts. On his return from state visit to Iran, Ceauşescu makes a televised address in which he dismisses the demonstrations as the work of ‘fascists and hooligan elements’, inspired by Hungarian irredentism. Ceauşescu is booed by a crowd outside the Romanian Communist party HQ in Bucharest, and interrupted by protest shout ‘We are not hooligans’. Tumult in the crowd as others fear action by the security forces and try and flee; live television and radio broadcast of the event is interrupted. Groups in the crowd are not placated by Ceauşescu’s announcement of salary and pension increases. Student and youth protests at University Square are fired on by the Securitate and police, and a number are killed. Demonstrations and civil unrest spread through the country. An official communique on the demonstration, broadcast on television, dismisses the protestors as ‘hooligans’, ‘fascists’ and ‘foreign agents’. Parallel announcement of apparent suicide of Defence Minister Vasile Milea, accused of being a traitor. Senior army officers order their units in front of the Central Committee building to withdraw. Revolt by Romanian military rank and file, supported by demonstrators, who converge from all parts of the city. Rioters storm Central Committee HQ. Despite trying to flee via helicopter, Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena are captured. After a perfunctory trial, Nicolae Ceauşescu is executed. First government of National Salvation Front (NSF) formed, under Ion Iliescu. Elections planned for April 1990. Elections finally held. Official death toll of the Romanian revolution: 1,033 (270 soldiers) and 2383 wounded. Most of the soldiers were apparently killed in exchanges with snipers, the so-called ‘terrorists’. About 800 suspected ‘terrorists’ were arrested by the army, but were later freed during 1990.

Death of Leonid Brezhnev. Yuri Andropov succeeds as Soviet President. Death of Yuri Andropov. Succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko. Death of Chernenko. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes First Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union the following day. In a major speech Gorbachev reiterated his earlier statements on poor Soviet economic performance, with demands that the 17


November 20/21 1985 February 25 1986 April 26 1986 October 1986 January 1987 June 25 1987

August 23 1987 December 8 1987 November 1988 December 1988 February 1989 March 1989 April 1989 May 25 1989

May 1989 June 1989 July 7 1989 July 30 1989 August 17 1989 September 19 1989 March 1990 July 1990

USSR must renovate its existing industry and produce better consumer products to sell at home and abroad. (His 5-year plan is announced on 15 October, and reviewed by the CPSU Congress in February 1986). Summit between Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in Geneva. 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union opens. Gorbachev seeks economic reforms. Major changes in the party’s Central Committee also announced. Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Summit between Gorbachev and Reagan in Reykjavik. At CPSU plenum, Gorbachev pushes glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). At Communist Party Central Committee plenum, Gorbachev calls for ending of central economic controls and subsidised prices. The three Soviet Baltic republics stage protest marches for independence. Signature of INF treaty. Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic issues declaration of sovereignty. Gorbachev promises at the United Nations Assembly to withdraw Soviet troops from Eastern Europe (estimated by Western analysts to be approx. 500,000 men). Demonstrations in Soviet Republic of Georgia, followed by renewed protests in April. Protests in Georgia’s autonomous province, Azbhakia. Demonstrations in Georgia. The Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies 2-week session. (Some delegates voice unprecedented criticism of Gorbachev, the Soviet communist party and the KGB.) Gorbachev is elected the Supreme Soviet’s President; Nikolai Ryzhkov as is elected Prime Minister. Baltic Republics (Latvia, Lithuania) follow Estonia and declare themselves to be sovereign. Protests in Uzbekistan. At Warsaw Pact annual meeting in Bucharest, Gorbachev announces that each country can take its own path to socialism. The Russian Republic, under Boris Yeltsin, transforms its own Congress of People’s Deputies into an Interregional group of Deputies. President Gorbachev issues a publication: ‘the nationalities policy of the Party under modern conditions.’ In a major speech, Gorbachev complains about ‘separatist nationalism’. Despite this, the local governments of Lithuania and Estonia pass legislation to introduce free market policies. Lithuania declares independence from USSR. Ukraine declares sovereignty; CPSU declares end to its monopoly on political power. 18


July 1991

Soviet Republics negotiate new union treaty; Ukraine’s Supreme Soviet declares independence; Warsaw Pact dissolved.

19


Background document General Policy: Despatch from Sir Geoffrey Howe to HMA Warsaw on ‘British Policy towards Eastern Europe’, 5 September 1985 TNA FCO 28/6650 (EN 021/11) Sir, My visit to Poland in April concluded a series of visits aimed at putting our relations with Eastern Europe on a more direct and business-like footing. It was the first time a British Foreign Secretary had been to Bulgaria or the GDR and 20 years since a visit to Czechoslovakia. While some of the Eastern European governments were unhappy with my position on human rights and with our arrangements for meetings with a broad cross section of society, they were all keen to continue the dialogue and expand relations. It seems therefore a good moment to re-examine the basis on which our policy towards Eastern Europe should develop. 2. One of the most important, if not the most important, questions on the international agenda is the improvement of East/West relations with a view to reducing tension and securing progress on arms control. This is a question to which Britain should apply itself with patient tenacity and determination. Our aim is to achieve a realistic relationship with the Soviet Union and its allies built on greater trust and confidence while maintaining our own security interests. Policy towards Eastern Europe plays an important part in this. But our objective is also to weaken Soviet control over its satellites. This means supporting a process of gradual evolutionary change in Eastern Europe. Our policy is: - to broaden the dialogue with Eastern Europe, opening the way for increased contacts at all levels - to seek balance and verifiable arms control agreements capable of maintaining security at lower levels of armaments - to promote observance of human rights - to demonstrate to the peoples of Eastern Europe that they are not forgotten. 3. There are, however, inevitable ambiguities about how we should pursue our objectives. We need to reconcile our wish for change with the need to preserve our security. We are forced to have relations and to do business with governments which reject most of our values and which have little or no popular support. This relationship gives these régimes a legitimacy which we should prefer to deny them. Yet it is the price we must pay for limited access to their peoples and for keeping alive the prospect of change. We cannot condemn ordinary people in Eastern Europe to isolation from the West simply because they have nasty rulers. The Alliance 4. Britain cannot hope to advance its relations with Eastern Europe in isolation from the policies of other Western countries. We must therefore always work for a united Western policy which pools resources and allows each country to use its position to best advantage. NATO and the European Community are good places for this. This does not mean that the pursuit of Western aims requires identical methods. Each Western country has its own cards to play. The Germans, for example, have industrial advantage and political muscle, particularly in dealing with ‘the other German state’; the French in cultural affairs; Britain as the English-speaking nation with the longest tradition of democracy and a record of speaking out on human rights; the United States as the rival superpower and dream of millions of would-be immigrants.


Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

5. The Warsaw Pact is the major adversary of the West. East Europe is a loyal and vital part of it. We cannot, therefore, afford to lower our guard, make gentleman’s agreements or cut corners in the expectation of intangible rewards of national advantage. We must look ahead to anticipate crises and be ready with contingency plans. In general this view is shared by our major Western allies. 6. There have been, and will be, times when the United States advocate a more adversarial approach to Eastern Europe, often as a result of domestic pressures. This can create a serious problem for us. In general we and our European partners, supported by public opinion, have favoured a less crusading approach, giving more weight to stability and cooperation. Where there is a real difference of view, we must balance our interests in Eastern Europe against the danger of putting at risk wider areas of cooperation with the Americans. The balance is naturally weighted in favour of Alliance unity. A major consideration will be whether the US have a clearly defined long term policy they are determined to stick to, e.g. COCOM restrictions, or whether they are simply reacting to events and domestic pressure, e.g. Poland. Experience shows that good arguments and the right timing are often effective in avoiding a clash and winning the Americans round. Nevertheless, it is important that the UK, while mindful of the wider bilateral relationship, should not compromise its long term and consistent aim of removing the Iron Curtain by trying to accommodate short term swings in US policy. The Soviet Interest 7. Counter balancing this long-term British aim is the interest of the Soviet Union in keeping Eastern Europe within its empire. Under the early post-war system, the Soviet Ambassador functioned as a Viceroy in Eastern Europe and there were Soviet officials in key Ministries. These days have passed. East European leaders now have the power to take decisions in many areas of national life without reference to Moscow. They are experienced in judging how far they can go. They do not always report what they are up to. Look at Kadar and Honecker. Nevertheless, Soviet mechanisms for control are still pervasive and operate at many levels, bringing pressure to bear in the political, economic, security and military spheres. In the last resort the Soviet Union would still intervene physically to prevent the departure of Eastern Europe both as buffer and a legitimate spoil of war. It needs East Europe to bolster its claim to leadership of the communist world and it hopes, one day, that it will contribute to its economic prosperity. 8. The Soviet Union has however had to acknowledge the inherent diversity of Eastern Europe and the prospect of limited evolution. The Soviet Union has to strike a balance between encouraging East European leaders to run viable countries and maintaining Soviet control. Viability means giving the East Europeans more say in their affairs. This is where we can play a part. British Aims 9. Our aim is a gradual evolution away from the current Soviet pattern. We should encourage creative ferment in Eastern Europe which brings the Soviet Union to raise the level of its tolerance and which underlines the attractions of Western society. This ferment should be constantly but quietly challenging the dominant role of the Communist Party and the authority of the Soviet Union. The process is naturally underway in Eastern Europe, whose peoples have little or no tradition of cooperation with the Russians. There is an element of missionary zeal in all this: and a stronger element of wanting to reduce the fear and suspicion which condemns both sides to levels of armaments which deny funds for other purposes and would spell disaster in Europe if ever used. But while we want evolution, not revolution, we

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

know that events such as Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Poland 1980/81 have changed the face of Eastern Europe and destroyed many dangerous illusions in the West. So while it would be wrong, and beyond our power, to stimulate events which violently threaten the social order, thereby provoking direct Soviet intervention or severe material and spiritual hardships for the population, we have no interest in discouraging protest and dissent or in helping unpopular régimes towards stability. 10. The natural magnetism of the West provides the greatest opportunities to promote evolution in Eastern Europe. It must be largely internally generated. The scope for the West to speed the process is limited; crude initiatives and appeals are likely to awake the fears of Russian and East European leaders, thus slowing down the process. There must be some stealth in Western policy. We should not trumpet what we are up to. Prolonged harsh reactions to individual developments can be equally damaging, e.g. the economic sanctions on Poland after martial law—easy to impose but difficult to lift: and they hurt people more than governments. Our aim should be the maximum engagement of Western influence in each country and in all areas, conducting where appropriate a ‘critical’ dialogue with the régime concerned. Political 11. We should maintain a basic framework of political relations enabling activities in other fields to develop. The framework will involve regular political consultations, periodic meetings of Ministers, and tedious protocol, National Days, etc, to which the East attach such importance. The right handshake matters. We should continue the policy of differentiating between the East European countries on the basis of their willingness and ability to move away from Soviet pattern of internal development (Hungary) or a foreign policy (Romania). But all the countries of Eastern Europe have some special features which can justifiably claim our attention. Each country has a different starting point and traditions, each offering different opportunities. We must therefore differentiate with flexibility. A clear divergence from Soviet policy need not be the precondition for widening our relations. We should foster historical and popular links with the West, and favour countries, such as Poland, with features that have never succumbed to Soviet influence. Defence and Security 12. The foremost Soviet interest is defence and security. The East European room for manoeuvre is therefore extremely limited. Except for Romania, they do what they are told. Nevertheless, on questions such as military budgets, support costs and Soviet troop levels, they can argue and sometimes do. Since the East Europeans reckon to do best at times of détente, they may at certain times and within limits exert a slight moderating force on Soviet policy. There are unlikely to be significant opportunities for a profitable dialogue on security issues with individual East European countries since the key decisions are invariably taken in Moscow. However, there is advantage in giving the East Europeans an accurate exposition of Western policies on defence and arms control, which the Soviet Union is constantly anxious to misrepresent. Economic 13. The linkage between commercial success and good bilateral political relations is unproven. The East European countries treat their trading relationships with a degree or pragmatism, seeking to extract maximum gains wherever they may be found. However, an active political dialogue removes any excuse for discrimination against British exports on grounds other than quality, price and delivery dates. East/West trade, quite apart from the

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

economic benefits, promotes interdependence and human contacts. It increases the room for manoeuvre available to the East European. Strategically significant exports should continue to be identified and embargoed under COCOM procedures. But it would be counterproductive to try to promote economic collapse or technology starvation in Eastern Europe. Where possible, we should seek to consolidate the gains from familiarity and improved living standards that flow from closer commercial co-operation. We should do what we can to help the East Europeans resist CMEA attempts to reduce trade with the West. We should not allow the Soviet Union to use any strengthened EC/CMEA links to reinforce its hold over the East European economies. 14. Developments in Poland and Romania show that financial gestures based on political goodwill create more problems than they solve. We must not again let the East Europeans run up debts which give us no leverage in the management of their economies and which they cannot repay. 15. We should encourage economic reform. It reduces the role of the Party, leads to independence of thought and decision, and offers the potential of higher living standards. A more liberal economic system should reduce the advantages of hiding within a protective bloc. East Europeans want to run their own lives without being bossed around by Moscow or by their own leaders. 16. Membership of the World Bank, the IMF, GATT and other Western economic and political bodies, trade agreements and the EC etc, institutionalise the relationship with the West. The East Europeans can be maddening to deal with, devious and demanding. But the formal link with the West gives them some strength to bargain with Moscow and should be supported. Human Rights 17. Respect for human rights is the corner stone of Western political philosophy. The subject greatly irritates East European leaders and quickly brings an angry response about unemployment in the West. But we should not let abuse of human rights go unchallenged. We have shown that it is possible to carry our message on human rights to both governments and ordinary people. We should continue with strict monitoring of the CSCE Final Act and with judicious use of the UN Human Rights machinery. Pressure from within and without is effective. East European dissidents cannot by themselves make much impact on the state. To survive they need contact with the West and the sort of publicity that makes the secret police think twice. This is difficult for Governments to arrange. A major role will remain with independent Western groups and individuals. But we should also maintain a discreet official contact, whenever possible, which signals our support for freedom of expression and widens our knowledge of independent thought in Eastern Europe. Culture, Information and Religion 18. Most of our culture and information promote fundamental Western values and liberal ideas—though some harm them. Our long-term aim should be that they function (especially cultural exchanges) under their own steam. Private and non-governmental ventures (town twinning, academic exchanges, concert tours, film sales, tourism, etc) should be encouraged. The BBC External Service and British Council are vital. Television could be the medium for the future. Personal contacts and relations can play a key role. Freedom to travel is the most insistent demand heard in the East. There are security and immigration reasons for our visa policy but we must operate the system with flexibility, speed and compassion. 19. Relations between British and Eastern European churches are important and delicate. We should give advice when it is sought and point to the manner in which the East has, in some

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

countries, brought much of the Church under the control of the Party and used it for ‘peace’ offensives. But we should not seek to steer or influence the Church in the country, which is well able to make its own judgments. Conclusion 20. There are many political, economic and strategic factors controlling the pace and direction of change in the Soviet empire. The influence of Britain and the West is limited. The key relationship for the East Europeans (and for us) is their relationship with Moscow. But they cannot disregard the European dimension of their history and interests, nor do they wish to. A British policy which aims to encourage contact and dialogue at all levels will also encourage the East Europeans to think and act for themselves. 21. I am sending copies of this despatch to Her Majesty’s Representative at Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, East Berlin, Prague, Sofia, Moscow, Washington, Paris, Bonn and NATO. I am, Sir, etc, (for the Secretary of State) J. A. BIRCH

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Witness Seminar: Session One Dr Sue Onslow Ladies and gentleman, honoured guests, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Senate House, and this witness seminar on the British Embassies and the East European Revolutions, 1988– 1989. I am Dr Sue Onslow, Deputy Director at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Although the topic under discussion today is not my immediate area of publication, it is certainly my longstanding area of keen research interest. I am delighted to welcome you, the extraordinary ‘witnesses to history’ of those momentous events that took place in Eastern Europe between 1988 and 1989. I am delighted that Dr Richard Smith, Senior Historian at the Foreign Office, will be chairing this event. In discussion with Richard, we have decided that today’s discussion should be divided broadly into, first, recollections of the events in Poland and Hungary; and then, to continue the discussion by addressing the revolutions that rolled out in Czechoslovakia and in Bulgaria, and which concluded in the violence in Romania at the end of the year. These two sessions will then be followed by a Question and Answer discussion. Without further ado, I would like to hand over to Richard to chair this unique occasion, and to extend my particular thanks to you all. Dr Richard Smith Thank you very much, Sue. One of the reasons why I have been asked to chair today is because I am an editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas, which is the Foreign Office’s documentary history of post-war British foreign policy. I am editing a volume at the moment on Britain and the revolutions in Eastern Europe focused on 1989, which will come out next year for the thirtieth anniversary of the revolutions and the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, it is good today to bring together British diplomats who were working in those embassies at the time, who were making policy in London, and it is good to gather together this oral testimony which will stand alongside the documentary record when it comes out next year. As Sue mentioned, we are going to split into two initial sessions, before the final Q&A. The first one will focus on Poland and Hungary, and so I will just briefly introduce those around the table who were in those posts at the time. We have Sir John Birch, who seemed to spend most of the 1980s on Eastern European affairs. He was Counsellor in Budapest between 1980–83, and then Head of East European Department from 1983–86 before becoming ambassador to Hungary 1989–95. We have Sir Stephen Barrett, who held two posts in Eastern Europe back to back: first, as Ambassador in Czechoslovakia 1985–88 (and we will talk more about that in the second session); and then as Ambassador to Poland from 1988–91. We have Nigel Thorpe, who was a Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Poland from 1985–1988, and had earlier served in Warsaw in the early 1970s. David Colvin, Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Hungary from 1985–1988, and Peter Harborne, Counsellor and Head of Chancery. (I think he followed you, David, from 1988–1991.) Finally, we welcome Ann Lewis, who from 1985 until 1991 was in Eastern European department, and was Deputy Head from 1988. What I would like to do, first of all, is to set the scene by asking Sir John Birch: in 1985, you were asked to prepare a despatch on British policy towards Eastern Europe, I believe. I wondered whether you could just talk a little bit about that document, how it came into being, and what British policy actually was during the latter half of the 1980s towards Eastern Europe? [See Background Document 1]

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Sir John Birch The aim of the despatch (of September 1985) was to define our policy towards Eastern Europe, to be more active and to favour those countries that showed some independence of Moscow. Until then we had tended to lump all of Eastern Europe together as a subservient Bloc. We believed at the time that the Soviet Union would never give up the spoils of the Second World War and might even use force to maintain control. It was the era of Brezhnev,14 Andropov15 and Chernenko.16 We did not yet know about Gorbachev.17 None of us foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. While we wanted to improve East /West relations and the prospect for arms control with the Soviet Union, we also wanted to loosen their grip on Eastern Europe and encourage evolution away from Soviet authority. There were already signs that Hungary had room for manoeuvre on domestic policy, Poland had the Catholic Church and Romania, of course, was pretty free in foreign policy. We also wanted to get through to ordinary people that we cared about human rights and that they were not forgotten when we talked to their leaders. So we faced a dilemma. In order to win some access to society, we had to shake the bloodied hands of rulers like Kádár,18 Husák,19 Honecker20 and Zhivkov,21 which implied recognising their legitimacy. Sir Geoffrey Howe22 visited Eastern Europe in 1985 and that was the origin of the despatch. We recognised the distinct historical and cultural differences of each country, including the ghastliness of Ceaușescu’s23 Romania. I decided on a despatch from the Foreign Secretary, an unusual policy vehicle for the FCO, so that it was not just another Planning Staff paper. The hope, a common Western hope, was that in the long term evolution, not revolution, would lead towards rich , neutral and democratic countries in Eastern Europe , along the lines of Finland and Austria. That was what we were working for. The despatch was an encouragement to be more active in Eastern Europe, to reach out across society, while at the same time guarding our basic security interests and without antagonising the Russians. Smith Thank you, John. Perhaps now we could just open it up to those of you who served in Hungary and Poland: to talk about the policy of engagement, and how you implemented it ‘on the ground’ during your time there. Perhaps, we could start with Poland? Sir Stephen Barrett I would like to ask Nigel here to continue for me, because he was basically there. When I was ambassador, I inherited a lot of good work which had done by the embassy in Warsaw at the time. To touch very briefly, first of all, on John’s despatch; he gave [those of us] serving in the embassies in Eastern Europe the broadest possible canvas on which to deploy our skills in light of the particular conditions in those countries. Some things which were possible in Czechoslovakia could not be done in Poland, and so on and so forth. I think the point about not being afraid of a period to give legitimacy to Eastern Europe was quite rightly killed off

14

Leonid Brezhnev (1906–82), Soviet leader, 1964–82. Yuri Andropov (1914–84), Soviet leader,1982–4. 16 Konstantin Chernenko (1911–85), Soviet leader, 1984–5. 17 Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader, 1985–91. 18 János Kádár (1912–89), Hungarian leader, 1956–1988. 19 Gustáv Husák (1913–91), President of Czechoslovakia, 1969–87. 20 Erich Honecker (1912–94), leader of the German Democratic Republic, 1971–89. 21 Todor Zhivkov (1911–98), leader of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, 1954–89. 22 Sir Geoffrey Howe (Lord Howe of Aberavon, 1926–2015), Foreign Secretary, 1983–9. 23 Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918–89), Romanian leader, 1965–89. 15

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

at quite an early stage. The visits were enormously important and when Mrs Thatcher24 came to Warsaw some five weeks after I got there, that scared the daylights out of me! It was an opportunity. She was at that time at the height of her powers and reputation, and this stood us, and her, in very good stead indeed in what she did there. I think Nigel would agree. It began and built on this the encouragement of the despatch to continue the process of close engagements on all possible levels of society. Not only the party, not only the Government, but in every section of society the devices and intrigues of the embassy could possibly reach. Nigel Thorpe May I continue from that? I first went to Warsaw in 1970 when, as John says, we had no particular policy towards Poland as a country. We had a policy towards the bloc, which was basically towards the Soviet Union. We were also terribly cut off from Polish society, very isolated. When the great event of December 1970, the riots in Gdansk, and the shipyards broke out, we learnt about them from the BBC World Service. We were terribly cut off; we were simply observers. When I went back in 1985, obviously things had moved on in Poland. There had been 15 years of intermittent unrest, including of course the formation of Solidarity and its suppression through martial law. But it was clear that there was a lot still going on. In October 1985, the then ambassador, John Morgan25 and I decided to go and see Wałęsa.26 We sought permission from the East European Department in London, and we drove to Gdansk on Friday night, and met Wałęsa for dinner with Tadeusz Mazowiecki,27 his right-hand Catholic advisor. After that meeting, we engaged in widespread contacts with Solidarity, almost uninhibited really, and with other social groups because Poland was in ferment. There was a widespread underground society, quite well organised, doing all sorts of things, with quite a large underground press and underground literature. I have an example here. This is Pustynia Gobi (The Gobi Desert)28 by Kazimierz Orłoś, which he gave me. So, we were very active, and as Stephen says, culminated in this fantastic contact with Margaret Thatcher’s visit in 1988. This was exactly 30 years ago, actually, last week and was historic in its implications for what happened in Poland subsequently. Barrett Could I just say one thing more about the visit itself? When Mrs Thatcher went to see Jaruzelski,29 I went with her and something happened then which I think has not been recorded properly. That is that she allowed Jaruzelski to talk non-stop for 40 minutes, which I think made an enormous impression on her. She got her own back when Jaruzelski the following year, in between the two Polish elections which took place in 1989, was invited to the UK. But there were the beginnings of a kind of bond. He would never be quite the sort of man you could do business with, as she felt about Gorbachev perhaps, but at any rate, Poland was therefore much more available was then Czechoslovakia was at that time. I may have more to say on that later when we move onto Czechoslovakia.

24

Margaret Thatcher (Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, 1926–2013), Prime Minister, 1979–90. Sir John Morgan (1929–2012), Ambassador to Poland, 1986–88. 26 Lech Wałęsa, co-founder and head of Solidarity. President of Poland, 1990–5. 27 Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1927–2013), one of the leaders of Solidarity. Prime Minister of Poland, 1989–91. 28 This collection of short stories was published in 1983. 29 Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923–2014), Polish military officer and leader of Poland, 1981–9. 25

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Smith Of course. Can I just ask you one question? You did two Eastern European postings back to back, straight from Prague to Warsaw. Was that intentional? Was there a reason for that? Because it was quite unusual, was it not? Barrett Has anyone compiled a book about the jokes that went round Eastern Europe at the time? The one which I remember in this context is about the two dogs meeting on the frontier between Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Polish dog says that he is going to Czechoslovakia because he wants a bone. The Czechoslovak dog says, ‘I am going to Poland because I want to bark.’ By this time, the differences were very striking indeed and the kind of access which I had as ambassador in Poland would have been impossible at that time in Czechoslovakia, when we could not even take someone to see [Vasiľ] Biľak30 or anyone else like that. The Czechoslovaks at that level were still shut off from the rest of us. Smith Thank you. Shall we move onto Hungary? David Colvin David Colvin, I was Head of Chancery there from 1985–88. So part of my experience is outside the purview of this seminar, but I think it is relevant. The thing that struck me most of all—I was in the Cabinet Office before going to Budapest—was to read the product of Gordievsky,31 the famous spy, in which he had hinted or suggested that there was a certain amount of questioning going on in the Soviet government about changing their policy towards Eastern Europe. That struck me as being very interesting and something which one could perhaps play on, as it were. In his despatch, John Birch says that, ‘We should also maintain a discreet official contact wherever possible which signals our support for freedom of expression and widens our knowledge of independent thought in Eastern Europe.’ I took that as being a sort of green light for developing contacts with the opposition which was beginning to wake up soon after I got there. We then had a number of examples each year of what is now called ‘soft power diplomacy’. In those days, it was not called that; I am not sure what it was called. In 1985 we had a visit from the Royal Ballet,32 with Princess Margaret33 whose main interest was to get a dinner service out of Herend,34 but that is another story. Then in July 1986, we had a rock concert by Queen,35 which was the largest ever rock concert in Eastern Europe. That went very well, and indeed Freddy Mercury36 sent me a letter afterwards including a piece of his T-shirt stapled to it saying how much this had been a great concert.

30

Vasil Biľak (1917–2014), Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 1968–89. 31 Oleg Gordievsky, former colonel of the KGB and bureau chief in London. A double agent, he worked for British security services, 1974–85. 32 Founded in 1931, and based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, the Royal Ballet is the UK’s premier classical ballet company. 33 HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930–2000), daughter of HM King George VI (1895–1952), and sister of HM Queen Elizabeth II. 34 Founded in 1826, the Herend Porcelain Manufactory specialises in luxury hand-painted and gilded porcelain. 35 Formed in 1970, Queen is a world-renown rock group. 36 Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara, 1946–91), then lead vocalist of the rock band Queen.

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The third thing was in March 1987, the visit of the Secretary of State Geoffrey Howe, which was covered in The Times as being ‘Howe builds political bridges in Budapest.’ I might read a bit of this, because it actually covers exactly what we were trying to do. British diplomacy yesterday tested the limits of glasnost (openness), Hungarian style, by bringing together four solid communist established figures and two of their critics in the discreet surroundings of the residence of a British Ambassador, Mr Leonard Appleyard. Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, who is on an official visit to Hungary, presided over the lunchtime experiment in social engineering, which would have been unthinkable in any other Eastern bloc country.’ [Comment by David Colvin: I do not

know whether that was true or not.] Without so much as a blush, those in charge of protocol said it was Sir Geoffrey’s normal practice when abroad to meet a broad cross-section of the community. On that slender thread of justification, men who would not normally be on speaking terms found themselves sharing roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Mr Gyorgy Konrad whose novels and sociological studies have been banned in Hungary for the past 10 years, and Mr Miklós Vásárhelyi, also a writer, mingled with Hungary’s First Vice President, Chief Government spokesman, Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs Department Head. Mr Konrad, aged 54, an urban Jewish sociologist, has been detested by the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party for his unremitting attacks. His works include the novels The City Builder and The Visitor, though published in English, are not available in Hungary. Mr Vásárhelyi, aged 73, was the Prime Minister’s Chief Spokesman in the autumn of 1956 when the uprising was put down by Soviet troops.’ [Comment: I do not know how Vásárhelyi survived being executed. That would be an interesting thing to discover.] The protocol nightmare of deciding who should have priority over whom was solved by dividing the guests into four roundtables, arranged in a square, with establishment and opposition sitting at separate tables. The crystal, damask, and silverware of Mr Appleyard’s elegant cream dining room came to no visible harm, with scarcely a drop of Kékfrankos—a good Hungarian red wine—being spilt, and none deliberately. The experiment seemed to confirm the British thesis that glasnost not only started much earlier in Hungary, but has gone further than any other Soviet satellite. One diplomat commented that if the same thing had been tried at Czechoslovakia, Romania or Poland, the establishment figures would not have turned up. The jury is still out on the extent of enlightenment in Mr Gorbachev’s new Moscow.

That I remember very clearly. I do not know whether it is true, but it was a rather memorable occasion. My head was on the block because Mr Appleyard37 had grave doubts about this and I think I would have been for the chop if it had gone wrong, if they had dropped out. I will then hand over to my successor who came just under a year later. Thorpe Sorry, I just wanted to make one point. It is absolutely true that you could not mix the opposition and the establishment. We could fill a room with Solidarity and opposition contacts, but if an official turned up, it would be a disaster, so you had to do separate events. However, it did not mean that Solidarity was not interested in what the regime was doing, and in particular what was happening in Moscow. I remember, I think it must have been 1987, Adam Michnik,38 the very eminent Polish intellectual and advisor to Wałęsa, told me that he was giving unofficial talks at Warsaw University in the evenings to students, and he

37 38

Sir Leonard Appleyard, HM Ambassador to Hungary, 1986–9. Adam Michnik, then advisor to Solidarity. Editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza.

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was talking to them about what was happening in Moscow. He told them, ‘Go and read Izvestia,’39 and they could not believe him. They just did not believe he was saying this. However, he was reading it avidly, and he knew that things were moving. Barrett Could I just add one thing about contacts between opposition and government spokesmen? I do remember this would have happened a little bit later perhaps, after Nigel had left. It would have been 1989, I imagine. At one of the parties I was attending, I saw Geremek40 and a member of the Politburo talking in the corner, and they were talking very amicably. I went up to them and found out what they were talking about, and it was a dispute about which side had the most intellectuals on its side. This was the turn of the outcome but as an indication of the way in which they could by then, talk. It was very striking. Peter Harborne As David mentioned, I, Peter Harborne, took over from him in March 1989. It was clear from what he said that things were already developing very much along the lines that we had hoped for in John’s policy paper of 1985. The way Leonard Appleyard and I did it was as David described, but it was much easier by then for me. There was a big event then, the Independence Day parade. I remember it was chalk and cheese compared to the way you had described it a year earlier, when large number of dissidents walked round various stations of the cross in Budapest. The sun was shining, flags were out, and there was not a policeman to be seen. You could sense very clearly that the plate had shifted and there was no going back. But even though it was moving on the way towards modernisation reform, there was still a clear distinction between dealings with the Hungarian Socialist Worker Party, which then Appleyard handled, and dealing with in heavy inverted commas, ‘the dissidents’, which is what I and the rest of the Chancery did. However, we did it in a very easy manner. I was very struck as the year went on by the difference of the treatment by the security service in Budapest and in Prague. In Budapest, for us, they were basically a nuisance who would come around and alter your pictures, and in one instance, pee in the kitchen sink and that sort of thing; whereas in Prague, they were clearly giving the Chancery a very hard time. For me, it was a much easier job than it was for David, dealing with the dissidents. I still remember talking to a much slimmer Viktor Orbán41 that what he really wanted to do was be a footballer, but he clearly was not going to make the grade for Ferencvárosi,42 or whoever. As I said at the outset, the policies articulated in that despatch were able to be implemented on the ground in Budapest. It was not long before we were—in those days, the British Council had serious money, welcoming the Royal Shakespeare Company with the Branaghs43 and Richard Briers44 playing King Lear, of all unlikely things, but very well. Most historic and eyecatching of all, the first visit by a member of the royal family, with the Prince of Wales and the late Princess Diana.45 Virtually every member of the British cabinet wanted to come out to Hungary. Nigel, I think you wanted to say something earlier about the visit to Mrs Thatcher. What I remember most of all was her laying a wreath at the statue of Raoul 39

Izvestia was the Soviet Union’s newspaper of record, 1917–91 Bronisław Geremek (1932–2008), Foreign Minister of Poland, 1997–2000. 41 Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, 1998–2002; 2010–. 42 Ferencvárosi Torna Club is a professional football club in Budapest, Hungary. 43 Sir Kenneth Branagh and his then wife, Emma Thompson (div.1995). 44 Richard Briers (1934–2013), actor. 45 Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–97), former wife of HRH Prince of Wales, 1981–96. 40

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Wallenberg46 which made a very big impact at the time, who had operated out of the British Embassy in Budapest in 1944 in what was the old Hitelbank, the old credit bank. Thorpe It was on the third floor. We wrote a book about it. If I could just go back to Mrs Thatcher in Poland in November 1988: it was a turning point event. When I was in charge—I was in between ambassadors, before Stephen had come and Brian Barder47 had already left—I found myself in charge of the embassy with the request that Mrs Thatcher wanted to visit Poland. However, it was a condition of the visit that she should go to Gdansk and see Lech Wałęsa. Now, Wałęsa was an illegal person, and no senior figure from the West had been to see him; so this was a huge request, and the Poles refused. It was quite extraordinary. I was at a diplomatic cocktail party, and Wiesław Górnicki48 approached me. He was Jaruzelski’s advisor and had been a very distinguished journalist but had become a great fan of Jaruzelski at the time of martial law and wore the uniform of a coronel in the Polish army; he looked absolutely ridiculous, actually. Anyway, he approached me and he said, ‘Mr Counsellor, we are so looking forward to seeing Mrs Thatcher,’ and I looked at him and I thought, ‘What is going on?’ He said, ‘Of course she can go to Gdansk. She can have a private visit there.’ We suddenly were able to implement this visit, and the Poles had caved in. They allowed us to organise not only a meeting with Wałęsa, but a lunch in Gdansk at the house of Father Jankowski49 who was his priest and confessor, for the whole Solidarity leadership. Everybody we knew in the Solidarity leadership was there. Jankowski, who was a great theatrical person, had arranged for a crowd to surround the house and sing patriotic Polish hymns throughout the lunch. It was a massive event. However, more importantly and absolutely centrally, Wałęsa had been invited through the Catholic intellectuals who were going to take part in the roundtable to join them and be an opposition representative at the roundtable with the communist party. He did not know whether to accept or not. He raised this question with Mrs Thatcher and she was quite clear that it would be a great mistake to turn it down. And lo! Eight months later, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was Prime Minster of Poland. The elections had taken place and communism was at an end basically, so it was a fantastic occasion, and one which I think needs to be properly recorded. Colvin Can I just mention one event which certainly shook the prestige of the Soviet Union. It was the Chernobyl disaster on 26 April 1986.50 There was a May Day parade in Budapest and we were all lined up for the parade, with Janos Kádár there too. I remember a funny black cloud came over which presumably contained some of the debris from Chernobyl. Fortunately, it did not rain, but radioactivity certainly increased there. It was quite an event.

46

Raoul Wallenberg (1912–disappeared 1945, believed to have died 1947), Swedish diplomat who, when based in Budapest during the latter half of 1944, sheltered Jews and issued protective passports to them. Following the Red Army’s Siege of Budapest in 1945, he was suspected of being involved in espionage and was ‘disappeared’ by the Soviets. 47 Sir Brian Barder, HM Ambassador to Poland, 1986–8. 48 Wiesław Górnicki (1931-96). 49 Father Henryk Jankowski (1936–2010), Polish Roman Catholic priest, and member of Solidarity movement. 50 On 25–26 April 1986, a catastrophic explosion occurred within a nuclear reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Pripyat, then in Soviet Ukraine.

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Barrett Nothing had been reported about Chernobyl in the Czechoslovak press at the time. The Foreign Office arranged for me to be sent a Geiger counter.51 So the British ambassador crawled over the garden in the embassy with the Geiger counter with people looking down from the terrace above wanting to know what it was all about. The regime did not put out any information at the time. Birch I mentioned the problem that we had with dealing with communist leaders and therefore giving them legitimacy, whilst at the same time wanting to talk to ordinary people and meeting members of the opposition. One of the forces that played an enormous part in this in my view was the BBC, because they had language broadcasts which now sadly have disappeared. They were able to put out on radio in Polish, in Hungarian, in Czech, and in Romanian what was actually happening. Two examples of this: after Father Popiełuszko52 was murdered by the Polish secret police (the UB), Geoffrey Howe went almost immediately to the grave of Father Popiełuszko, and a few hours later, he met Jaruzelski. However, the BBC had already carried in the evening news the fact that Geoffrey Howe had been to Father Popiełuszko’s grave, and so this immediately showed that from a British point of view, we had enormous sympathy with the church and with ordinary people. In Prague, which was a much more difficult occasion, we inserted into the speech that Geoffrey Howe gave at the official dinner with the Foreign Minister great sections from the opposition Charter 7753 programme, which was about the importance of respecting human rights, the Helsinki Agreements,54 and the rule of law. On the evening state television, the party leadership was shown clapping all these sentences that were lifted entirely from Charter 77, the charter of the main opposition. This, in turn, was carried by the BBC in the evening programme. So everyone knew and the Czech party leadership were made to look like fools. Barrett I think clearly what happened was that worries about legitimacy being given by contacts had disappeared as a problem for all of us. It was open season to do what we could do through the BBC and through cultural visits. We tried to turn all this to our advantage. Birch But Stephen, I was then the Head of Eastern European Department in London. There were people in business saying, ‘We will come on a Geoffrey Howe visit to Poland provided he does not go around meeting dissidents and queering our pitch because we want a new contract to build a steel mill.’ There were émigré groups in this country, strong groups, which 51

A Geiger counter is an instrument used for detecting and measuring radiation. Jerzy Popiełuszko (1947–84), Polish Roman Catholic priest, associated with the Solidarity trade union, was murdered in 1984 by the members of the Polish Security Service. They were subsequently tried and convicted of his murder. 53 In Jan. 1977, a group of Czechoslovak dissidents drew up a document, inspired by the 1975 Helsinki Accords, demanding a list of human rights protections. Around this coalesced an active dissent movement, which was active until 1992. 54 The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), held in Helsinki, Finland, between July and August 1975, resulted in the signing of an agreement called, variously, the Helsinki Accords, Helsinki Agreements or Helsinki Declaration. See M. Kandiah and Gillian Staerck (eds), The Helsinki Negotiations: The Accords and the Their Impact: Witness Seminar (2006), p.25 for a summary of the Accords, and Gill Bennett and K.A. Hamilton (eds), Documents on British Policy Overseas (DBPO), Series III, Vol. II, The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, 1972–75 (1998). 52

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said ‘You cannot go and shake the hand of Kádár, because of 1956, or of Husák because of 1968’. That was a very real constraint at the time. There were a number of academics and people from émigré organisations that have since said—and I do not agree with them—that by going and meeting and having contact with these East European leaders, we lengthened their period of rule, that we in fact on the Western side by dealing with these regimes, prolonged their life. That was one of the criticisms that we faced in trying to develop a policy which was more engagement at all levels of society. Barrett From my point of view and I think from the point of view from many of our colleagues, that made the despatch and the licence it gave us all the more wonderful and useful, and more positive. Thorpe Just one comment on that: I understand what you are saying, John, but the reality was that we had no capacity or sufficient influence to absolutely change the course of events in eastern Europe, in the way that events in Moscow were rapidly changing them. Of course, the thing we never knew, although we know it now, is that Gorbachev quite soon told the Eastern European leaders that they were on their own, that he would not intervene militarily to prop them up. That was disastrous for them and really affected the way that they approached the protests and the pressure for change which they faced at home. Birch We had the amazing scene of a Russian leader being cheered in the streets of East European Capital. I remember when Gorbachev went to Sofia, people were cheering him on the street. That was unthinkable that it could have happened to Chernenko or Andropov or Brezhnev. Barrett On the other hand, in June 1989, we had the Tiananmen massacre,55 which made a lot of people think again. Smith Ann Lewis, perhaps we could bring you in at this point to give us a viewpoint of what was happening in London and the reaction to what was going on? Ann Lewis In terms of policy, John’s despatch remained the key document for our policy making in subsequent years. Looking back, all this was going on in all these countries, we were getting constant reports from all these embassies. Everyone was being very activist and trying to do all the things which you have heard about. We were this little unit in London receiving all this stuff, and it was incredibly exciting. Every time you turned round, there seemed to be another revolution somewhere. Clearly Mrs Thatcher’s interest in Eastern Europe was very important. It helped that she was a great heroine in much of Eastern Europe and that did not do any harm. Her visits to Poland and Hungary were seminal events. I recall that she said to Jaruzelski in one speech

55

Between April and June 1989, student-led demonstrations were held in Beijing, China, most notably in Tiananmen Square. On 4 June 1989, following a government crackdown, Chinese troops entered the Square and fired on civilians, resulting in a considerable number of deaths.

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that when they had free elections, ‘We would help you,’ essentially. Then the next phase was very much ‘what are we going to do to help them?’ and that became very complicated. However, it did lead to a period of much more activist diplomacy in London and in all the embassies. So, it was an immensely exciting period to be there. The embassies were having all the fun. We were doing our best to keep all these balls in the air, devise new policies to meet changing situations, keep FCO colleagues informed, arrange all the visits, and all the other things which were going on. Birch I think Mrs Thatcher did in fact enjoy going to Eastern Europe because people cheered her. They clapped and cheered. At the same time back in Britain, they were throwing eggs and tomatoes at her whenever she went on a constituency visit. Lewis She retained a long-term interest for all those subsequent years that she was in power. It was quite like Mrs Thatcher really. Thorpe When she came to Gdansk, we flew up in the RAF VC10 from Warsaw. She went to lay a wreath at the memorial to the first shots, at the Westerplatte, of the Second World War, which was the official part of her Gdansk visit. She was then taken into a Polish destroyer onto Gdansk harbour, and she changed her clothes to put on a vivid green suit, very noticeable. When she arrived in Gdansk harbour, there was a huge crowd, and as Ann and John said, there were people cheering her. Just her personal presence had an enormous impact. It was fantastic, actually. Colvin Curiously enough, the fact that she defeated the miners went down very well in Hungary, which was counter-intuitive but true. Birch I would not want anyone to think though that Mrs Thatcher was making policy towards Eastern Europe, because that did remain very much the preserve of the Foreign Office in those days. Lewis But it did help having her interest. She did give it push here and there, actually. Birch I tried to keep the despatch within the Department and not share it around so that people could start redrafting and the rest of it; and I wanted the Foreign Secretary’s imprint on it. There were two areas in which there was dispute within the Foreign Office. The first thing was that the despatch made it clear that if the Americans for any reason, for domestic reasons, were being more confrontational in their policy towards Eastern Europe, that we should maintain our own line, that we could face disagreements. Defence Department in the Foreign Office were very much against this section in the despatch because they said, ‘Defence and intelligence relations and nuclear relations with the Americans mean that we have to remain in lock step with them’.

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In the end, I think we in the Eastern European Department prevailed, and you will see the section on relations with the Americans says that if the Americans depart from the policy, we should stick to it. The other thing where there was a big dispute was with Malcolm Rifkind,56 who was then the Minister of State in the Foreign Office. He was all for encouraging—I will not say revolution in Eastern Europe, but he felt that events in Hungary in 1956, Prague in 1968 and Poland in 1981 should be encouraged; that the Soviet reaction gave communism a bad name, and created enormous problems for the Russians. As Nigel says, my view was that we had no real power to either instigate or to attempt anything like that. We just had to go with the flow. There is mention in the despatch of the importance of those events, of the revolutions. However, I think we made it very clear that we were not to try and encourage revolution or strikes, and to not attempt anything physical, because it could be played back against us by the Russians. Barrett I think that is absolutely right. The track record of Western responses to events in Eastern Europe is that we did nothing. When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 we did nothing. We had done nothing in 1953 in the earlier East Berlin rising, Hungary in 1956 and so on. If we had been more aggressive, shall we say, in our attitude to dissident movements and more helpful to them that way, more provocative perhaps, I think the Americans would have probably reined us back fairly quickly too. So, I am quite glad that you won that battle. Smith You were operating obviously behind the Iron Curtain. How easy was it to get access to not only state officials but also dissidents and ordinary people? You hinted at surveillance and pressure that was being put on you by the security agencies. What was the operating environment like for embassy staff at the time? Birch It varied enormously depending on which country you were in. I think in the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria it was pretty difficult. Barrett We had a great deal of difficulty during my first time in Prague. We had a visit at the house which John later occupied, which we were in then, from someone in the security service who subsequently became very important in that organisation. The Czechs knew precisely who was coming and for two weeks after that, we had three Tatras trailing me whenever I drove my car. We had the water turned off, the telephone turned off. When I walked to the embassy, which was about a 30 or 40 minute walk, they often would ask me if my car was working properly and if I wanted a ride. We took the boys out to play and for a walk, and we got the track-suited brigade with us the whole time, wearing raincoats and typical secret policeman gear. We took them for a mild walk and over a waterfall. They did not enjoy that at all. We repeated the walk the next day, and by then we had another set of secret police wearing tracksuit and trainers who kept up with us. They were everywhere when they wanted to be seen, and we expected them to be there where we could not see them too, and in the house as well.

56

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Minister of State, FCO, 1983–86.

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Thorpe We in Warsaw assumed that we were always being listened to, and we knew that we were generally followed. I went to Olsztyn in Poland for a meeting with the local Solidarity committee and had dinner with them. We were followed every step of the way. It was funny; I mentioned going to see Wałęsa in October 1985. We tried to arrange this without, we thought, letting the Polish authorities know. We did it very surreptitiously. We drove not in the embassy flag car but I drove, and I took John Morgan and our wives with us. We thought we had been pretty subtle, but when we set off in the evening to go to Father Jankowski’s house to meet Wałęsa, I got lost and I could not find my way. A car drew up beside us and the driver wound down his window and said, ‘Follow me.’ [Laughter] I realised they knew exactly what we were doing! It was very helpful, actually. Barrett We drove Václav Havel home from a party at John’s house on one occasion in our private car. We were followed, and we let him off at a certain corner. He was picked up right away and they knew everything. Birch I think that because we were a NATO57 embassy, and known by the Polish secret services and, of course by the KGB,58 to have this very special relationship with the Americans in intelligence matters, they monitored very closely everything that we were up to. The recruitment of a member of the British embassy would have been an enormous feather in their cap, not only locally but with Moscow as well. There were varied degrees of surveillance: the very hostile type that the military attaches got, and there was the very subtle type in which even members of MI659 would not have been able to detect, the sort where they would put a team of 20 people after someone. So, our policy was not to be secretive about anything, to be open, but to be reasonably discreet in the knowledge that they probably knew everything about us through the local members of the staff, through our domestic servants who were sent always by the office of services to the diplomatic corps, through telephone tapping and through having a group of people that were authorised to mix with the Western embassies and the British embassy. Journalists, officials, an approved circle and a system of reporting that anyone who got an invitation from the British embassy, wherever it was, had to clear with their boss they could accept that invitation. That was in the bad days; I think this was only relaxed in the later days. One anecdote, though I do not want this to be too anecdotal: In 1990, just after the collapse of the communist regime and a new government had been elected, I thought, ‘Well, I will go and see the head of the Hungarian intelligence service’. So I gave him a call and said who I was, and he said, ‘Well, come and see me tomorrow afternoon.’ I went to this very anonymous building, there was no one around although some heads popped out of office

57

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed in 1949, with founder-members consisting of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the USA. During the Cold War years, Turkey, Greece and the Federal Republic of Germany also joined. Following the end of the Cold War, the membership was further expanded, including many Eastern European countries. 58 Between 1954 and 1991, the Soviet Union’s security agency was the Committee for State Security, better known as the KGB. 59 The foreign intelligence service of the United Kingdom is the Secret Intelligence Service, often known as MI6.

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doors and took a look at me. His name was Janos Nagy which is the equivalent of being ‘John Smith’ in Britain. He said to me, ‘It is very good to meet you. I was your opposite number in New York,’ and I thought, ‘What? Here is the head of the Hungarian intelligence service telling me he was my opposite number in New York.’ He had been the Hungarian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, not during my time, but that is how he identified himself. I said that there were certain things we should talk about like terrorism, arms control, and nuclear proliferation. Could I get someone from London to come and talk to him. He said, ‘Yes of course, that would be very nice,’ and I said to him, ‘Did you manage to recruit a member of the British embassy at any time while you have been head of the service?’ He said, ‘No, unfortunately not,’ and I said to him, ‘Well, you would say that, would you not?’ [Laughter] About six months later I met him at one of my Commercial Secretary’s parties, and I said, ‘My goodness, what are you doing here?’ more or less, and he said, ‘Well, I left the intelligence service, and now I am representing Chubb Locks in Hungary.’ [Laughter] Michael Atkinson Could I just say, without being too anecdotal on universal bugging of our apartments and houses, anywhere from China to Bucharest, by the communist authorities: we were aware of it and we spoke discreetly. If we wanted to speak to somebody even more discreetly, we would perhaps go for a walk in the woods far from any possibility of a microphone. However, it did also have its positive angles because in these state-owned properties, if you had a broken fuse or needed a new bathroom plug, you could send a message through the bathroom or lounge wall. Indeed, you could also use the microphones after some confabulation with a close friend or spouse or whoever, and send messages about the policy to the government. So, it could be used in another way. Smith In positive ways, as well. Birch We all had safe speech rooms anyway. Harborne We always knew when the microphones were on in our house, the one that you and I lived in successively, because at that time my two young sons had these radio control cars and we always used to tell them to switch them off because it would run down the battery. They would always forget. The cars would be there on the landing and then they would suddenly start moving; and that was when the microphones were on. Lewis Can I query whether they were always as efficient as we give them credit for? I was in East Germany in the first half of the 1980s, and then when I was in the East European department I went round all the embassies. All the secret service equivalents in each country were asked to report, I think, to Moscow and to their headquarters about what activities I had been up to, being this very dangerous foreigner diplomat and spy. When I got my Stasi file it had lovely reports like, ‘We followed her all the way to X but then we went off shift. So we did not know what she did after that.’ It was usually visiting some clergyman, really. That was the nearest you got to an opposition in East Germany at that time.

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Sarah Lampert I am Sarah Lampert, and I was in Sofia. Maybe at this point, I should mention the anecdote in Richard Thomas’s60 memoir about the advice he was given by Sir Anthony Williams,61 who was visiting after Richard got into trouble with the local authorities. He had gone to visit the Ecoglasnost62 protest in parallel to the CSC Eco-forum in Sofia in September 1989. Richard was hauled in by the head of the Western European department and told off very severely. I am not sure he was literally threatened with expulsion but that was certainly what he felt might well have happened. The advice of Sir Anthony Williams was to have a very stern conversation with London over the telephone, talking through the implications of what would happen if Richard were to be expelled, including issues around Bulgaria’s finances and its debts. I think Richard may be jumping to conclusions. I do not know if anybody knew this was the case, but certainly he was not expelled. In his memoir he speculates that this was maybe because they were listening into the conversation and realised what the consequences would be. Birch I would like to echo some of what Ann Lewis has said about some of the inefficiencies on their side. After 1990, we went into liaison with these intelligence services that had spying on us, so we got a very clear picture of how much attention they paid to us. Moscow was different but in Eastern Europe, it varied a great deal. One of the problems for them, before the days of computers, was that recording a vast amount of conversation was just a mammoth administrative task to try and interpret it; and in many cases it was just beyond them to cope with the tape. Barrett If we could tell one more little story on the same theme. A Western ambassador had a minister visiting him in Prague and while they were talking together, the visitor pointed to the chandelier and expressed some worry that the other side was listening in. A Czechoslovakian official nearby said, ‘Do you think you are being recorded? The visiting minister said, ‘Yes, that is what I am worried about,’ and the Czechoslovak said, ‘Well, you are quite right. It is going on and do you believe it? We are up to 1925.’ [Laughter] Smith Alan Clark? [Who had recently arrived at the event.] Alan Clark May I apologise to everybody for arriving late. For some reason I had in my head that we started at 14:30. I do apologise for that. I was Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Bucharest from August 1986 until November 1989. I missed the revolution by about three weeks. I was asked to go back in January for a couple of weeks while Michael came out for respite. I saw very briefly how Bucharest changed in those few weeks after I left. I just wanted to say two things about surveillance. We were under surveillance the whole while, not just in Bucharest, but also in Romania.

60

Richard Thomas, HM Ambassador to Bulgaria, 1989–94. Sir Anthony Williams (1923–90), Leader, UK Delegation, CSCE inter-sessioning meetings, 1989–90. 62 Ecoglasnost (Independent Society of Ecoglasnost), was established in 1989 and is an independent Bulgarian environmental organisation. 61

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I remember one occasion. If we travelled outside of Bucharest, which we tried to as much as possible, and we were staying overnight, we had to have a reservation made for us so they knew we were coming. Our young son was out for school holidays and we drove up to Transylvania just for a break. We checked into a hotel unannounced. We were normally ushered into a separate dining room, so we were segregated from anybody else. On this occasion, we were not, but we were sitting at a table with the one dish they ever had on the menu, which was ‘schnitzel’. (Although the menu said there were many other dishes, they never had them on the menu.) There was a candle in the middle of our table which kept flickering. Our son, who was 10 years old, said, ‘Why is the candle flickering so much?’ I said, ‘Well, I expect we are bugged’, and he crawled under the table and pulled out the wire leading to the bug. It was total surveillance, which we learned to live with. We had an Embassy doctor from Warsaw who would come about every three or four months, just to check our health. We were under no circumstances, unless it was an emergency, to have any medical treatment in a Romanian hospital. The American Embassy had a senior nurse who would treat us for small ailments. We got to know the doctor who came down from Warsaw very well. He would bring us oranges to help ensure we were getting sufficient vitamin intake, which was all he could do. He noticed that many members of the embassy staff in their houses always dropped their voices and he was quite concerned about the effect this might be having on us, that we would automatically speak in a lowered voice, or would even write notes to each other if we were in a house talking generally. Birch It seems that the interesting question, though, is whether all of this surveillance and the limitation on our contacts meant that we were misrepresenting what was going on in our political reporting. I think—although there were vast areas which, as Nigel described in the early-1970s when we did not really know—we were really quite good at seeing through this camouflaged layer that they wanted to impose upon us, and of finding ways of really discovering what was going on. Thorpe I would like to add to that, if I may. In Poland, I do not believe surveillance inhibited what we did at all. We carried on regardless. I would like to emphasise one thing which I think was incredibly important for achieving what we were able to achieve, which was our languages. The Foreign Office was very good at teaching people languages. When I was Head of Chancery in Warsaw in the late-1980s, we had five good Polish speakers, because so much of what we did was in Polish, not in English. Poles did not speak English as a second language; they spoke German or Russian. So, speaking Polish was very important, particularly if you went out into the countryside and into the small towns. John Malcolm Macgregor Can I just wander in from the second half? John Macgregor, Deputy Head of Mission in Prague. Just on the question of the reaction of the authorities to meetings with dissidents: it was all quite carefully controlled in a funny way. Just before I arrived—Stephen will remember it—Geoffrey Howe came to Prague and [there was] the famous incidents of the carol singing and meeting the dissidents in the interval between the carols. The Czechs were pretty fed up with this, because it certainly had not been cleared with them officially that there would be such a meeting. That is a bit of background from early 1986 when that happened. During the time Stephen and I were mutually in Prague, we had a visit by junior

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

minister Tim Renton,63 and then we had later a visit by David Mellor.64 That was after Stephen had left. The meetings with dissidents were sort of winked at and allowed, not interfered with. However, when it came to just the ambassador meeting with some dissidents, we had different problems. If you recall, Stephen, outside the house of the First Secretary Political, the police intervened to try and stop them from getting in. Unfortunately, one or two of the dissidents were a bit quicker on their feet than the police. Two of them did get in, but that was obviously considered fair play to intervene then. This was well before the ice was beginning to break. So, in other words, there was a sort of policy and it certainly changed as far as ministerial contact with dissidents [were concerned], which I think they saw as a sort of amiable business which did not threaten them very much. I do not think they would have taken it enormously seriously. Frankly, the events themselves were anything but serious. The fact that they took place was very important, I think, for those dissident individuals, particularly in a place like Czechoslovakia where they were put in prison on a regular basis. Birch They were usually rounded up before a big visit and put on a train to some distant part of Czechoslovakia, were they not? I seem to remember that. Macgregor Not in the David Mellor case. We had a group of about 20 of them, so it may have been a little inefficient with train arrangements. Birch In the early 1980s, they did that. Macgregor That was before I arrived. Barrett On the visit of the anniversary of Saints Cyril and Methodius65 which took place in the Czechoslovak Vyšehrad,66 the response of the authorities to the visit of the papal emissary was to organise a kind of peace congress as a deterrent. It did not work at all. We went out there and huge buses brought in Slovak peasants in their peasant costumes singing Slovak songs. They had to make use of the latrine pits dug by the Czechoslovak authorities. Smith John, you mentioned earlier about commercial contacts. Was there much business being done in Poland and Hungary during these years?

63

Tim Renton (Lord Renton of Mount Harry), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, FCO, 1984–5; Minister of State, FCO, 1985–7. 64 David Mellor, Minister of State, FCO, 1987–8. 65 Saints Cyril and Methodius, nineth century brothers and Byzantine theologians, known as ‘Apostles to all Slavs’. 66 A fort located in Prague.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Birch The figures were not very great and we were constantly advised by Whitehall and by the Foreign Office that commercial work was most important and that we needed to drive up the figures of British exports. We were always behind the Germans, the Italians and the Austrians, and later, the Japanese. I found that compared to the excitement of political work, commercial work was really rather dull. You have got round this table a group of people who mostly did political work rather than commercial work. However, we kept grinding away at it, and the trouble was that most of the countries were very heavily in debt, and you had to provide some sort of financing for any exports. I actually served in Romania in the 1960s, and there, we wanted to sell the Romanians aeroplanes and car plants and goodness knows what. They were the flavour, then, because of their independent forging policy, but we had to provide enormous loans for them as well. Barrett The problem I faced was that it was hard to engage British business at a high enough level about prospects in Eastern Europe, and this was a constant battle. The British presence in trade fairs was not as high as it should have been. It was a business decision obviously to put our priorities elsewhere, so I did. Colvin The Germans had developed something called ‘the extended workbench principle’, whereby parts of their industrial process were farmed out to Hungary, and there were factories making bits of something or another. They were well ahead of the game than anybody else. Indeed, if we think in terms of 2018, they are extremely ahead of the game. Just on time deliveries and so forth, which are the latest standard of modus operandi. Thorpe John’s absolutely right about debt. Poland was so deeply in debt in the late 1980s that the economy had no capacity really to import from the West in any significant quantity. There was a big contrast with my first years in Poland in the early 1970s, when we had so many British businessmen coming, but occasionally I would have to put one up in my house because they could not get a hotel room. They were selling everything, cranes and so forth all the time. However, in the late 1980s, I do not remember that at all, it was a very different situation. Smith People looking ahead to the post-communist era? Thorpe Well, after the end of communism, of course, business boomed and those of us who were there in the 1990s were assisting with British investor companies, buying plants and factories, as well as exporters. It was a fantastic time. Barrett I think one ought to recognise the role played by the Polish diaspora who flooded into Poland in the banking, juridical administration and areas like that. This was very helpful when the situation had changed. This gets us on to how to fund business, which is another matter.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Birch It was interesting because after the collapse of these regimes in 1989/90, the diaspora did provide an enormous lot of people who came back. I think they all found that it was a very mixed experience for them. Often in Hungary, the Hungarians would say, ‘You are coming back and telling us we have to change our accounting systems, we have to do things all differently. While you were sitting in London and in California, we were working our backsides off under this dreadful regime, so do not come in and tell us how we ought to do things all differently, because we like the way that we were doing things in the past.’ It was a very mixed experience in my view. At one time, we thought we must round up every Hungarian who left in 1956 and was doing a commercial job and encourage him to go back to Hungary to teach Mrs Thatcher’s capitalism, and it did not really work. Smith How much interaction was there with other Western embassies? Did you meet regularly about campaigns of strategies and things like that? Birch We did indeed. The European Union met every two weeks in Budapest, and I think elsewhere heads of mission and NATO ambassadors met which brought in, of course, the Americans and the Canadians. They were very useful events; all the meetings took place in safe speech rooms. We did coordinate policy. Commercially, we were very often rivals, but politically I would say that we were all pulling on the same rope. It was the combined activity. I should not venture off into Brexit, but one of the really important things about political cooperation in embassies and also in Brussels was that the British view tended to prevail. In our policies and attitudes towards the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, particularly with smaller embassies, we saw examples of our own views later being reflected through foreign ministries and becoming part of Scandinavian policy or Belgian policy. That sadly is going to be lost to us, our influence within the councils of Europe when we leave. Barrett Some of those embassies did not know where they were. The British had to tell them what was going on and this was reflected in Brussels and in New York. Thorpe I would say we had a cutting edge generally in Warsaw and we were the people that others mostly wanted to cooperate with, partly because we had the best language skills and we had very good people. The Foreign Office did put very good people into central Europe at that time; it was fantastically well-staffed. We worked with those we thought were good. The Americans were usually good. We had a wonderful Australian Embassy, bizarrely, in the late-1980s in Warsaw, fantastic. The Third Secretary spoke fluent Polish and she was as well connected as anybody, so she was a good colleague. Atkinson The situation as described by John Birch was in the same in Bucharest, namely monthly meetings of NATO embassies and perhaps more often when things warmed up a bit, and more frequent EU meetings which were very useful because some of the EU member states had very weak embassies. I think that through those meetings we were able, it has been suggested, to exert quite an influence in steering conclusions and policy. When I arrived in late-1989, we were still trying to flog aeroplanes to Romanians, probably the same ones that

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

you tried to sell, the BAC 1-11,67 which was already obsolescent, noisy and fuel consuming. Perhaps it was one of the wiser things subsequent regimes did that they did not buy it. Clark There were a handful of British civilians who were working on the BAC 1-11 contract early in my time in Bucharest. They were almost honorary members of the Embassy. I was there for three and a half years and was asked constantly, ‘Could we please visit the BAC plant?’ We never got there. They would not allow us to go. We had British workers there. Atkinson I was not aware of that and I was never invited to go, but I did raise the BAC 1-11 with Ceaușescu himself. Smith Just in terms of contact: you were obviously sending telegrams to London, and those telegrams were copied to Eastern European embassies. Did you write to each other individually, as Head of Chancery to Head of Chancery, etc.? Was all your communication with each other through London? Barrett Very rarely. Sometimes, we had two or three ambassadors come together from Eastern Europe. I went to Bucharest once, and there was to have been another meeting in Prague. I do not know if they ever took place. Birch We had regular meetings between Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. It tended to be a rather social weekend, I have to say, with wives along. It would not be approved of these days, but then it was possible and they were very good opportunities for comparing experience. However, mostly, reporting telegrams were copied elsewhere. I did feel that one of the dangers and one of the problems of being so absorbed in what was going on in your own country (the Poles regard Warsaw as the centre of the universe, the Hungarians regard Budapest as the centre of the universe), that it made it quite difficult, as I think some of your briefing papers have indicated, to understand and to have enough time to read about what was going on elsewhere in Eastern Europe, particularly in Moscow. Smith How well informed were you of what was going on in Moscow? Birch Well, I think we were, because we read most of the Embassy and FCO telegrams. The one thing we were not aware of was the reporting of Gordievsky. He was at a higher level, but I think we were probably on the same hymn sheet with him and that pretty much we understood what was going on in the Soviet Union. Although it was right on the border, I was so concentrated on Hungary and relations with London, Moscow and Washington, that I did not really see what was happening in Yugoslavia. In fact, the biggest violent crisis that

67

The British Aircraft Corporation One-Eleven (BAC 1-11) was a short-haul commercial jet airliner, popular in the 1960s and 1970s and, in its time, it was one of the most successful British aircraft. It was later produced in Romania (between 1982 and 1989) as the Rombac One-Eleven.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

was to erupt with the collapse of communism was actually going to be the civil war of Yugoslavia, which took up so much of our attention. I think one of the great achievements of 1989, 1990, 1991, was that we managed on the Western side to cope with the collapse of the Soviet Union almost entirely peacefully. Apart from Romania, it was as though these regimes—without us being too triumphant about it—negotiated their own funeral arrangements with the communist party. That was an enormous achievement. However, Yugoslavia… I did not really have my eye on the ball on Albania either. Thorpe Can I just follow up on John’s point? Yugoslavia is very important for what happened in the post-communist period, and it is worth noting that it consumed a tremendous amount of energy both from ministers and officials in the Foreign Office. There was a daily meeting in London in the Foreign Office on Yugoslavia chaired by an Under Secretary and attended by a minister of state, almost without precedent in my experience. I used to go along to that for four years. I am pretty sure, although I do not know if the papers would bear this out, but it distracted attention from the very important task of following up on what we had gained in Central Europe. We talked about building liberal free market democracies and we had the Know How Fund and some other programmes to do this, but ministers did not really have their eye quite on the ball as much as they should have done, I think. Lewis Yugoslavia was transferred to a newly-created department68 at the height of the crisis. I think there was a problem of overload because each post was sending a voluminous amount of reporting back to London. Almost all of it was copied round the other embassies, but the flood of information you must have been getting about other posts, how did anyone have time to read it? So, that may have been part of the problem, and obviously your immediate focus was on what was in front of you. Birch On top of that, we had enormous curiosity by ministers in London. The heads of the armed forces who all wanted to come and drive the enemy kit, to fire their tanks, to ride in MiGs.69 It was just a bombardment of ministerial and other visits, and so I think we were all for a while turned into American Express offices, organising visits which tied us to our capitals and took up an enormous amount of time. Colvin I tried to stimulate rather frivolously correspondence on shooting which was a big thing in Hungary. All the bosses did it, which produced a scathing – Macgregor By Stephen himself. Barrett Basically, it was written by my wife.

68

Cultural Relations Department, founded in 1992, with Ann Lewis as Director. Founded in 1939, the Russian Aircraft Corporation, commonly known as ‘MiG’, was a Soviet, and now Russian aerospace development company. 69

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Lewis There was one occasion when we were invited to step back and look at a broader view. I remember that Mr Waldegrave70 was a tremendous intellectual and was very interested in what John calls ‘Margaret Thatcher’s capitalism’, and how far those principles and the philosophy behind them were understood in all the capitals. I am afraid I wrote to everybody and said, ‘Please could you investigate what your local intellectuals think about this subject?’ We got some very erudite and some slightly irritated answers back from people who thought this was a rather esoteric question. Smith We are going to take a break now, because tea has just arrived. Then we will come back and talk about Czechoslovakia and Romania. Thank you all very much.

70

William Waldegrave (Lord Waldegrave of North Hill), Minister of State, FCO, 1988–90.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Witness Seminar: Session Two Dr Richard Smith We are now going to look slightly more closely at Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. If the revolutions in Poland and Hungary were ‘slow burn’, fizzing their way through the 1980s, the pace of change in other countries was more dramatic, none more so than Romania, which actually broke out into violence. I should just say before we start that there will be an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions a little later on, or to put on record comments that they may have. First, we are going to hear from a couple of the people that we did not hear from in the first session, so we welcome back Sir Stephen Barrett, who was Ambassador in Czechoslovakia from 1985 to 1988. We also welcome John Macgregor, who was Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Czechoslovakia from 1986 to 1990; Michael Atkinson, who was Ambassador in Romania from 1989 to 1992; Alan Clark, Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Romania, 1986 to 1990; and Sarah Lampert, who was Third Secretary, and then later Second Secretary, in Bulgaria, from 1991 to 1995. We also have all the other participants still around the table. We heard earlier about the general British policy towards Eastern Europe, as outlined in that 1985 document. The three countries we are looking at now were probably considered more stony ground for engagement perhaps than Poland and Hungary. John, do you want to kick off? John Malcolm Macgregor When I was appointed to Prague as deputy head of mission—Head of Chancery, as we called it at that stage—with all respect to Stephen, I had the gravest doubts about taking up the post at all, because it had the reputation of being reinforced concrete and the dullest place there was to be. East Germany was pretty dull too, but it was quite excitingly dull. Czechoslovakia was dully-dull. Husák had been both President and General Secretary of the Party since just after the Soviet invasion [in 1968], which was really quite a time. The thing had settled down into a grumpy acceptance of things, apparently. Flash through to 1989, against this background. Although you can trace the small things that happened—student demonstrations on environmental issues and this sort of thing—it did not really disturb the surface of the state. The police and secret services could control things. They used micro-control a lot. We knew well a family who insisted, against the line of the party at the time, that they attended church every Sunday. Their children, who were very talented musicians, never got into the Conservatory; they never met the requirements of the examiners. That sort of thing was used widely as a way of keeping the dangerous middle class from getting ideas above their station. The moment that was really interesting about Czechoslovakia was when we came back from our summer holiday at the end of September 1989. We wondered why on earth a very large number of Trabants were parked along the main roads, because normally no one was parked there at all, and of course it was the exodus of East Germans from Hungary, who had simply decided to go to Czechoslovakia rather than return to the GDR.71 That was a very dramatic moment. There were 15,000 people in the Palais Lobkowicz, the West German Embassy. It was a wonderful instance of how well the Germans can organise things. They managed to get in Red Cross tents from Germany and the Czechs allowed them to come in,

71

The German Democratic Republic or East Germany.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

so they were all over the garden; and on every stair in this dramatic run-up into the offices of the Embassy, two people were allowed to lie, but with a space in the middle so that you could walk up and down the stairs. It was something that you will never see again: 15,000 people in a not very large space. Eventually, of course, Foreign Minister Bohuslav Chňoupek72 and Hans-Dietrich Genscher73 did the deal whereby they could leave. There were two things about the deal. First of all, lots of buses had to come along and take them to the station, and so immediately you thought about those people on trains at the end of the Second World War, endlessly moving around on trains. They were put on a train, but the essence of the deal for the East Germans was that that train must go through the GDR. That was not easy, because that is not where the natural flow of the lines goes. The reaction in the street to this was zero. There were not people cheering or waving flags out of the window—nothing. There were just lots of buses taking people goodness knows where. In other words, in no way did this trigger anything in particular among the Czechs, who greatly disliked the East Germans. They called them ‘the Germans with no money’. Of course, West Germans were very welcome in Prague at the time. Sir John Birch The Hungarians used to say, ‘Those bloody East Germans. They almost made communism work.’ [Laughter] Macgregor So at the end of September, there was this non-reaction. And then there was a second lot— almost as many as the first—and by that time the trains did not go to the GDR. People fled in their thousands. It was very dramatic for the East Germans, because it took you about 10 years to get a Trabant, and you left it on the street never to see it again. There were children’s teddies sitting there. They were allowed one suitcase; all the rest had to be left behind. It was a real personal and political drama, but the Czechs, in their political style, were unmoved. You then get to the real event, which was 17 November. I think perhaps because of the extraordinary stasis and lack of real politic impetus—although of course there were important things like Charter 77 and so on that nevertheless did not shake the state—in that weekend the state was completely shaken. It just took four days, really. The Czechs were so slow to move, and suddenly they did. 17 November started with a permitted student gathering in a very obscure corner of the university, where they were marking the anniversary of the sacrifice of students when the Germans came into the whole of the Czech side, not just Sudetenland. They were allowed to have the demonstration, and then suddenly, for no obvious reason—and I do not think there was even a great planning about it—they marched off. I went to the event, which was the usual sort of thing: people making noble speeches about the sacrifice of these students. They then went off to the old castle, which happened to be around by our house, so I joined them for this. They then said, ‘We will go to Wenceslas Square’, because that is where significant things happen in Prague. The numbers were, if anything, increasing here. People were not going off home. They walked down along the river, and as we went along, trams stopped and the drivers opened the doors and people in the tram got out and joined the marching. In other words, this was something absolutely without precedent, in terms of the sudden degree of public engagement. 72 73

Bohuslav Chňoupek (1925–2004), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia, 1971–88. Hans Dietrich Genscher (1927–2016), Federal German Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1974–82; 1982–92.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

We went around to Národní,74 which was where the police had blocked the thing off so that it would not get to Wenceslas Square, and it was actually fairly peaceful at the beginning. There were enormous numbers of people by this time, and perhaps the greatest sign of a change in the air was that those absolutely stony-faced ladies who looked after the cloaks in the Národní theatre, as you came around the corner, were suddenly out on the balcony shouting slogans, which was the first time they had uttered a political opinion in their lives, I should think. The slogan was ‘Jakeš balí kufry,’ which meant Miloš Jakeš,75 the Secretary of the Communist Party, ‘is packing his bags’. It then rather deteriorated, and the police got fairly rough with the people up in the front row. I just showed my diplomatic card and went out through the police line, saying that I was sorry but I had an engagement. The engagement was that that night, because we were about to leave Czechoslovakia, we were having a whole lot of dissidents around to supper, to say goodbye to them. In the discussion at the table later that evening, the dissidents said, ‘It will be impossible for Jakeš to go on being General Secretary of the Communist Party.’ In other words, he was yesterday’s language. ‘There will have to be some change in the Communist Party. There will have to be a liberal, Gorbachevian Communist Party.’ Edward Lucas,76 who now writes for The Economist and in The Times, came in, looking rather bloody, because he had been hit in the head by one of the zomos, as they were called. We got into a slightly different gear, and the waiters started talking to us about political issues. No one had ever talked to them about political issues. There are two things about that. First of all, all those dissidents were in fact talking about earlier agendas, really, not what the students were doing out in the street. Havel, who had been invited, decided to have a weekend off in the countryside, so he was expecting nothing either, but by the time you got into Saturday, he had quickly come back because he realised the set-up that Charter 77 had was actually for this very occasion. They were a committee who were used to taking decisions. Of course, they took them completely in a vacuum before, but now suddenly there was something to do. This was then animated by what turned out to be the false news that a student had been killed by the zomos in Národní. Still, at the time the news was the old kind of news, and so there were various interviews with somebody called Mikhail Šmíd saying, ‘No, certainly I have not been killed and I am standing here, and I am a student of mathematics’. There was that sort of old-style communist thing. Come Sunday night, it turned out, as we learnt subsequently, the newsreaders had said, ‘We will not read a word more of this news. We are going to tell you what is actually happening.’ From the Monday—and the notes make this patently clear—they were suddenly going to tell the real story, and they were interviewing people out in Wenceslas Square, which had become a mass of people demonstrating on any number of issues that you can imagine. It was at that point that it was announced that there would be a strike on the following Monday. So ten days away from this original Friday there was going to be a general strike. The old greybeards said, ‘Ah, yes, this is where it will all break down, because this is just a whole lot of intellectuals with something’s gone to their heads, but the real workers are not going to follow them down this path.’ A lot of things happened. Cardinal Tomášek,77 the cardinal of the Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia, suddenly sent around a letter to all parishioners. He just got off his careful

74

Národní is one of the principal avenues in Prague. Miloš Jakeš, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 1987–9. 76 Edward Lucas, foreign correspondent, principally for The Economist, 1988–2002. 77 Cardinal František Tomášek (1889–1992), Archbishop of Prague, 1977–91. 75

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neutral stand. We then waited, as it were, for the following Monday and the strike, which was only going to be two hours long, so it did not disrupt the economy. The first thing that happened on the Monday was that the trams had a little scruffy bit of communist paper on, and it said, ‘The union of tram drivers met this morning at 3.30, and they passed the following resolution’: first of all, that they would support the general strike, but that it was important for people to be able to get along, and therefore they would only strike for two minutes, and the rest of the time they would spend getting people to Wenceslas Square so they could join in. That was the first indication that workers were going to support [the demonstrations]. Then, when we were in Wenceslas Square at midday on that Monday, just toward the end, after it had been going on for a bit, there was an extraordinary sight of workers from ČKD (Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk), which is the biggest of all the industries around Prague, arrived pulling a lorry with ropes, and there, sitting on top of the cab, was a sort of Guy Fawkes, as it were, which was Jakeš. And then you suddenly realised that it was over: that the workers had joined the revolution. It was a great time to be there. I am sorry; it was a long story, but it is such an emotional story you can hardly believe it, even now. Smith Thank you, John. Four days for the regime to change—almost as swift as Romania, perhaps. Alan and Michael, do you want to say a bit more about that? Michael Atkinson It was very similar but even swifter and just as dramatic. The Romanians were suffering a great deal with austerity, and had almost paid off their foreign debts, which made them less attractive to foreign bankers after the revolution. Anyway, the oppression and the austerity were very great indeed, so there was a great deal of pressure in the volcano, but we could not see it. Ceaușescu had had a meeting—one of the annual conferences or triannual conferences of the Communist Party of Romania—in November. As I reported, nobody who went to it— the Embassy was forbidden to go—could find any sign of a dissident, not even in the cloakrooms of the premises where the congress was being held. The situation bilaterally was worse than in other countries because there were no high-level visits. It is true that Ceaușescu had been on a state visit to London, but that went badly and he was very much disliked there, and subsequently became even more disliked by introducing certain new policies like systemisation, meaning the urbanisation and razing of many villages, destroying the very important rural way of life in much of Romania. That indeed incurred the wrath of the Prince of Wales, who wrote an article in The Times, I think in April 1989, condemning the policy. In spite of what was happening in the other countries around, there was no sign that Ceaușescu was going to be overthrown. Indeed, most of the workers who went to a demonstration, which he had summoned in the centre of Bucharest to express support for him, had no idea either that they were going to take part in a demonstration which would in fact seal his overthrow when spontaneous whistling and jeering broke out in one part of the crowd of workers when he was on the balcony. He was not a good orator. He was hesitant. As a person he was colourless, and whenever he gave a speech it took him a little while to get underway and start spouting the wooden phrases in which he and other communist leaders specialised. In this case, he did not have a chance to get going because of the interruption from the crowd. As you all will have seen on television, he just turned tail and fled, and subsequently was arrested.

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It was a very bleak situation into which I went in September 1989, and I hardly had time to get used to it when everything changed. As an Embassy, our contacts with Romanians were severely limited before the revolution. As in other communist capitals, there was a licensed core of ‘trusties’ who were allowed by the regime to go to Embassy parties, and they turned up everywhere, in every national day; it was the same people. It was possible to have a few meaningful talks with a minority of them, such as, for example, some of the journalists who headed the television station, but nothing very much. The overwhelming feeling was that we were cut off and isolated. People wanting to come to our house had to get permission and were stopped by the policemen outside to show the invitation and to verify their identity. If they were not on the list, they were not allowed in. However, the American Ambassador78 and I were in the British Embassy church in Bucharest, preparing for the Christmas carol service, on the morning of this demonstration in the nearby square. We both heard the shouting of the workers as they went past the church with very untypical behaviour. So we both hurried back to our Embassies, and indeed to the square, to find out what was going on. I think it would be a good idea, if you agree, if I ask Alan to say a few words about the situation in Romania, particularly then and before, because you were there for nearly three years; I had only been there three months when the revolution broke out. Clark I had exquisite timing, I think. I arrived in Romania in August 1986. I was there for getting on for three and a half years. I was due to be posted to Canada before Christmas of 1989. I was held over for a while because you were coming, Michael, and my wife and I eventually drove out of Romania on 29 November 1989. It had started snowing. This is just a story of what life was like. It is typical of Romania. We aimed to get to Budapest on our first day, but the roads were so bad with snow that we had to stop unscheduled at a town called Arad on the Hungarian/Romanian border. We had stayed at the hotel before but this time they did not know that we were coming as diplomats. We turned up, it was dark, there was no food, there was no heating and there was no lighting. We were shown by the receptionist, if that was her name, to a room on the second floor by feeling our way up there. We slept in our coats overnight and the following morning we thought that we had better have some breakfast as we had had no dinner, and they had no food at all in the hotel, and we walked around the corner to a truckers’ café. There was only black coffee. We then crossed into Hungary, drove right across and got to Vienna after dark, we saw the sign ‘Hilton Hotel’, and we navigated the one-way streets of Vienna and we arrived and said, ‘Are we too late for a meal?’ and they said, ‘You are just about in time’, provided I put on a tie to go into the restaurant. They gave us a menu. We just could not believe what was on that menu. To cut a long story short: we said we had come from Romania and we had wine on the house. I said earlier that if we travelled outside of Bucharest, we always had to get permission on overnight accommodation, and we did try to travel as much as we possibly could. We knew that we were under constant surveillance the whole while. During the next three and a half years before the revolution, I think matters went from bad to worse, if that is possible. On the political scene, Ceaușescu seemed to be firmly in control of the country. Elena Ceaușescu79 was the power behind the throne. You have mentioned, Michael, Nicolae; he had a slight speaking impediment but nevertheless he was 78 79

Alan Green Jr (1925–2001), American Ambassador to Romania, 1989–92. Elena Ceaușescu (1916–89), Deputy Prime Minister of Romania, 1980–9.

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able to give three-hour speeches which we as diplomats were ‘invited’ to. There would be very regular spontaneous applauses from everybody there, who stood up, and we, as western diplomats, refused to stand up, though we were urged by protocol officials that we must stand up. It must have been in the summer of 1988, I think, that we went to one of these and most of us said, ‘We are not going to be told we have to stand,’ and we tried to leave. The doors were locked, so we opened a fire exit and left. Some of the other diplomats were not quite as quick as us, and they were shut in. We saw there would be no openings to have a dialogue of any sort with the Ceaușescu regime. As things progressed, we and the other EU and NATO Embassies had regular meetings at head-of-mission level and at counsellor level, and we, the Dutch, the Swedes, the Finns and some others were getting more and more antagonistic towards the Ceaușescu regime. There was no hope of a reasonable dialogue at all, and I think we began to look at ways of needling them, almost, because I think we felt, ‘If they will not talk to us, we will do some needling’. In August 1989, the Romanian national day fell in August and we were invited to the annual reception, and we were supposed to line up in alphabetical order to shake hands with Ceaușescu and Elena Ceaușescu and to give them our congratulations on the national day. The United States Ambassador and myself were, in alphabetical order, almost at the end of the list. When it was my turn to go up with my wife, we shook hands but the diplomats before us had said nice words about Ceaușescu, I think. I said, in Romanian, ‘The people of the United Kingdom send their best wishes to the people of Romania’. Nicolae Ceaușescu did not realise what I said. I was pierced with daggerish eyes by Elena Ceaușescu, who had fully understood. The next morning, when I got in my Land Rover at home to drive to the Embassy, and the rear window of my Land Rover and the two side rear windows had been, with great precision, carved out and removed. I think that must have come from them. It was their way of showing that they knew what I had said. It was a minor niggle, but I thought, ‘We are getting somewhere’. In late-November, Michael, you and Veronica gave a farewell reception at the residence to Ann and me. As you say, it was the usual accepted Romanians who were on the list of people to see us along with the diplomatic corps, and there were police cars at either of the road where the Residence was, stopping others from attending. I think we were congratulated by our fellow Embassy colleagues on what a good job we had done that they should put the police out at either end. The Romanian people themselves were bored with the Ceaușescus, I think, at all levels. The few Romanians who we met individually—there was no dissident movement we could contact, as other Embassies in the other Eastern European countries had, but there were some very brave individuals who would talk to us and come to our house—said, ‘We do not care if we are being bugged. We just do not care anymore.’ Michael, in your admirable piece, you spoke about meeting Doina Cornea,80 who was a very well-known dissident. At the regular meetings we had with the friendly Embassies, the American Embassy somehow had got a message from Doina Cornea, who lived in ClujNapoca, which was about 150 miles from Bucharest, that said, ‘I will be in a certain place at a certain time, and willing to meet anybody from the Western embassies’. It so happened that my wife and I and our son were going that way. We went up and we met her as planned. We could see the Securitate watching us. I said, ‘Are you sure you want to speak?’ She said, 80

Doina Cornea (1929–2018), Romanian human rights activist and dissident, and French language academic at Babeș-Bolyai University.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

‘Yes. Let us go and have a coffee somewhere’. We went to have a coffee with Securitate sitting at the next table. She said at the end, ‘Would you like to come back to my house in Cluj?’ We went back to her house, which was quite bizarre. As we walked in, her husband went out the back door. He would have nothing to do with this. We walked through into the sitting room having passed a bed on which her aged mother was laying. I think she was about to die. Doina Cornea spoke to us quite freely. She said, ‘This place is going up. I do not care anymore. If you would like to meet me before you return to Bucharest tomorrow morning in the park, I will give you some documents’. We met and she gave me the documents and I sent them back to London. I had forgotten about this. My wife reminded me of that. I cannot remember for the life of me what they said, but she was a very brave lady. It so happened that I was then posted to Canada. Early in 1990 she was invited to address the United Nations, such was her repute in the West. She came via Montreal, where there was a large Romanian expatriate community. I met her there and she remembered me, and that Hugh Arbuthnott,81 who was then Ambassador, tried to call on her subsequently but was stopped from going to see her. She said, ‘It really was nice to know that the West cared about us.’ When I went back to Romania to relieve you, Michael, immediately after the revolution—in the first two weeks of January 1990—quite a few people knew I was back and they said the same thing: ‘Mr Clark, we are glad to see you back. We were told that if ever we saw you again, our families will be in danger.’ This was the regime in which the people lived. The wide perception was, among the Romanians, that one in four Romanian people were either working for Securitate or having to report to Securitate. They knew that they were bugged when they were speaking to us, but, by gum, they were brave. At a lower level of society, we witnessed the razing of villages around Bucharest, which was the destruction of the villages. People that lived in villages had small plots of land; they had more to eat than the people in the big cities. There was widespread hunger in Romania. This had been the bread basket of Europe before the Second World War. We would drive out of Bucharest, and where there had once been villages, they had been demolished just like that. We would then drive into the nearest town, with ghastly high-rise apartment blocks. You would look up and there would be a pig on the second-floor balcony of a block of flats. The people who had farmed the land had brought a pig to live on the balcony of a flat. What was the relationship like with our locally engaged staff? They did the clerical jobs, the driver jobs, nothing to do with any confidentiality at all. We often asked ourselves which of our locally engaged members of staff would be full members of the Securitate, rather than just having to report on what they knew of Embassy work. We thought we might know who they were. Going back to relieve you, Michael, at the Embassy in the first week of January 1990, people who I thought would be Securitate were still working for us, and I think were not Securitate; others who I thought were working and doing a good job as best they can, without being in any way compromised, had disappeared. Coming back to hunger, our locally engaged staff were heavy smokers. I said to one of them once, ‘Why do you smoke so much? You know it is not good for your health.’ He said, ‘We smoke to keep hunger at bay’. These were educated people on, by Romanian standards, a good wage, but they were hungry. Atkinson Could I just add, as an example of Embassy activity in pre-revolutionary times, that there were reports even in the Romanian media of the trial of some Baptists who were accused of 81

Hugh Arbuthnott, HM Ambassador to Romania, 1986–9.

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having built a church illegally? On several occasions, a member of my staff, Susan Laffey, went to the trial and attended as a way of trying to show support for those people who were being persecuted by the regime. Addendum: Michael Atkinson: I should also like to make two other points. About the first, I feel strongly. It is that, as is shown in the entries by myself and Alan Clark, the view of the transformation of life in Romania at the Revolution (whatever it was!) was much stronger and more optimistic than that of observers in London or Budapest. In London observers were influenced, I imagine, by negative reporting in the British press, the right-wing ideology of the Thatcher government, the jaundiced views of rich Romanian exiles in London—some of whom had close contact with Conservative politicians, and perhaps (I do not know) by intelligence reports I did not see. These right-wing ideologues wanted the very large Securitate to disappear overnight, and for nationalised Romanian industries to be privatised in short order. Both of these would have created more domestic problems than they solved, including a sharp rise in unemployment. I also do not know to what extent knowledge of the endemic corruption in Romania contributed to the country’s negative image and corruption has of course been much more difficult to get rid of than was communism. Sir John Birch I served in Romania from 1965 to 1968. I think the question for us in London, when I was head of the Eastern European Department, was: why bother with this terrible, terrible country? The reason was that in 1965, when Ceaușescu took over from Gheorghiu-Dej,82 it seemed that he was going to be someone new. He resurrected people who had been imprisoned by Gheorghiu-Dej; they were released and the names were known. It seemed that Ceausescu was someone who was ready to depart from following the Soviet line. Warsaw Pact83 troops were not allowed to pass through Romania on their way to Bulgaria. He did not take part in the repression of the Prague uprising in 1968, and he wanted to do business. This comes back to the point you were making earlier. He was desperate to do business with Western countries—aircraft, car plants, chemical works, gas refineries, and oil refineries. He seemed to us—because he was creating trouble within the Warsaw Pact, within COMECON84 and was welcoming people like the Shah of Iran85 and was expanding everywhere—as a really attractive bet right through until he, in fact, I think, became a megalomaniac in his later days. He had so many visitors piling in, including President Nixon—I think he was then Vice-President—and senior people from the whole of the Western world. In fact, on one occasion—this is another anecdote—Ceaușescu was to welcome the Shah of Iran, and they coached him to say in English, as he greeted the Shah on the steps of the aircraft, ‘Welcome’, and then his next words were to say to the Shah when he got into the car, ‘And how are you?’ and Ceaușescu got it wrong, and said, ‘And who are you?’ It was just a story that went around.

82

Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1901–65), Romanian leader, 1947–65. In 1955 the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, generally known as the Warsaw Pact, was signed by the Soviet Union and the seven Eastern European bloc satellite states. It was dissolved in 1991. 84 The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or COMECON, was operational between 1949 and 1991. It was led by the Soviet Union and member countries included the Eastern European Soviet satellite states, plus a other communist states. 85 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–80), Shah of Iran, 1941–79. 83

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In the 1980s, we faced a dilemma in London. Were we to continue to have a large Embassy there, a distinguished Ambassador, some high-level visits or should we isolate Romania to show our disapproval of Ceausescu? Geoffrey Howe went there as Foreign Secretary in 1985, and Ceaușescu has been on a state visit to London, which the Queen had not appreciated at all. What were we to do about this regime? The awfulness of became known through your reporting and what you have just described as the conditions, but we just stuck with it, because while there was death there was hope, and Ceaușescu might not be there forever. Atkinson I think it became more and more clear that his real heroes were the leaders of the North Korean Communist Party, and that is where he really got his inspiration. Clark You spoke just now about high-level visits. There were no ministerial visits, quite rightly, until he fell. William Waldegrave, Minister of State, was the first Western Minister to visit. He was there for two days, and he was tremendous; he really was. There were still shrines in the streets of Bucharest where people had died; he visited and paid tribute to them. He visited your burnt-out Residence, I remember. I was living in the InterContinental hotel then, and what struck me in the few hours I was in my room, switching on the radio, which before was not worth listening to any more than television was - just junk. They had the latest pop music from the UK playing. The cinemas were open. That city and that country had changed in two weeks, I submit. Atkinson There was a fundamental change to an extent that was difficult to put over to people outside Romania, but the fear had gone. Commerce was reviving. The peasants were coming into town, with the boots of their old Renaults full of produce to sell, which they had not been allowed to do before. There was a free atmosphere and some distinguished non-communist people in the government. Birch Nevertheless, there was a group of people who were members of the party, of the Securitate, who benefitted from the system, who lived in gated houses, had private shops and lived, from a certain point of view, extremely well. They had access to party hospitals, they could travel abroad for medical treatment and some of their big stars, like Ilie Năstase,86 the tennis player, were provided with flats in Bucharest and were able to go backwards and forwards freely. So there were a lot of people who were within the tent who had lived pretty well under Ceaușescu. Atkinson Of course, but it is also impossible to change a country completely after 30 years or 40 years of a particular kind of government, and it takes time to turn the oil tanker around. Clark If I may, the people in Romania I think were very religious—Romanian Orthodox Church. Often when we were visiting a town or a village, we would go into the Romanian Orthodox 86

Ilie Năstase was a world number one tennis player during the 1970s.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

Church, and always, always there were women at prayer there, candles lit. That said, I got to know reasonably well Bishop Niffou who was appointed to be the face of the Romanian Orthodox Church with the Western embassies. This was at the time when that huge palace was being built by the Ceaușescus in central Bucharest. Churches were being demolished, houses were being knocked down, and, among many other people, Prince Charles was taking great interest in this. Bishop Niffou took me round and tried to explain that churches were not being demolished; they were being moved elsewhere. When we left, that palace had never been occupied; it was not completed. I think it was the second biggest building on the planet, apart from the Pentagon in Washington. Smith Sorry to stop you mid-flow, but I would like to bring in Sarah on Bulgaria. Sarah Lampert I arrived in Sofia in January 1991. I started working in February. I lived with a family for the first month to finish my Bulgarian training, and then started work in February 1991. I am going to talk a little bit about some of the points in Richard’s memoir, and bring out some of the things that still rang true when I was there, or bring out some of the contrasts with some of the other countries, which has been really interesting for me in this discussion, because, as you may have seen, Richard describes the change in Bulgaria as a reshuffle, not a revolution. It came from within the Politburo, and it was Petar Mladenov87 and Andrey Lukanov88 who were at the centre of it. Lukanov was still around when I was in Bulgaria as well; he was still active politically. It sounds like UK policy was interested in Romania because of Ceaușescu’s different relationship with the Soviet Union, whereas Bulgaria was seen as the sixteenth republic. I think that probably had an implication for UK policy towards Bulgaria, and I would be interested to hear a bit more about that. It seems to me that, in Bulgaria’s case, it did not benefit from this programme of visitors before November 1989 and, as far as I can tell from Richard’s memoir, certainly his view was that there had not been much talking to ordinary people either in Bulgaria. There was no Bulgarian speaker in the Embassy, or at least it certainly was not the Third Sec speaker slot that I then went and filled for the first time in February 1991. I think there was quite a lack of contact with ordinary people, and maybe there was not the same view that there was any chance of change in Bulgaria, because it was so close to the Soviet Union. In his memoir, Richard talks about being in Prague. I do not know when he was in Prague, but it was at an earlier time when he had had some contact with dissidents at that time. When he arrived in Sofia he was keen to do the same, I presume on instructions from London. That was the first time that dissidents had come to the British Embassy. At that time, he did it through the local engaged member of staff, who was still there when I arrived, Marta Nikolova who, as he says, had excellent connections. She facilitated those meetings with the dissidents who came from three particular organisations: Ecoglasnost, which then became quite high-profile as an environmental organisation; Podkrepa, which was a trade union; and the Club for the Support of Glasnost and Perestroika. By the time I got there, the Club for Glasnost and Perestroika was no longer talked about. The profile of the opposition was changing all the time, but at that time the Club for the Support of Glasnost and Perestroika was really key because it was to do with this relationship with the Soviet Union. I 87 88

Petar Mladenov (1936–2000), leader, Bulgarian People’s Republic, 1989–90. Andrey Lukanov (1938–96), Prime Minister of Bulgaria, 1990.

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think one of the reasons that people were opposed to Zhivkov was that he was lagging behind Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, which is in contrast to some of the other countries represented around this table. That was one aspect of what was going on, in terms of Zhivkov being behind the curve in glasnost and perestroika. The other big thing that was happening in Bulgaria in 1989 was the campaign against the ethnic Turks, which again is different from the other countries. Richard explains how he got some of that information through a couple of British journalists who were living in Bulgaria at the time. You talked about groups of allies: I think both EU Embassies and also NATO Embassies in Sofia were really important because of the Turkish angle, and the Turkish Embassy obviously wanted to report back to colleagues about what was going on with the ethnic Turks. I did know this, but I had forgotten: it was 300,000 expelled during that summer. People had been gathered in camps. It was ethnic cleansing on a pretty major scale, and that followed a period during which people had been forced to change their names and give up some of their cultural habits, etc. So it was a really genuine attempt to firstly Bulgarian-ise, and then get rid of any groups that could not be Bulgarian-ised. Others will be able to comment on why he did that, but the impact was to get some international attention for Bulgaria, though maybe not as much as one might have expected. On the whole, Bulgaria never reached the UK news, and I think that was one situation in which it did. Following that there was this Eco-forum that I mentioned before. Richard mentions the UN in the memoir, but somewhere else I have seen it mentioned as the CSCE Eco-forum. Again, that was either a very well or badly timed international meeting, depending on your point of view. I think that was in September or October. This was obviously a great chance for Bulgaria to display its reputation internationally. They had an eco-forum at which they did not invite Ecoglasnost, the one NGO active in Bulgaria, to participate. The EU Ambassadors acted in great solidarity and walked out of the forum, saying that if Ecoglasnost were not able to participate then they would not stay in the room. Again, I do not know to what extent that is cleared with capitals, but they got Ecoglasnost into the room, and that was a huge step forward in terms of any sort of dissidents being given public recognition in Bulgaria. It was after that incident that Ecoglasnost then went and held an illegal demonstration somewhere else in Sofia, which Richard went and visited, and I think shook hands with Petar Beron.89 That was the incident I mentioned earlier when he was then called into the Foreign Ministry and given a very severe reprimand. The reshuffle itself was actually before the Czech one. It was either on 10 or 11 November, so very shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. I think it must have been Mladenov and Lukanov, who I think were pretty clever people and more reform-inclined, in the sense of perestroika and glasnost rather than opposition as such. They took the initiative before it was taken by anybody else. After that, I would say the revolution in Bulgaria was on a very slow burn. The first elections were held in June 1990, and the renamed Communist Party actually won the elections. It was obviously a surprise to the opposition and a surprise to many Bulgarians, and possibly to our Embassy at the time, because, as Richard says, they had seen all the demonstrations in Sofia but that opinion did not necessarily represent the opinion of the whole country, where there was, and there remained for a long time, quite a big divide between the capital and the rural areas and provincial cities, where clearly there was still quite a lot of support for the communists, now socialists.

89

Petar Beron, Chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces, 1990.

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

By the time I arrived in January 1991, President Žhelev 90 was already installed. I am not quite sure when he was installed as President. It was possibly in the autumn of 1990 or something like that. President Žhelev had been a member of the Communist Party, had been a member of the Club for the Support of Glasnost and Perestroika. He was a really great man in many ways. I did meet him and I know his daughter very well. He wrote a book called Fascism, which was a very clever critique of communism, and he had been sent into internal exile. Again, he was a reformist ex-communist who was definitely fully onside with democracy. By January 1991, we had an independent government in power, but it was actually former communists who had relabelled themselves as independents. It was not until June 1991 that there were elections in which, for the first time, there was a majority by the opposition as such. It was a long, slow process, and during that whole period there was this tension between reformists, former communists and out-and-out opposition-type people, many of whom then were dominated by bourgeois families who had been more powerful before the communists ever came to power. There was always an interesting tension between those two groups as well as between urban and rural constituencies. Birch You asked how Bulgaria was viewed by the Foreign Office in policy terms, and I think that it almost was not on the radar, frankly, during the 1980s. They were loyal to the Soviet Union, Zhivkov was almost a member of the Soviet Politburo, and they were very closely tied. The only times that Bulgaria came to the attention of the Foreign Office was when Markov,91 working for the BBC, was stabbed and died, from a poison dart from an umbrella. I think it was a Bulgarian who shot Pope John Paul92 and nearly killed him. The other thing was when British tourists got in trouble on the Black Sea resorts; that was a crisis for the consular department. It was not seen as one of the really important countries to us. They were Poland, which had never settled into the communist system and which had the enormous strength of the Catholic Church, and Hungary, and in fact the GDR, which was not within the Eastern European Department. That is another story. We tended to see the GDR as a German or West German problem. It was almost West Germany’s own backyard, and we did not pay enough attention to what was happening in East Germany during the 1980s. Thorpe I became head of Central European Department in the Foreign Office in early 1992, and one of the first things I did was to tour my patch, so I went back to Warsaw, which I know pretty well. I knew quite a lot of people who were then in government who had been in Solidarity. I went to Budapest to see John. I went to Prague. I went to Bratislava, because Slovakia was on the edge of becoming an independent country. I went for the first time to Romania and Bulgaria, and having read quite a lot of all this stuff and having some background in Poland over many years, I was struck by the contrast, particularly with Romania, where Ion Iliescu, who took over, was a member of Ceaușescu’s entourage, and I did not see a democratic revolution having taken place there. When I went to Sofia, I thought I could see that Zhelev

90

Želju Žhelev (1935–2015), first non-Communist President of Bulgaria, 1989–97. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1965. 91 Georgi Markov (1929–78), a Bulgarian dissident writer defected in 1969. He then worked BBC World Service. He was assassinated as he walked across Waterloo Bridge, after being stabbed in the thigh with an umbrella tip containing poison. 92 Pope John Paul II (1920–2005), head of the Catholic Church, 1978–2005.

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was well-intentioned and noble, but did not have much idea of how to go about building what he needed to build to carry the germs of reform forward. As the years have passed, things have changed quite dramatically in both of those countries, very, very much for the better. Curiously, in some ways, they are doing better than the countries that we thought were fantastic, namely Hungary and Poland, in 1991 and 1992. I was very struck by those impressions.

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Witness Seminar: Session Three Dr Richard Smith I would like to open it up, if you do not mind, just to get some comments and questions from people in the audience. Does anybody have comments or questions that they would like to contribute? Stuart Laing I succeeded John Macgregor as Deputy Head of Mission in Prague in November 1989, on Saturday 25 November. I later headed the Central European bit of the Know How Fund. I would like to add one or two bits of follow-up to John’s narrative. First of all, in terms of the demonstration that started it all off, on 17 November: the authorities minted a coin to commemorate this event. As someone mentioned earlier, these were people who dug their own graves or curated their own funerals. This is one of the few cases in history where a regime has minted a coin to celebrate the start of its own demise. I have a coin, given to me by my excellent American opposite number. As that process went on, I and a colleague of mine from the Embassy would regularly go down, night after night, to the Laterna Magika Theatre,93 which had been adopted by the Civic Forum as the place where they would really count the day’s negotiations with the communist leadership, and then, having heard what they had said, we would pop back home, write it all up and then the next day create it into one of the numerous telegrams which Ann was complaining about earlier that filled the desks of people in the Foreign Office. That is just a bit of atmosphere there. Someone mentioned ministerial visits, and in the year after (the revolution), in 1990, in Prague we received 12 ministerial visits, including eight by Cabinet Ministers. That is a figure that has stuck in my mind. This is before, as someone else said, the attention of Ministers moved sideways to the collapse of Yugoslavia. There was this very strong attention given by Ministers to at least Czechoslovakia, and I imagine other countries too. I might add, because this probably does not appear very much in the political record, that this kind of thing placed an incidental very high strain on rather small Embassies, Embassies that were designed for a virtual non-relationship. Picking up the commercial point earlier, if I recall correctly—John will correct me if I am wrong—the British population in Czechoslovakia at that time, at the end of 1989, was 25. In other words, the civilian, non-Embassy representation barely outnumbered the Embassy itself. Of course, it very rapidly expanded as commerce picked up. On that question of trade—again, an economic historian please correct me if I am wrong on this—surely one of the reasons why trade was so weak with us, and our exports were so weak during the late 1980s, was deliberate policy by the Soviet Union, who had constructed this economic framework under which the Russians would help themselves to whatever they wanted—a lot of raw materials but also other things created and built in the bloc—and in return of course would export what they wanted to those countries. It was a kind of economic policy that excluded us from the sort of trade that we might otherwise have done. I daresay our pricing had something to do with it as well. I would like to make one other comment and then pose a question to our panel. The comment I would like to make is this: that one of the questions here is about how much we

93

Laterna Magika Theatre is a world famous nonverbal multimedia theatre in Prague.

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were aware of what was going on in Moscow and the Soviet Union? At the time, in that twoyear period before I went to Prague, I was the deputy head of department in the Near East and North African department. I am primarily an Arabic speaker and historian of Arabs in East Africa, but had this delightful interlude in central Europe mid-career. In April 1989, David Gore-Booth,94 who was then Middle East director (i.e. Under-Secretary in charge of the Middle East), and I visited Moscow for one in a series of regular talks we had with the Russians on Middle East affairs. They were normally very sterile affairs, in which they and we would sit on opposite sides of the table. They would spout what they wanted to spout for about 45 minutes, we would do the same in return, we would then sit down to a ghastly lunch and go home. On this occasion, they started off by saying, ‘This is going to be, today, an experiment in the practical application of glasnost, and we will have a real discussion of what our interests are in the Middle East.’ Exactly that took place. I mention this because it is probably not there in the records of the Eastern European bit of the Foreign Office, because this was all going on in the Arab bit. In the afternoon, we still had a ghastly lunch, but they sent us off to the Middle East Institute, where we had an interesting discussion, forcibly in Arabic because of course we spoke no Russian and they spoke no English. This was a very interesting and a novel experience for us in the Middle Eastern part of the Foreign Office. My question to the panel is this: one of the things I was conscious of in Prague in 1990, I suppose, was looking back, which I could only do inadequately, on the contact that we and others had had with the dissidents. I would be interested in what panel members have to say about not what our contacts were with the dissidents, but how we thought we compared with our other Western colleagues? Then, as a follow-up question to that, whether there was any pay-off in 1990 and years following, when these people were actually taking control of policy? Thank you. Smith Can I just take a couple of questions? Professor Anita Prazmowska On this idea about the Soviets’ relations with Eastern Europe: that is a cliché. It really is a cliché. I think by the late-1960s the Soviet Union was already offering these countries currency for them to actually go out and start purchasing, for example, grain in the USA. I have recently been working on the papers of the Executive Council of the COMECON in the 1980s, and in fact it is quite an interesting organisation where a lot of debates are taking place about economic relations. Inevitably, the Soviet Union had the final say but the idea that the Soviet Union was reigning in Eastern Europe is not quite right, because the Soviet Union was stuck with countries that were under-developed, and inefficient but that it could not let go, because Western Europe would not trade with those countries; they had not got much to offer. This was a very, very complex picture. I still need to see a good book written on the history of the COMECON, which can be done on the basis of archives available, but it is not going to be written in Eastern Europe. For some unknown reason, in Western Europe, most probably, the IMF is more interesting to historians. I was fascinated by the starting point of 1985, where you say that your recommendation was that Britain should reach out to the people—in other words, go beyond state contact. It did not seem to feel so in Warsaw, because the British consulate in Aleje

94

Sir David Gore-Booth (1943–2004), Assistant Under Secretary of State (Middle East), FCO, 1989.

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Roz95—which was a very beautiful building and, as my Yorkshire mother noted, was always being redeveloped—and the British Council96 were very remote worlds. If any young, aspiring person wanted to get a scholarship to go to study abroad, the Ford Foundation97 was more generous; the French were exceptionally well-placed. De Gaulle98 really started those earlier. You could get involved with a whole variety of cultural activities funded by the French, including scholarships, and the Germans. The British? Well, maybe you thought that, but we certainly did not feel that from the British Embassy on the streets of Warsaw. It was interesting for me to think who, within the present-day political elites in Poland, had benefitted from any form of reaching out, [be it] scholarships, facilitating? There is Radek Sikorski,99 but he came here as a Solidarity person and got into Oxford. That is one person. Jacek Rostowski100 was a second-generation Pole. On the other hand, a lot of the political elites have been to America on a variety of placements. What was it that happened with your recommendation, because it did not feel in Poland as if that recommendation was picked up? On one or two occasions, you seemed to imply that the Embassy people were very pleased with themselves that they actually reached out, but I did not see it. Smith Thank you very much. We will take one more question in this round. A.Z. McKenna I am a doctorate student at King’s College London, in the Department of Political Economy. I have particularly a question for those of you served in Hungary. Why do you think you so badly misjudged the character and the motives of Viktor Orbán? What was behind that and that calculation? When I spoke to Bryan Cartledge101 before, he said he felt that, where things are now today, he just did not see it coming. In particular, I am interested in why that would be the case. Particularly with the reburial of Imre Nagy102 and the others from 1956, Orbán had already demonstrated his ability to be a supreme political opportunist. As far as I understand it, the other opposition thinkers had agreed not to call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops, but Orbán agreed with this and then did just that. The signs of his political opportunism were there. Did you note this in any way, and what was behind that? Smith We have Orbán, cultural activities and dissidents.

95

Aleje Roz is a street in Krakow, Poland. ‘The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities’: https://www.britishcouncil.org/ [Accessed 7 May 2019]. 97 The Ford Foundation is an American private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare’: https://www.fordfoundation.org/ [Accessed 7 May 2019]. 98 Charles de Gaulle (1890–70), President of France, 1959–69. 99 Radosław ‘Radek’ Sikorski, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, 2007–14. He studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, in the 1980s. 100 Jacek Rostowski (born in London), Polish Minister of Finance, 2007–13; Deputy Prime Minister, 2013. 101 Sir Bryan Cartledge, Ambassador to Hungary, 1980–3. 102 Imre Nagy (1896–1958), Hungarian Prime Minister, 1953–5; 1956. 96

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Sir John Birch I knew Viktor Orbán pretty well, because he was a Soros Foundation103 student at Pembroke College Oxford. He was the leader of the Young Democrats and he was a liberal. I think we just misjudged his character. He has changed, in my view, very considerably. Nigel Thorpe Can I just follow up on that, John? I was Ambassador in Budapest in 1998, when Orbán won his election and became Prime Minister. I reported to London that here we had, as John said, somebody who was a liberal. He was a great friend of David Steel,104 the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, and used to go and sleep in his house, on his sofa, as a young man. He seemed to be full of all the right credentials: he had been born after 1956, he was the first political leader of that generation in the region to take office, and he was surrounded by young people, who were largely untainted by communism and whom he had chosen to put in his Cabinet. Of course, if we misjudged him, I misjudged him. I realised pretty soon that he was nationalistic, moving rightwards and actually pretty disagreeable. I reported all that, too. But I am guilty of a misjudgement in May 1998, when he won the election. Birch I think you are being hard on yourself, because at the time, when he was one of the founder members of the Young Democrats, he was liberal, in everything that I saw about him. He spoke very good English and he was accessible. In 1994, when he lost the election, when he was one of the main casualties of the election, when the socialists, or the former Communist Party, came back under Gyula Horn,105 I went to see him the next day. He was really down in the dumps in his office. I said, ‘Well, Viktor, what are you going to do now? How do you rebuild the party and your appeal?’ He said, ‘I’m going to move the party to the right.’ I said, ‘But you win elections by capturing the middle ground, not moving to the right or to the left.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s what I’m going to do.’ Of course, I was absolutely wrong and he was absolutely right, because he appeals to some of the basic instincts in rural Hungary. I think we have a big problem with him now. If I could then turn to your questions: all the facts show that there was a net transfer of resources from Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. In return, they got cheap raw materials and cheap energy, particularly gas. Eastern Europe was seen as one of the spoils of war, the payback for the 20 million war dead. They were a very useful source of manufactured goods, and there was a net transfer. Whether someone will write the history of COMECON now, because it seems so much in the past, I am not sure, but the points you make are valid. On the question of the Ford Foundation, the Goethe-Institut106 and the Alliance Française107 being ahead of the Brits: the despatch, the instruction, was to give freedom to embassies. They were not checked on as to whether they were doing it. I think some did better jobs than others. If your experience in Poland was that the others were ahead of us, that in a way was a contribution to our policy, because we were all in the same game, aiming at the same sort of thing: to make Western culture and Western values available. If you feel that the British Council fell down in its job, or the Embassy did, I am sorry. 103

The Open Society Foundations https://www.georgesoros.com/philanthropy/ [Accessed 9 May 2019]. Sir David Steel (Lord Steel of Aikwood), Leader of the Liberal Party, 1976–88; Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, 1988. 105 Gyula Horn (1932–2013), Hungarian Prime Minister, 1994–8. 106 Goethe-Institut promotes the study of the German language and culture internationally. https://www.goethe.de/ [Accessed 7 May 2019]. 107 Alliance Française promotes the study of French and French culture. 104

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There is one thing that we did not do terribly well. Some of our local staff tended to behave like nationals of their own country. I used to say to our visa section staff, ‘You’re much more important than the Ambassador is, because you deal with many more members of the public. Your smile, your reception, your willingness to help people is their first contact with the Embassy, so you are more important than any of the British staff.’ As far as dissidents are concerned, Stuart, I think the dissidents helped to undermine the regime. But the people who remove a Government, which is a 180-degree turn, may be very good in opposition, but they are not very good at running things. Certainly, the experience in Hungary was that they were very good at niggling the regime. Western support for them and publicity made them almost untouchable, in the last days, by the regime. They were good at writing samizdat and distributing it, but when they got into office they were not actually very good at running Government and Ministries. David Colvin Except the Mayor of Budapest.108 What was his name? Birch Demszky. Most people regard him as having not done a good job. Colvin Really, as Mayor? Birch As Mayor, yes. Sir Stephen Barrett May I pick up a couple of points that have come up? One was the question about whether other Embassies had good contacts with dissidents. I think the Americans did very well in this, and the French too. Both were big embassies, with good reason, having diaspora contacts pushing them to do this. Germans were not very welcome in Eastern Europe in my time, for obvious reasons. As to COMECON and all that, I remember, towards the end of my stay there, someone I knew quite well, who went regularly to COMECON meetings, said, ‘What used to happen was that the Soviet representatives would say, ‘We’ll do this’, and this was then done. But now the Soviet voice is completely silent and we do not know what to do.’ As to the cultural contacts, if perhaps we were less generous with scholarships and things like that, I think we did very well with sending our theatrical companies, ballet companies, orchestras, even Ted Heath to conduct a concert in Prague. This, to some extent, may be making up for what we were unable, I am sure for financial reasons as much as any others, to do in the way of invitations and scholarships. Alan Clark I am glad the British Council has come up, because I wanted to cover it. We had a British Council presence in Bucharest. It was in the small grounds of the British Embassy, so that anybody coming in had to go past the Romanian police on the door. Nevertheless, that small British Council was well attended. Within the Embassy, within Chancery, we probably thought the British Council was doing more to get through to the middle-ranking Romanians, 108

Gábor Demszky, Mayor of Budapest, 1990–2010.

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if I can put it that way, the students. There was no way of giving them scholarships, because they would not have got visas to leave the country, but it was a very well-attended office. We always thought, during those years, if ever we had somebody who wanted to come across from the Romanian Government side to give their story to us, they would come through the British Council offices. It did not happen, unfortunately. Barrett I took a senior Czechoslovak minister on a visit to the UK. One of the things his programme involved while he was here was a performance of Les Misérables. I sometimes wonder what the experience of seeing the red flag waved on a British stage was. Thorpe Can I just make a couple of points? Firstly, I agree with Alan on the British Council. The British Council, certainly in Poland, played a very, very significant role in building cultural contacts and supporting intellectuals in Poland. It was very, very good. It was busy and full. It was probably under-resourced, from the point of view of some things like scholarships, but it did very well. The other institution that served us well, which has been mentioned earlier on by John, I think, is the BBC. The BBC World Service, the BBC, had a permanent correspondent in Warsaw, who was always a very distinguished journalist, Kevin Ruane109 and Martin Sixsmith110 in the 1980s, when I was there. Ann Lewis Was Neal Ascherson111 there? Thorpe No, not then. Neal Ascherson worked for the Independent and the Observer, I think, at that time, although he came. He did come. Kevin Ruane turned the BBC office into a place where you could meet anybody in the opposition, and he had such a strong reputation. He was a great asset in the BBC’s broadcast to Poland. It meant, for example, that when Margaret Thatcher gave her TV interview at the end of her visit in November 1988, and she did not mention that she had been to see Wałęsa, it meant that the whole of Poland knew, because the BBC had told them, and she did not need to mention it. It was very, very important. One other thing is the question of a payoff for all our work in the 1980s, where we thought we were doing so brilliantly. Once it all happened, everything changed. Of course, we all had a big common interest in the sustenance of these new, independent, fledgling—we hoped—democracies, free-market economies. We were all doing our bit, in a way, but we were also in intense competition with everybody else for the business opportunities that were suddenly opening up. In my time as Head of Central European Department in the mid-1990s, and then as Ambassador in Budapest subsequently, I never saw any payoff from all the work we had done in the 1980s. Lewis As for the British Council, we had endless papers going through the Foreign Office, complaining that the British Council was much less well funded than the French and German

109

Kevin Ruane (1932–2019), BBC journalist. Martin Sixsmith, BBC journalist, 1980–97. 111 Neal Ascherson, journalist at The Scotsman (1959–60), The Observer (1960–90) and The Independent on Sunday (1990–8). 110

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equivalents, which I am afraid is true. We prided ourselves on the fact that our activities were much better targeted, in that we did not set up rubbish things all over the place, but we picked out the areas that we thought were most useful and sensitive, and where we could make the biggest impact. The same with the scholarships, which are not all that numerous, but we did set up the Masaryk scholarship programme for Eastern Europe in combination with SSEES,112 and we ran a programme with Soros113 at Oxford, from which Orbán benefited. On the subject of whether we had been backing the wrong people, this probably does not apply to Orbán, but we have historically had a tendency to think that people who are antiregime are going to be nice liberals. In some cases, they have turned out to be really very nasty nationalists. This was a particular problem in Yugoslavia, but around the world you can see this. We should be rather careful who we are cultivating, not supporting people just because they are against the regime. Dr Thomas Maguire Sir John Birch, you mentioned a little earlier the interesting dynamic of the security sector in the respective country one day being an adversary, and the next day becoming a liaison partner. I was just curious to get the reflections of the panel on how much change or continuity one saw, with regards to reforms or lack thereof, in respect of security sectors in the countries you were posted to? What role did the UK manage to play or not, especially compared to other Western partners, either cooperating or competing, depending on one’s perspective on the matter? Professor Philip Murphy This is specifically aimed at the staff who were in Poland. Superficially, when you look at why Poland was the first domino to fall, you would say that it obviously had something to do with the influence of the Catholic Church in Polish society. What were relations like with the church hierarchy? Indeed, in the light of John Paul II becoming Pope, was there liaison with the Vatican that was useful in diplomatic terms? Professor Jack Spence My name is Jack Spence and I am from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. It is refreshing to be talking about diplomacy. A question I wanted to ask our panel was this: all of you had experience in the office here in London. I just wondered how much influence public opinion, broadly defined, had on your day-to-day reading of what was happening in Eastern and Central Europe? I ask this question because I recall, many years ago, Kenneth Younger, who was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office in the 50s, and subsequently the Director of Chatham House, once wrote an article in which he said that officials and ministers in the FCO had a degree of flexibility. They were, to a degree, immune to the pressures of public opinion, apart from commercial lobbies and political organisations. I wonder how true that was in the four or five years leading up to the end of the Cold War, all of which you were able to observe to carefully and efficiently, for which, if I may say so, many thanks. Dr Effie Pedaliu I have a very quick question. All of you agree that Britain never saw the economic dividend out of its activities in Eastern Europe during those years, during the 1980s and the early 112 113

School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now based in University College London. George Soros, Hungarian-American investor.

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1990s. I was just wondering how far your activities were too closely connected, most probably, with the American differentiation programme and, afterwards, the Americans reaped double the dividend of what would have been the case otherwise. This is what I am trying to say, really: was there cooperation in cultivating dissidents with the Americans, or did the British have their own assets most of the time? Smith We have the economic dividend, security sector relationship, the church in Poland and public opinion. John Malcolm Macgregor I was Ambassador in Poland from 1998 to 2000. By that time, the position that the church had had under communism had already virtually evaporated. They were the referees at meetings between Solidarity and the Government. If you went and opened a Tesco in Poland —and I opened quite a few Tescos114—there was always a local bishop there with a censer, waving it into the freezer trays. To that extent, it still was, but politically no longer. It is worth noting that, I think, Poland is still the only country in the world where the Vatican’s representative is a Pole. It was always taken rather specially, and we have not even touched on John Paul’s first visit to Poland, which was a remarkable event. Thorpe Can I just follow up on John’s point on the church, since I was in Poland on two occasions during the communist period? Contact with the church was part of the brief we carried out. It was normal. We regarded the church as very, very important. In the early part of my time in Poland, it really was the ideology to which people could turn that was not communism. It was the only organisation that was independent of the state. It was very, very important and attracted a huge following, and we had a dialogue at quite a high level. When I went back in the 1980s, that continued. I regularly used to go and see Bishop Dąbrowski,115 who was the Polish bishop in charge of external relations. He was a great person to have a dialogue with. We, of course, knew the church was incredibly influential. Look at what happened to Father Popiełuszko. The masses for the fatherland that he had held at Saint Stanisław Kostka Church in Warsaw continued after his death. The Embassy regularly attended them to see what was going on, so it remained incredibly important. Then, in 1986, the Pope came for his third visit, I think, to Poland. I remember going to an outdoor mass in Lublin, where of course there was a Catholic university. It was a rainy day, and I was at the front in the VIP seats. I turned round and looked over a sea of umbrellas, with one thing standing up. It was a Solidarity banner. It was quite extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of people had turned out. We knew it was a force to be reckoned with. Colvin There was one notable occurrence. Cardinal Mindszenty116 had been a thorn in the flesh of the communists. He had taken refuge in the American Embassy, and was there for many a long year. I attended, also, the funeral and the sealing up in a tomb of the cardinal who

114

Tescos is a major British supermarket chain, operating in the UK and Europe. Bishop Bronisław Dąbrowski (1917–1997), Auxiliary Bishop of Warsaw, 1962–93, and General Secretary of the Polish Episcopal Conference, 1968–93. 116 Cardinal József Mindszenty (1892–1975), leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary, 1945–73. 115

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replaced him, Cardinal Lékai.117 In general, my impression was that the church played little role and was not a very important factor in internal Hungarian developments. Birch I think you are right that the AVH, the security service, managed to infiltrate the church in Hungary. The Orthodox Church had traditionally bent with the wind, and the Lutherans in the east of Hungary were just totally frightened and infiltrated by collaborating priests. Most of the old security services either resigned or left under pressure, and ended up with nice jobs like running Chubb Security, became taxi drivers or got involved in the new commercial activities. They knew the system; they were sufficiently fleet of foot to make those changes. Some of the people in the technical departments that had been bugging us and following us around remained, and in fact used their skills against the KGB. Interestingly, the Russians were not giving the East European services, towards the late 1980s until the collapse of the Soviet Union, their latest kit. The Hungarians were unable, in 1989 to 1990, to tap mobile telephones, because they did not have that technology, whereas I think the Russians, at that time, did. We had very early visits from the head of MI6 and the head of MI5,118 to come and talk with their services. They were professional services and they became servants of the new regime, although many of the personalities, of course, went and they were replaced by a younger generation. On Jack Spence’s point: I think in the Foreign Office we were not terribly troubled by public opinion. We were troubled by émigré opinion, as I have said. I remember arranging, before Geoffrey Howe went on his series of visits, for him to be briefed by journalists and academics. Norman Davies119 and Neal Ascherson came to talk to him about Poland. We had real teach-ins. Part of the policy drive of the Foreign Office—I hope it still continues—was to spread its contacts much more widely within the academic and journalistic community here in this country. In the old days, News Department was meant to handle journalists, but I hope that, in Eastern European Department, we broke away from that. Thorpe Can I just add to that? Of course, Mrs Thatcher did not trust the Foreign Office very much. When she came to Poland in 1988, she had her own private briefing with Tim Garten Ash and some others in Number 10 Downing Street. On the security question, if I could just pick that up very briefly: there is a wider dimension to this. There is the intelligence relationship, but the real security relationship was with the military. Of course, we were anxious to develop relations with the ex-Warsaw Pact forces that these countries inherited and had at their disposal, and to start training them and getting them to think and behave like us, as a major NATO player. We opened the doors of the RCDS to students, senior officers actually, from these countries. We—well, some of us anyway—lobbied to get them into NATO, which is part of a much wider debate about the relationship with Russia, how that all fitted in as NATO expanded, and whether we got it right. We do not have time for that today. Birch I suspect we did not.

117

Cardinal László Lékai (1910–86), Primate of Hungary, 1976–86. The United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency is known as MI5. https://www.mi5.gov.uk/ [Accessed 7 May 2019]. 119 Professor Norman Davies, historian of Central and Eastern Europe. 118

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Thorpe No, I suspect we did not. Birch Interestingly, most Ambassadors, and I think a lot of people in the Foreign Office, felt that there was too much triumphalism about taking countries into NATO, that it was just too provocative, that it hit a very sensitive nerve with the Soviet Union and with Russia later. I think that has proved to be the case. Thorpe But it is also the case that every Prime Minister, every President, every Foreign Minister in the region lobbied us to join NATO and the European Union. Birch They wanted to join NATO because it was quick and easy. The European Union took longer. NATO was quick, just a signature on a piece of paper. We were led by the Americans. Thorpe Yes, we were led by the Americans in this. Smith Does anybody have a comment on the economic dividend point? Birch I am going to pass on that one. Well, we got a dividend, not so much a commercial one, but through privatisation, where the banks did a lot of business and a number of companies managed to buy, at knock-down prices, East European manufacturing plants, and moved into agriculture as well. Colvin On the COMECON point, it was a very primitive system. It did not even have a system of multilateral payment. It was quite extraordinary. Birch You got paid in corrugated iron. Prazmowska That was really not the case. I can see that they were continuously discussing transfers, how to value work done, for example railways that went from Germany to the Soviet Union, and how the balances were going to be sorted out in terms of what payment was going to be made by the Soviet Union to Poland. It was not just, as you said, corrugated iron. Sorry, that is not factual. There is actually something there, and I would strongly encourage students to study that. I am not saying that it was a relationship in which other countries were treated with respect, but it is not the clichĂŠ you seem to be willing to put forward. Birch I think you know more about it than we do!

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Smith We have had a very wide-ranging and interesting discussion. I would like to thank everyone around the table for coming along and taking part. Thank you to the people who asked such interesting questions. Let us all now adjourn next door for a well-deserved glass of wine. Thank you all very much. Addendum: Michael Atkinson I am surprised that there was no mention in the proceedings of the Great Britain East Europe Centre (I am partly to blame!). As you know, John Birch presided over the Centre, following in the footsteps of a former Ambassador to Bulgaria, Sir William Harpham. I do think it deserves a mention. I recall from my earlier posting to Hungary between 1977-80, what good work this HMG-funded organisation did in organising Round Tables and other contacts between British historians, linguists, even economists and other professionals.... and their Eastern European counterparts. Of course, our Embassies helped to arrange these events and participated in them, providing an informal channel of communication long before the official doctrine of British licensed contact with dissidents was formulated. In sum, the Centre was an important part of our quasi-diplomatic effort to bridge the gap to the East.

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Appendix I Gordon Wetherell, Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, Warsaw, 1988–92 I regret not having been able to attend the seminar on 5 November, but offer the following by way of complementing the discussion which took place. When I arrived in Poland in November 1988, just after Mrs Thatcher’s visit, there was a clear expectation that, if they played their cards right, Solidarity could significantly expand the political space available to them. The advent of Gorbachev, the CSCE Final Act with its focus on human rights, a wave of strikes, the economic problems facing Poland and the correspondingly increased price the regime was willing to pay to reap the benefits of détente with the West and, not least, the support for Solidarity of the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II were among the factors which contributed to this. The atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation, but there was also an element of suspense and uncertainty. Though the political space may have expanded, there was a feeling that there was still a boundary beyond which the regime and/or the Soviet Union would intervene. To be sure, this boundary was vastly expanded compared with Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Poland itself in 1980/81; and in retrospect it may appear that it was not there at all and that there was an inevitability to the events which took place. But, at the time, key protagonists on the Solidarity side believed there was a boundary. It is worth remembering that, during the Round Table talks and beyond, all the official instruments of force (army, police, etc.) were in the hands of a regime which had already shown a readiness to use them; and that behind these stood the Soviet Union. It may be true that communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was doomed to collapse sooner or later under the weight of its many problems and inefficiencies; but there was nothing to say that it was bound to do so at that particular time. The feeling of anticipation was manifest just a few days after my arrival, at the end of November 1988, when Wałęsa appeared in a television debate with the head of the official trade union, Miodowicz120—an event which the events of 1989 have tended to relegate to a footnote of history, but which was seen as a significant breakthrough at the time. It was after all Wałęsa’s first officially sanctioned public appearance before a nation-wide audience since martial law. There were obvious risks for the regime, but they probably calculated that this was a safe way to deal with the pressure for a greater public role for Solidarity and that the solid (but as it turned out dull) Miodowicz would be able to trap the unpredictable Wałęsa into committing a blunder. But Wałęsa was well prepared by Geremek and others and excelled. When I called on Geremek the following day, he was buoyant and described Wałęsa as landing a knock-out blow. Although discussions leading to the opening of the Round Table talks had started with the Interior Minister, General Kiszczak,121 a couple of months earlier, Wałęsa’s TV appearance clearly burnished the public image of Solidarity and its leader as the talks got underway. There is no need to go into the detail of those discussions here. Our regular contacts with Solidarity figures made clear that, on their side, a mixture of expectation, suspense and uncertainty continued to colour the atmosphere. It was a mixture which those of us in the Embassy following events also felt since there was no doubt on which side we stood. Solidarity were well aware of the strong cards they held since the regime clearly saw

120 121

Alfred Miodowicz, leader of the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions. Czesław Kiszczak (1925–2015), Prime Minister, 1989.

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an accord with Solidarity (leading perhaps to some form of co-option of the movement) as a central plank of their strategy for getting out of their economic crisis and easing social unrest. But the suspicion that there was still a boundary engendered a fear that attempting to go too far would put back rather than advance Solidarity’s cause. This helps explain their generally cooperative approach to the talks and their agreement to an outcome on the political side which allowed them to contest only one third of the Lower House seats. Even so, it was a bold advance, unmatched anywhere else in Eastern Europe at the time. If co-option was part of the regime’s plan, Solidarity would have none of it. A comic illustration of this was given by the regime’s decision to reserve 35 Sejm122 seats for the same number of their great and the good (Politburo members, etc.) who would be elected on a country-wide basis. They invited Solidarity to nominate one third of the candidates, but were rebuffed. In the event, to give this election a semblance of democracy, they incautiously decided that each candidate would need to poll 50 per cent of the votes + 1 to get elected—an invitation savvy Polish voters seized on by scoring out virtually all the names on the list. Only 2 survived: a certain Zielinski, at the bottom of the alphabetical list and widely thought to have benefited from some slap dash crossing out, and the leader of the Polish People’s (Peasant) Party, Kozakiewicz,123 a somewhat maverick character, described to us by Solidarity contacts as ‘the eminent sexologist’, who found himself propelled into the Speaker’s chair—and remained a good friend of a number of us at the Embassy. Another unintended consequence of the elections was that the controlling two thirds majority which the regime thought it had soon proved illusory. As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the Communist (or Workers’) party governed with subordinate allies (the Democratic and Peasant parties in Poland’s case). When these were the only parties in the Sejm, the Communists enjoyed a comfortable majority on their own; and they no doubt expected the loyalty of their allies to remain unchanged after the 1989 elections. But the arithmetic of the Sejm changed with Solidarity occupying 33 per cent of the seats. The Communists now had only 37 per cent of the total, affording the Democrats and Peasants undreamed of room for manoeuvre, which they were able to exploit with Solidarity. For the latter, it meant an early opportunity to strengthen the position they had secured at the Round Table. But the familiar combination of expectation and apprehension was still there. The number of those worried about crossing a boundary was much reduced, but there were still enough to ensure that Jaruzelski was elected President in the summer. Solidarity MPs and Senators could not bring themselves to vote for him, but enough spoiled their ballots to balance out Democratic and Peasant party defections and see him home by a margin of one. Conversely, Jaruzelski’s nominee for prime minister, General Kiszczak, could not obtain a majority and, with the help of Adam Michnik’s ‘Wasz President, nasz Premier’ (your president, our premier) campaign in Gazetta Wyborcza, Solidarity’s Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected to the post. The presidential election was real nail-biting stuff. Soon after these events, as developments elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact gathered momentum and Gorbachev made clear in East Berlin that he was not prepared to intervene, any notion of a boundary evaporated. The Poles were no longer alone and the dynamics of domestic politics and the role its new Government saw for Poland in the world changed. In the excitement of following Solidarity’s progress in the first eight months or so of 1989 and rejoicing in its successive successes, perhaps we gave too little attention to why the regime appeared to lay down its arms so tamely. After all, when it entered the Round Table talks a few months earlier, it can have had no thought that its days were numbered. As noted 122 123

The Sejm is lower house of the Polish parliament. Mikołaj Kozakiewicz (1923–98), Speaker of the Polish Parliament, 1989–91.

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above, it sought benefits for itself from the talks: it may also have thought or at least hoped that it could co-opt Solidarity; and the instruments of force were all in its hands. Developments in Russia and, as the year wore on, elsewhere in Eastern Europe clearly played a major part in its demise. But there were other factors: acceptance by representatives of the regime that their time was up; tiredness; and a feeling that the struggle was no longer worth the candle. Such dragging of feet as there was seemed to come mainly from the apparatchiks in the party, but the loss of any ideological compass probably sapped their energy. Interestingly, it was the soldiers in the regime, Jaruzelski himself and Kiszczak, who probably did most to facilitate a peaceful transition. Opinion about Jaruzelski in Solidarity circles was sharply divided. Many could or would not see beyond the fact that he had imposed martial law on Poland; but others took a more positive view and were prepared to accept that he had acted to forestall a Soviet intervention. Some curious friendships came to light, none more so than that between Jaruzelski and Adam Michnik, who had a number of meetings with him. Appended to the French translation of the Jaruzelski’s memoirs is a 35-page long dialogue between the general and Michnik. I thought it would be interesting for us to get to know him too and I suggested to the then ambassador, Michael Llewellyn-Smith, that we invite him for lunch. He brought an aide with him; and, though the general retained the stiff and formal appearance he had in office, we had an interesting conversation. His main argument, not surprisingly, was that he had always sought to do what he thought was best for Poland in the circumstances of the time. That was as true of the imposition of martial law as it was of his readiness to cede power in 1989. He accepted that his time was up, that Poland had entered a new phase of her history, and that a new team with a new set of skills and policies was required to guide her through it. If he had any regrets, it was the way he and other former leaders in the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact tended to be treated as pariahs in the West. He contrasted this with the adulation heaped on Yeltsin,124 a man who only a few years earlier ‘had his hands around our necks’. This was the ironic consequence of the greater freedom in the NSWP where opposition movements had been able to grow to the point where they could take over and dispense with the former communist leadership - whereas in Russia opposition had been limited to a few dissidents and change could only come from within the Communist Party. He clearly saw no reason to put Yeltsin in the same bracket as Wałęsa and Havel! Jaruzelski’s bearing was in marked contrast to that of the former Prime Minister, Rakowski,125 who came across as a bitter man when George Robertson MP126 called on him in 1989, when he made the first visit to Poland by a Labour MP since the imposition of martial law. The way the historic changes accelerated as we went through 1989 was astonishing. From our point of view in the Embassy, they were paralleled by the transformation from an essentially adversarial relationship with our host Government to a cooperative one. Of course, we already had close and friendly relations with a large number of Poles, notably in the opposition and Church (but not only), who clearly identified much more with our values than with those of their regime. I was struck when I arrived in Poland by the freedom we enjoyed in making contacts and by how easily ordinary Poles were able to travel abroad. Western Embassies were each issuing tens of thousands of visas a year. This would have been unimaginable in the only other Warsaw Pact country of which I had experience—the

124

Boris Yeltsin (1931–2007), President of the Russian Federation, 1991–9. Mieczysław Rakowski (1926–2008), Prime Minister of Poland,1988–9. 126 George Robertson (Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), Labour MP for Hamilton, 1978–97; Hamilton South, 1997–9. 125

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GDR in the 1970s. The Poles apparently had a reputation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as the wide boys in the region. Be that as it may, there is little doubt that greater familiarity with our (and other Western) Embassies and with the West and its ways more generally facilitated the work of cooperation on which we embarked. But that does not detract from the fact that we were in a sense ‘behind enemy lines’ for as long as a Communist regime allied to the Soviet Union was in power. The cooperative relationship which got underway in 1989 took many forms. In terms of assistance in the transformation of Poland to a democracy and market economy, the Know How Fund was our most effective vehicle—and indeed became the blueprint for similar programmes elsewhere in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. Embassy staff had to be reinforced to help us cope with the volume of programmes, many of which we played a role in developing and in the administration of all of which we were involved. The range of programmes was wide, from local government to public financial management (with an adviser in Balcerowicz127 at the Ministry of Finance), and from reform of the police service to English language teaching—for which there was an inexhaustible thirst and with which the British Council could only begin to cope by focussing on training the trainers rather than direct instruction. Russian language teachers turned out to be a good source: they already had the teaching skills and realised the product needed changing. The police programme was a particular favourite of mine. While the patriotic credentials of the army had in good measure survived during the communist regime, the police was associated in the public mind with everything which was most arbitrary and oppressive in it. This arbitrariness meant that the police could intimidate and arrest with little regard to legality; but when the changes took place in 1989, and people started to expect arrests or fines to be underpinned by a legal provision, the police often found that there was no law they could pray in aid. Not surprisingly, crime, as well as contempt for the police, increased in this atmosphere of greater freedom. The new commissioner of police thus thoroughly welcomed the programme of reform set in hand with the British police. His only regret was that our officers did not arrive in uniform with their distinctive helmets. As he told me, the sight of a highly respected British Bobby alongside a Polish policeman in central Warsaw would have worked wonders for the latter’s reputation. Bilateral cooperation was by no means limited to the Know How Fund. At the political level, there were a large number of ministerial visits in both directions during my remaining time in Warsaw, including by 2 new Prime Ministers (Mazowiecki and Major128); and exchanges of views at official level on issues which would have been considered out of bounds a few months earlier. A case in point was the visit of the head of the FCO’s Soviet Department for talks with his new Polish opposite number. Among the more valuable discussions I had myself were those with the Middle East Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which yielded useful information at the time of the first Gulf War. It was not only because of calculations of economic or strategic advantage that the Poles attached importance to their relations with individual western countries. They felt strongly that by virtue of their history, culture, values and religion, the West was where they belonged; and it did not take long before their ambition to join its major institutions (NATO and the EEC) became increasingly insistent. While the Warsaw Pact and Comecon were still in existence, this ambition was relatively muted, but both had folded by mid-1991. A leading

127 128

Leszek Balcerowicz, Finance Minister of Poland and Deputy Prime Minister, 1989–91; 1997–2000. Sir John Major, Prime Minister, 1990–7.

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activist of NATO membership was Zdzisław Najder,129 the biographer of Conrad,130 who ran the Atlantic Club next door to the Embassy, and of whom I saw a good deal. If he tended to be ahead of the curve in advocating membership of the Alliance, and to be unimpressed when we presented what the Allies had to offer at the time as a glass half full rather than half empty, the new Government was not far behind. Foreign Minister Skubiszewski131 and Wałęsa visited NATO HQ in 1990 and 1991 respectively (Wałęsa in the same month as the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact). Things moved fast, the interlude of the NATO Co-operation Council passed quickly and, by 1995, Poland was a full member of the Alliance, years earlier than one would have put money on in 1991. If I remember rightly, our own view in the early 1990s was that EEC membership should precede that of NATO. In fact, it came several years later. However much Poles recognised the importance of EEC (as it then was) membership for their economic and social development, NATO had one major advantage for the Poles: American membership. One could not fail to be struck in conversation with Poles by the scars which two centuries sandwiched between Russia and Germany had left. Asked at whose hands they had suffered most, the reply was usually along the lines that it was the Germans if measured by degree of cruelty, but that the Russians outdid them for sustained oppression. The Poles knew perfectly well that the Germans of the EEC (whether pre- or post-reunification) were a completely different proposition and that they would become Poland’s leading economic partner. But psychologically, they found comfort in the thought that the leading country of at least one of the organisations they aspired to join (and the one which would be responsible for their security to boot) was neither Russia nor Germany. I got a clear sense of the importance of America to the Poles in my first week in Poland in November 1988, when Poland was still an ally of the Soviet Union. As I was about to cross Ujazdowskie Street to get into the Embassy, I noticed that pedestrians further down the street were applauding. I asked a member of our locally-engaged staff at the gate what that was all about; and was told that it was the American Ambassador driving by! What a contrast with the anti-American demonstrations the siting of INF missiles had given rise to in Western Europe. Another example came at the opening session of the new Sejm in 1989. As I was entering the building, one of the doormen looked at me expectantly and asked ‘American?’. He looked a little disappointed when I said ‘British’, but put a brave face on it and said ‘Almost as good!’. No account of one’s experience in Poland during the transition from communism to democracy would be complete without mention of the role of the Church. Like other aspects of Polish life, it has changed and, even though Church attendance is still probably the highest in Europe, it is a role much more akin to that in other Catholic countries. But, during the communist era, it was the embodiment of Polish patriotism and the focus of loyalty for the overwhelming majority of the population. Poland may have been Catholic for centuries, but never as Catholic as it was after 1945. The consequence of Hitler and Stalin was that a country two thirds Catholic in 1939 became over 90 per cent Catholic. Over 90 per cent of these in turn were regular Church-goers; and they had the good fortune of being led by remarkable men. As Norman Davies explained it in his history of Poland, the communists were outnumbered by the Church in the quantity of their troops and outclassed in the quality of their generals. Stalin may well have had the Church in mind when he compared trying to

129

Zdzisław Najder, political adviser to Lech Wałęsa and others. Joseph Conrad (Józef Konrad Korzeniowski, 1857–1924), Polish-British author of such notable works as Heart of Darkness (1899), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911). 131 Krzysztof Skubiszewski (1926–2010), Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs (1989–93). 130

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control the Poles to saddling a cow. If so, the Church played a crucial role in throwing off Stalin’s riders. If the Church played a role in facilitating contacts between the regime and Solidarity, it did not do so from a position equidistant between the two. I recall coming out of Mass on Election Day in 1989 to find a Priest wielding a Solidarity banner and pointing the way to the nearest polling station. Central to the role of the Church was the personality and authority of the Polish Pope. I remember talking to a leading Solidarity figure who became Vice-Marshal of the Sejm one day and asking her if she could identify one event which, more than others, eventually led to the transformations of 1989. She identified three: as expected, she mentioned the first flowering of Solidarity in 1980–81; but she thought it took third place behind the election of the Pope, which made the Poles believe in miracles and, especially, the Pope’s first visit to Poland in 1979. Not only were the Pope’s message and presence on ‘home’ soil a source of massive encouragement and hope for the population; but it was clear that the regime had no real idea of how to handle this combination of national and religious leader on the one hand and (given the Vatican’s status) visiting Head of State on the other. I recalled my conversation with Zofia Kuratowska132 years later when I read John Lewis Gaddis’s133 assessment of the Pope’s first visit: ‘When Pope John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport, he began the process by which communism in Poland—and ultimately elsewhere in Europe—would come to an end’. It is difficult to think of a more far-reaching example of ‘soft power’. The Church’s influence was probably at its peak during that short period spanning the run-up to the Round Table and the early months following the 1989 elections when Solidarity was still a single, unified movement. But as the movement broke up, spawning some of the parties contesting subsequent elections, the Church’s aspirations to have the leading role in determining key areas of social policy were challenged by the more secular offspring of the movement—a challenge which found resonance in a population whose own outlooks and aspirations were increasingly moulded by their new circumstances.

132 133

Zofia Kuratowska (1931–1999), Deputy Marshal of the Senate of Poland, 1989–91; 1993–7. John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History, Yale University.

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Appendix II Richard Thomas, CMG, Ambassador, Bulgaria, 1989-1994 The Changes in Bulgaria (Chapter 30 extract from his Memoirs) Late in 1990 Zhelyu Zhelev beckoned me over to have a word. We were at a reception at the American Embassy. Zhelev was the newly elected, non-communist President, Bulgaria’s first ever democratically elected head of state. A communist majority had been narrowly reelected to Parliament that summer, but now they were calling themselves socialists, and beginning to lose both their grip on power and their ideological ardour. So we had an anticommunist head of state presiding over a government formed by former or half-hearted communists, all anxious to ingratiate themselves with the West. Zhelev was due to visit Britain in a few weeks’ time. We had won the race to be the first western country to welcome him for an official visit, and thus demonstrate our status as Bulgaria’s new best friend. We were going to roll out the red carpet. Zhelev was to be accompanied by several ministers and by his wife. There would be lunch at the Palace, a reception at Mansion House, talks followed by lunch at 10 Downing Street, even a visit by helicopter to Dorset to visit the grave of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident and émigré who had been murdered by someone using a poisoned umbrella on a London street in 1978. This was to be the next best thing to a state visit, and was to last five days. There was however a problem. Immediately after his election as President Zhelev had dismissed most of Bulgaria’s ambassadors, including Zhukov in London, a former member of the Politburo, and therefore no longer suitable as the representative of a state that had thrown off communism. To replace Zhukov Zhelev had selected Philip Dimitrov, a lawyer and anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) MP. We had been busy getting to know Dimitrov and his doctor wife Elena, helping brief them for their new life in London, when there was a leadership crisis in the UDF, and he suddenly became its leader, and therefore leader of the de facto opposition. Now what? No ambassador in London, and only weeks to go till the visit. ‘I’ve found an ambassador’, said Zhelev, having steered me into a corner. ‘Johnny Stancioff.’ I suggested that Johnny might not be quite suitable since he was, as far as I knew, British—or Scottish, to be more precise. It was after all in his capacity as a member of the Scottish Conservative Party that he had asked me if he could use our diplomatic bag as a secure means of sending material to the UDF for use in the previous summer’s election (and I had pointed out that this was against the rules, as no doubt he well knew). ‘No he’s not’, Zhelev replied, ‘he’s American’, as though that clinched it. I said that that was hardly any better. What we needed was a Bulgarian. A few days later I heard that Johnny had found his old Bulgarian passport, issued in 1938, complete with a photograph of his nine-year-old self, which the authorities had accepted as proof of his citizenship by birth. By the time Zhelev’s visit took place the Stancioffs were installed in the London embassy and were thus able to play their part, even though Johnny had not yet presented his credentials. Catherine and I were included in the junketings, as members of Dr and Mrs Zhelev’s ‘suite’, which meant that we spent five very splendid nights in Claridges and joined in all the engagements, including lunch with the Queen. Johnny presented his credentials a few weeks after the Zhelev visit. His grandfather had been the Bulgarian Minister in London in the 1920s (in the days mostly of legations, headed by ministers, rather than ambassador-led embassies). He still owned his grandfather’s

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diplomatic uniform, which he was determined to wear for his own presentation in 1991, even though it was a bit too small. A skilful tailor let it out a bit. One of the tailor’s other clients happened to be the Duke of Edinburgh’s ADC, who must have spilt the beans, for the Queen, on receiving Johnny’s Letters of Credence, gave him a knowing smile and congratulated him on the good fit of his uniform. This all happened more than a year after the appearance of the first signs of what became known as ‘The Changes’. When we arrived in Sofia in May 1989 Bulgaria was still a loyal Soviet satellite, so loyal indeed that it was not required to host a Red Army garrison, and almost indistinguishable from the USSR’s own constituent republics. There were rumblings of discontent in other parts of Eastern Europe, especially the GDR and Poland, but nothing much seemed to be happening in Bulgaria, which is perhaps why I, a generalist equipped with relevant experience gained from only one previous ‘Iron Curtain’ posting (Prague, ten years earlier), had been deemed suitable enough to be sent there as ambassador. The President, a hoary old dictator called Todor Zhivkov, kept me waiting several weeks before I could present my credentials, and when he finally did receive me, treated me (and Catherine, who thank goodness was with me to soften the experience and help me remember what the old goat had said) to a half hour harangue on the beastliness of the British. This departure from standard initial courtesies could perhaps have been a sign of incipient insecurity. Or maybe it was really how he, and many other Bulgarians, felt about us. AngloBulgarian relations after all had rarely been much better than correct. Bulgaria had managed to be on the ‘wrong’ side in both world wars, and no British politicians had ever shown much interest in it, with the single shining exception of Gladstone. But only five months after the presentation Zhivkov was deposed, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Soon after our arrival in Sofia I asked the embassy staff what arrangements were in place for contact with political dissidents. None, I was told, partly because there were no dissidents to speak of, and even if there were it was not ‘our policy’ to make contact with them. I pointed out that it had been very much ‘our policy’ ten years earlier in Prague to keep in touch with any dissidents who wanted to be in touch with us. How else would we know, in so closed and repressive a society, what was really going on, and to make clear to those who stood up to the regime that we were on their side? I added that I found it hard to believe that there no real dissidents in Bulgaria and said that I would like to meet any who wished to meet me. Of course there should be no question of seeking these people out, if they existed, as to do so might endanger them. But we should let it be known that henceforth the British embassy would be happy to meet people of all political persuasions, for or against the regime. And, to my relief, most of the staff seemed to agree with me. There was a snag. As the embassy had not had any appreciable contact with dissidents, how were we to identify them and let them know that we would be happy to hear from any who wished to be in contact? Fortunately, so I was told, there were a couple of British expatriates living in Sofia who might possibly be able to help us. Denise Searle and Mike Power were the editors of an English language news magazine aimed at visitors and English-speaking foreign residents. It was ‘non-political’, in other words totally compliant, but better than nothing. Mike and Denise must have had strong communist sympathies to have been able to land such a job. They were however friendly enough, and were rumoured to disapprove of some of the regime’s more hard-line policies, including its determination to obliterate the identity of its ethnic Turkish population in a form of ethnic cleansing, though that expression had not yet come into vogue. It was also said that they were in contact with locals who sympathised with their disapproval, potentially political dissidents. After discreet enquiries it turned out that this was indeed the case. Mike and Denise knew lots of dissidents, and they agreed to act as go-betweens.

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A few days later fourteen people trooped into my room in the Chancery. Their names had been taken by the police post outside, but no attempt had been made to stop them entering. I asked each of them to say who they were and what they represented. A number were from ‘Ecoglasnost’, ostensibly a body that drew attention to environmental concerns, and in doing so frequently courted official disfavour. We had heard of it but had not until then quite realised that an apparently apolitical exterior concealed a well organised core of anti-communist dissidence. A couple were from ‘Podkrepa’ (‘Support’), whose leader Konstantin Trenchev was at the time incarcerated as a political prisoner. Loosely modelled on the Polish Solidarność, Podkrepa was an illegal umbrella organisation linking anticommunist trade unionists. Up to that moment we had not heard its name, or not enough to take it seriously, though we were aware of Trenchev’s existence and imprisonment, about which I was under general instructions to show official concern – as I was about all political prisoners. The leader of Ecoglasnost was Petur Beron, a direct descendant of the great nineteenth century scientist of the same name who was generally regarded as the founding father of modern, post-Ottoman Bulgaria. Most of those present seemed to regard the present day Beron as their de facto leader, and indeed it was his dismissal the following year from leadership of the UDF that led to his replacement by Philip Dimitrov and Johnny Stancioff’s subsequent re-Bulgarisation in time to serve as ambassador in London. Later another fourteen people trooped in. One of them said very little, but I gathered that he was called Zhelyu Zhelev, a Sofia University philosopher who had spent several years in internal exile for writing a subversive book, cunningly entitled Fascism, which drew parallels between fascism and communism. Zhelev was at that stage the chairman of the equally cunningly named Club for the Support of Glasnost and Perestroika, proscribed even though, obedient to the Kremlin’s commands, Bulgaria was officially following a policy of perestroika and glasnost. This was just a year before he was elected President. Bulgarians are good linguists, and most of my twenty-eight visitors could speak English. Some members of the embassy staff had pretty good Bulgarian, though at that stage the Third/Second Secretary language specialist post, which had existed in the past, had yet to be reinstated. I was only at the beginning of my attempts to learn, and therefore linguistically useless, so at these first two meetings we all had to manage without professional interpretation. Later, once the regime was no longer making any serious attempt to prevent contact of this sort, we brought in the embassy’s locally engaged (‘LE’) translator, Marta Nikolova. Marta was our senior LE, and like all the LEs she had been foisted on us by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was therefore assumed to be working for them rather than us. This was standard practice pre-1989 in ‘Iron Curtain’ posts. We had to be careful what we said in the presence of our LEs and use their services with discretion. Many of them managed in due course from 1990 on to convince us that they were on the side of the emerging democratic forces, and one or two even resigned in order to go and work for the UDF. However we could never be quite sure about Marta. She was a powerful character, a hard worker, and an excellent translator/interpreter. She also had excellent contacts. But the other LEs seemed to be frightened of her. We were told that her embassy job was a front, that she was a fairly senior member of the secret police, and Party commissar in charge of all our LEs. This could all have been nonsense, fuelled by jealousies. But on the other hand it could have been not too far from the truth, as that was the way things often worked in pre-1989 Eastern Europe. But as The Changes advanced so we were able more and more to disregard old suspicions. So what if Marta had originally been a dangerous member of the other side, now that its component factions had largely either disintegrated or switched alignment? Marta

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certainly threw herself into what must have seemed to her a radically new role, suggesting people to meet, pushing me to the front of demonstrations and parliamentary meetings, introducing me to politicians, suggesting initiatives. Judging from the nature and quality of her contacts I found it difficult to believe that she was some kind of double agent, as they all without exception proved to be what she said they were. As a result we were one of the best informed western embassies, with some of the best contacts. Certainly my fellow ambassadors envied me my luck to have such a useful member of staff, and I often caught them consulting her on the quiet – and why not. It was with a heavy heart that I eventually told Marta that she had been declared redundant as the result of a London-based review of LE staff in Eastern Europe. She was distraught, at what she I am sure genuinely regarded as a stab in the back and gross ingratitude. And she was right. The redundancy and the review were fictions, devised to pander to the fears—more likely jealousies—of other members of the LE staff, and also plain dislike on the part of many of the UK-based staff. I had resisted moves in this direction for as long as I could. But, after a period away on leave, I found that the scene had been set—letters written and rumours created—and I caved in, ignominiously. In next to no time a ‘new’ post had been created, with a very slightly different job description, and an admirable person got the new job. But she was not a patch on Marta, who was exceptional. 1989 was a year of political ferment all over Eastern Europe. Disaffected East Germans had spread into other fraternal countries, with a number holed up in the West German embassies in Prague and elsewhere, where they were safe from the attentions of fraternal police. There were even a few trying to reach the West German embassy in Sofia, one of whom frightened the wits out of me late one night. I was reading the paper, with just one reading light on, and everyone else already in bed, with my back to a French window leading out to the garden terrace, which was in darkness. Something tapped on the window and I looked round to see a man apparently trying to break in. As soon as I got up to investigate he fled. It was only later that I realised he must have been an East German seeking sanctuary with my West German colleague, whose house also had a French window at the back leading on to a garden terrace, and that he had come to the wrong one. My German colleague had a number of uninvited guests who arrived in this way at the time, whose existence and whereabouts had to be concealed from the Bulgarian authorities. But soon everything changed when the Hungarians opened the border into Austria, the pent-up pressure was released, and the other East European regimes lost much of their earlier determination to restrict the movement of their subjects. Meanwhile the Bulgarian regime continued its ethnic cleansing of the country’s main minorities unabated. Something like ten to fifteen percent of the Bulgarian population were either Pomak (ethnic Bulgarians who had adopted Turkish ways and religion during the Ottoman period) or ethnically Turkish, mainly the latter. There was also a sizeable Roma minority, most of whom were also Muslim. For reasons best known to himself Zhivkov had determined to remove these minorities from the demographic composition of the Bulgarian population. As even he could not very well liquidate or expel them – there were after all maybe one and a half million of them – he had resorted to a cruel mass campaign of identity suppression. By the time we arrived in Sofia this was well under way. All Turkish names had had to be Bulgarised, mosques were closed and in many cases demolished, Muslim graves were vandalised and desecrated, and it was a crime to speak Turkish or to wear Turkish style dress. For example, the acknowledged leader of the ethnic Turkish community, Ahmed Dogan, had had to rename himself Medi Doganov, and was in any case in prison, as were the trade unionist Trenchev and Father Hristofer Subev, a turbulent Christian Orthodox priest

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who had made a public point of supporting the right of Muslims in Bulgaria to practise their own religion. Along with other western ambassadors I was under instructions to make it clear that we did not approve of this abuse of human rights, and was expected to raise it whenever I visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the Bulgarians had a ready answer. There was no such thing as a Bulgarian ethnic Turk. All Bulgarians were Bulgarian, so what were we complaining about? And the same went for so-called Pomaks and Roma. Have some more rakia. And maybe another cup of the Ministry’s excellent Bulgarian coffee? (Remarkably similar to the Turkish variety, I would sometimes suggest, though this attempt at humour was rarely, if ever, acknowledged.) It was no good my pointing out, as I usually did, that in all the censuses up to the last one these minorities had been clearly listed and enumerated. I should not bother myself with out of date inaccuracies of that sort. Look instead at the latest census: no mention of any ethnic minorities. The official with whom I conducted these sterile exchanges, Lyubomir Gotsev, was officially the Under-Secretary equivalent in charge of relations with western countries, but we believed him to be a General in the state security apparatus, a belief that was confirmed when he was unmasked once the communist regime had collapsed. My predecessor had apparently been in the habit of lunching with Gotsev every few weeks, to keep in touch with Bulgarian official thinking on this and that in a social, civilised way, and my deputy head of mission was keen that I should continue this practice. But I could not bring myself to do so. As far as I was concerned Gotsev was a nasty piece of work with whom I had no wish to share tittle-tattle. I was wrong to be so fastidious, of course, for diplomats have to swallow their personal prejudices if they are to be effective. But luckily for me Gotsev eventually became a has-been, before reinventing himself a few years later as a socialist MP and business ‘oligarch’, though not before I had had a few run-ins with him. During the late summer and early autumn of 1989 the regime’s campaign against the ethnic Turks came to a head, with a stand-off between it and the Turkish government. Ethnic Turks were allegedly being rounded up in so-called ‘lagers’ ready for ‘voluntary’ departure or enforced expulsion across the border into Turkey. All this was going on in the southeastern corner of the country, where most of the ethnic Turks lived, which was officially out of bounds to western diplomats, but we drove down nevertheless, to get a better idea of what was happening. The police, overt and secret, were too busy harassing their own citizens to be able to keep a proper watch on us, so most of us got into the forbidden zone and were able to confirm that large numbers of people had been cooped up in ramshackle camps in the countryside before making their way, on foot, in donkey carts, cars and trucks overflowing with goods and chattels, to the border crossing at Svilengrad on the main road to Edirne and Istanbul. The roads and the crossing were jammed with traffic and pedestrians, all going the same way, and all in shock and distress. In the course of three or four weeks over 300,000 Bulgarians who were ethnically Turkish left their country, most of them under duress - about 4% of the total Bulgarian population. This was said to have been the biggest single human displacement in Europe since the Second World War. It passed almost unnoticed in the western media, which was preoccupied with events further west, in and around the GDR. The Bulgarian media, still entirely state controlled, explained that all these people—without specifying how many there were—had gone to Turkey ‘on holiday’. Soon after the ethnic Turks had been conveniently shooed out of the country, Bulgaria staged an ‘Eco-Forum’, an international conference on ecological concerns, under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE, later renamed OSCE, for Organisation), in an attempt to burnish its credentials as a modern forward-looking state. Governments and NGOs from around the world were invited, and all

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the apparatus of a major international conference was set up in Sofia’s Palace of Culture, a massive modernist edifice set about with communist statuary in a park a mile or so from the city centre. The Forum was opened by Zhivkov, and it soon transpired that the host state was represented only by its government, with not a Bulgarian NGO to be seen. We had assumed, naively perhaps, that at least Ecoglasnost would be taking part. But enquiries by western delegations met with bland assertions variously that no such organisation existed or that, if it did, it had not asked for accreditation. As we knew that these assertions were untrue we all walked out, explaining that we could not participate unless Bulgarian NGOs were allowed the same degree of access as NGOs from other countries, with particular reference to Ecoglasnost. The conference ground to a halt barely an hour after it had started, but a few hours later we were told that an administrative error had been corrected and a Bulgarian NGO would participate after all. So Ecoglasnost was admitted and the conference resumed its deliberations. With the Eco-Forum finally under way and its participation assured, Ecoglasnost felt confident enough to stage a small demonstration in a park next to all the main public and Party buildings in the middle of the city, mainly to protest about the environmental consequences of a projected dam in the Rila Mountains. Unmindful of the likely PR consequences for a government hosting an international conference on the future of the environment, the authorities broke up the demonstration, arrested some of the ringleaders, and carted most of the participants a few miles out of town where they were tipped out and left to find their way home as best they could. News of what had happened spread quickly. The demonstration had taken place while the ambassadors of the NATO states were holding one of their regular meetings, and we heard what had been going on when we emerged from the Turkish embassy, outside which were parked our various official cars, each flying its national flag—a small mark of western solidarity laid on for the benefit of the Sofiote citizenry after every NATO and EU monthly meeting. I told Simeon, my driver, that I’d like to go home via Crystal Park, where the demonstration had taken place. Simeon was reluctant, suggesting that the road had probably been blocked and that it would be better to go straight back to the Residence. As with the rest of our locally engaged staff, Simeon’s loyalties lay partly with the Bulgarian authorities who had supplied him, in his case the Interior Ministry, as he was my ‘personal protection officer’, in more senses than one, and he could well have been told to try to keep me away from the scene. But I insisted. There were no road blocks, and a few minutes later our very British looking Jaguar, flying a small union jack emblazoned with the royal arms, drove slowly past all that was left of the demonstration – a couple of overturned market stalls, two or three policemen, and a straggle of bystanders, one of whom I recognised as Petur Beron, the leader of Ecoglasnost. It seemed only natural to stop the car and get out to greet him. We shook hands, and as we did so the bystanders applauded, watched by the policemen. Over a hurried lunch Catherine and I caught up with each other’s news. She had heard that there was to be a march down a nearby street, which she would watch while I nipped into the chancery to report as much as I knew to London before visiting the Palace of Culture to exchange notes with our Eco-Forum delegation, which was led by a senior FCO official, Sir Anthony Williams. In the event Catherine allowed herself, willingly, to be swept along into a protest meeting, where she noticed that she was not the only westerner present when she caught the eye of my French colleague. The conference had again been adjourned, to register the concern of the western delegations at the treatment meted out to members of Bulgaria’s leading environmental NGO (in truth probably Bulgaria’s only tolerated NGO of any persuasion), an NGO moreover that

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was part of the Bulgarian representation at the conference. There was a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, and eventually some kind of face-saving formula was agreed to enable the proceedings to be resumed. While this was going on I heard that I had been summoned urgently to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meeting with Mr Gotsev. Bulgarian is an explosive tongue, mainly because, unusually for a Slavonic language, it employs definite articles, which are post-positional and consist mainly of the letter t. Thus ‘bridge’ is ‘most’, while ‘the bridge’ is ‘mostut’, ‘mother’ is ‘maika’, while ‘the mother’ is ‘maikata’, ‘dog’ is ‘kuche’, while ‘the dog’ is ‘kucheto’ and so on through the three genders and two numbers. This linguistic quirk gives an angry Bulgar plenty of opportunity to sound like a busy machine gun, emitting a steady shower of spittle in the process. Meetings with Gotsev were normally conducted in English, which he spoke almost perfectly, but on this occasion, presumably to emphasise the gravity of the occasion, he spoke in Bulgarian, with an interpreter. The three of us were seated round a small coffee table, and I soon learned the full force of near hysterical spoken Bulgarian, in both its acoustic and wetting potential, as Gotsev shouted at me from a distance of about a foot for what seemed an age but was probably only four or five minutes. The gist of what he had to say was that I was interfering in Bulgaria’s internal affairs to an intolerable degree and that the MFA was minded to declare me persona non grata unless I mended my ways. After wiping my face clear of some of Gotsev’s spittle with the demonstratively large handkerchief that fortunately I had in my pocket, I said that shaking hands with the head of an NGO which was accredited to a CSCE conference attended by both our governments didn’t strike me as interference, but undertook to report the Minister’s remarks to my authorities, and took my leave. Gotsev’s reaction was bad news. Expulsion of an ambassador was tantamount to breaking relations, and I doubted whether the FCO would thank me for having precipitated such a dire state of affairs. In fact I was pretty sure that they would be fed to the teeth, and would at best consign me to some dreary job at home, organising Queen’s Messenger schedules perhaps, or running the Tuvalu desk, and at my previous rank (for I was still on probation as a Grade 3), or at worst propel me into early retirement. Like most people posted abroad at the end of a spell at home, I had been bumping along on Empty, on an overdraft and seriously extended credit cards, a dismal state of financial affairs from which I was only just beginning to emerge. And of course I had no wish to complicate the UK’s foreign relations, though this loftier consideration was, I confess, greatly outweighed by my baser personal worries. I sought out Anthony Williams at the Palace of Culture and told him how worried I was. He clearly thought I was a wimp, and he was probably right. He suggested that we should have a robust telephone conversation, during which we would discuss the Bulgarians’ many failings, and the likely consequences – mainly financial, as they were heavily in debt to western institutions including British banks – if they were to carry out any of their threats. The Residence telephone was well and truly bugged, so we were sure that our conversation would be monitored, and that Gotsev would get a transcript in next to no time. And sure enough a few days later I encountered him in the margins of the Conference. He was smarmily all sweetness and light. There was no way of knowing whether he had decided to let the matter drop as a result of the telephone conversation or whether—all bark and no—he had been bluffing. On 11 November I was half listening to the BBC World Service 8am news. I was shaving, and I almost cut myself. Zhivkov had been deposed! And where was I? On a short break in Istanbul. In the wrong country. Not in post. Away from the action. The stuff of ambassadorial nightmares. Why couldn’t whoever had given Zhivkov the push have waited a couple more days? Would there be mayhem? Would the border remain open?

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But all remained calm. It transpired that Zhivkov had been persuaded to resign by a cabal of Politburo members who had had enough of his patent inability to arrest the country’s economic decline and rampant corruption, and in his apparent determination to stir up internal unrest, which was bringing Bulgaria into ever greater international disfavour. One of the leaders of this palace coup was Petur Mladenov, who as Foreign Minister had seemed moderately broad-minded. Another was the Foreign Trade Minister, Andrei Lukanov, a smooth KGB trained ‘Euro-Communist’. Mladenov took over as interim President. Quite by chance the PUS (Permanent Under Secretary, Head of the Diplomatic Service, and very much my boss) was booked to arrive in Sofia on a regular ‘pastoral’ visit to the embassy only a couple of days after Zhivkov’s ouster. This was an amazing stroke of luck, which we massaged to look as though we had planned it on the spur of the moment so as to register British approval of this latest turn of events. So I was able to accompany one of the UK’s most senior officials on a call on Petur Mladenov on the very first day that he was open to diplomatic business. It transpired that Sir Patrick (later Lord) Wright was not only the first western dignitary to pay an official call on Mladenov in his new role; he was the first from any foreign country. This apparently slick British manoeuvre drew much envious comment from my western colleagues. Again quite by chance, a couple of years later, Patrick, newly retired and doing us a favour by advising the MFA on how to run its affairs in an accountable and democratic manner, as part of our Know How Fund programme, was staying with us. It was getting late and we were enjoying a gossip over a nightcap when the telephone rang. Philip Dimitrov had been asked by President Zhelev to form a government, as the UDF had just won the second post-communist general election, ousting the former communist Bulgarian Socialist Party. Could he stop by, straight away, as he had some pressing matters to discuss concerning the make-up of his new administration – with many apologies of course for the lack of notice and the lateness of the hour? I told Philip that he was always welcome, whatever time of day or night, and then did some urgent telephoning of my own, to muster some support. I have half forgotten now who came. Certainly Les Buchanan, my Deputy, maybe Nicholas King, the Defence Attaché, and maybe also Christine Laidlaw and Sarah Lampert, the Commercial First and Chancery Third Secretaries respectively, four very doughty friends and colleagues. Philip duly turned up, accompanied by a couple of UDF colleagues, Stefan Tafrov and Solomon Passi, and explained that he wanted to be sure that the British government would have no serious concerns about any of the people he proposed to include in his administration. This was such an extraordinary request that we found it difficult to conceal our amazement, but we put on what we hoped were calm businesslike expressions and went carefully through the list that Philip had brought with him. There was no-one on it to whom we could have had the slightest objection, so of course we said so, and then we all drank to the success of Bulgaria’s new government, the first truly democratic one in its history. After our guests had left Patrick said that he’d seen some pretty amazing things in his time, but never had he witnessed a foreign prime minister checking out his proposed administration with the British ambassador, nor had he ever expected to. It certainly was a long way out of the usual way of doing things, and it proved to typify the state of AngloBulgarian relations for the next year or two. What a sad contrast to the state of relations from 2014 on, when the British government began to make toadying to the Daily Mail and UKIP tendencies by demonising the Bulgarians (and Romanians) a plank of their EU, immigration and eventually Brexit policies. A great deal had happened between these two serendipitous Patrick Wright events, as ‘The Changes’ gathered momentum and took effect. We were soon assured in November 1989 that Zhivkov’s ouster had amounted to no more than a reshuffle. Bulgaria was still a

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one party communist state with a command economy, a member of the Warsaw Pact and of Comecon. But the genie was out of the bottle. It was not long before a rash of new political parties began to develop, posters and pamphlets began to appear, some of them eventually morphing into newssheets and, later, newspapers. All this activity was still technically illegal, but the authorities lost the will to clamp down on it, and when the Romanian revolution broke out over Christmas, only five or six weeks after Zhivkov was toppled, Bulgarian Television crews, still in theory Party controlled, were in Timosoara and Bucharest beaming back reports couched in unashamedly anti-Ceausescu terms. Political prisoners were quietly released, including Dogan, Trenchev and Subev. The government’s anti-Turkish rhetoric was toned down, and as the policy of ethnic cleansing slowly fizzled out most of the people who had fled to Turkey began to trickle home again. Dogan formed a political party (the Movement for - ethnic Turkish - Rights and Freedoms), Podkrepa’s illegality was forgotten, and Subev harnessed the power of a renascent Bulgarian Orthodox Church, with massive and often very moving demonstrations. The greatest of these took place after dark in the great open space surrounding the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Our children were at home for the university Christmas vacation, so we went along as a family group. Word had got around that everyone was to bring a candle. There must have been tens of thousands present, in near darkness. Subev was a powerful orator, and we all did his bidding. At one stage everyone turned to face East, in a gesture of Christian solidarity, and then, for the peroration, we were instructed to light our candles. The square was suddenly filled with flickering candlelight, as a powerful and moving symbol of a reawakening enlightenment, and the great bass bell of Alexander Nevski, silenced for half a century, boomed out. The demonstration ended with everyone belting out Bulgaria’s ancient patriotic hymn, Mnogo e Leta. Then everyone went home, in near silence, without even a hint of violence. It is difficult to convey how moving this was. It was as though the nation had at last returned home after a long and painful exile. Anti-government and anti-BCP (Bulgarian Communist Party) demonstrations took place almost daily. Alexander caught the mood when he asked ‘Dad, where’s the Demo of the Day?’, and one evening he reappeared, full of how he and ‘the lads’, Bulgarian students he had fallen in with, had climbed the statue of (Russian) Tsar Alexander II Svoboditel (Liberator) in front of Parliament and cut the communist symbol out of the Bulgarian flag that was flying above it. This really was interference, provocatively so, about which Gotsev would have good reason to complain had he known who all the perpetrators were. Alexander assured me that he would try not to get quite so involved in future. There was very little violence. A few barricades were set up, and the odd bus set on fire, but this sort of thing seemed more for show than for real. A few people were injured, and there were two or three deaths, probably the result of accidents rather than of intentional force. This largely peaceful course of events was in marked contrast to what was going on over the Danube in Romania, and just before Christmas we were told that first the Canadian and then the British embassies were to be evacuated from Bucharest to Sofia, as the situation had become too dangerous for them to remain in Romania. There was no Canadian mission in Sofia, so were deputed to help, as good Commonwealth partners. The weather was vile and many of the Sofia staff had flu. But we had security, food, power and fuel, commodities in very short supply in Bucharest. My Deputy at the time, Mike Frost, took charge of the rescue party. He first met the Canadians at the frontier on the cynically named Freedom Bridge over the Danube near Rousse, a couple of hundred kilometres away, provided them with enough petrol and food to get to Sofia, and then the next day repeated the exercise for our own, rather larger, contingent, some of whom, especially the ambassador’s family, were pretty shaken up. Mike and many of his team felt rotten and full of flu, and were up most of

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the night, two nights running, doling out supplies and driving up and down a couple of hundred miles of road to ensure that there were no stragglers or others in need of assistance. The Ambassador’s wife, Veronica Atkinson, and daughter had been holed up in the cellar of the Bucharest Residence, hiding from a sniper who had set up shop upstairs, targeted by a tank in the street. Meanwhile Michael, the ambassador, had been in the embassy chancery in another part of the city, unable to communicate with his family and unaware of the danger they were in. Somehow they were reunited, unharmed. But the Residence was wrecked. All the refugees from Bucharest were installed in the Sofia Sheraton before flying home to Canada and the UK. The hotel management did a wonderful job, and everyone was ‘processed’, fed and rested in an almost party atmosphere of relief. And it really was a party for the Atkinsons’ daughter, whose 21st birthday fell that day. The hotel’s champagne was on the house. We were able to find seats on planes for everyone, but even though Christmas Day was not officially a public holiday in communist Bulgaria, Air Balkan’s accounts department was firmly closed and the tickets could not be issued unless they were paid for. The ticket office told us that they had no means of billing the embassy’s account, and that we would have to wait two or three days for the finance department to reopen. This was not deliberate obstruction, just plain old-fashioned, maddening inefficiency. Fortunately I had a ‘Gold’ American Express card, which I was now able to put to the test. It paid the necessary twentyfive odd thousand pounds (about half my annual salary) without batting a celluloid eyelid, and everyone got on their way. A couple of months later, after Amex had begun threatening me with dire retribution, not to mention crippling interest payments, the FCO’s Finance Department eventually conceded defeat and paid up. They had found my means of paying staff fares unorthodox and most definitely unauthorised. They too had been closed on Christmas Day, unsurprisingly, but had assured me a few days later that of course my Amex account would be credited immediately, an assurance that somehow they then promptly forgot. Perhaps they had to carry the unexpected expense over into a new accounting period. Whatever the reason, I endured an unsettling few weeks, with repeated explanations to Finance Dept and entreaties to Amex. During the first few months of 1990 the BCP reinvented itself as the BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) and the various opposition groups morphed into political parties, newly legalised. A number of opposition newspapers sprang up, notably Democratsia, all of them chronically short of newsprint, a problem that did not seem to affect the BCP paper Rabotnichesko Delo (‘Worker’s Deed’), renamed Duma (‘Word’) once it became the mouthpiece of the new BSP. In the winter of 1990-91, when almost everything was in short supply during the switch to a market economy, Robert Maxwell, the British MP and publishing tycoon, who had access to limitless supplies of Canadian newsprint, offered some at mates’ rates to Duma, the only paper which still had reasonably assured supplies, but none to the struggling opposition papers, which had none. I suggested to him that this was not only unfair but that it could well mean that he cut off his nose to spite his face, as it was only a matter of time before the anti-communist/socialist parties would have the upper hand, and might well decide to reward him for such partisan and discriminatory behaviour by severing his privileged access to Bulgaria’s printing industry, which was his main interest in the country. To my surprise and relief this argument seemed to carry weight, and he spread the offer to the whole press, with allocations in proportion to circulation. To give Maxwell his due, this emergency supply of newsprint, together with a load of essential pharmaceutical and medical supplies, helped save Bulgaria’s bacon at a very difficult time. It was certainly a good deal more helpful than most of his other forays.

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Bulgaria’s first truly democratic elections took place in June 1990. The BSP won, but only narrowly, and Zhelev won a seat for the UDF. This election paved the way in August for a ‘Grand National Assembly’ (a constitutional survival dating back to the Bulgarians’ nineteenth century struggle to free themselves from the ‘Turkish Yoke’) to create a new constitution and elect a President. The new constitution, which provided for the direct election of the President, was finally adopted in July the following year, and in January 1992 Zhelev won the first of the new style Presidential elections. He then served a full five-year term. The 1990 general election was very thoroughly monitored by teams of international election observers, including several from the UK. Our monitoring effort was organised by a team of British returning officers. Volunteers – mostly from the embassy, but also including a sprinkling from our small expatriate community of teachers and business people – were divided into groups of three or four, some of them led by the experts from home, and all of us benefitting from a crash training course organised by them a day or two earlier. LE staff, most of whom did little to conceal their excitement at the prospect of a genuine poll, were included, mainly as interpreters. Catherine and I formed a team with Rosina, my language teacher, and Simeon our driver, who took delight in arriving suddenly and dramatically at our allocated polling stations in his beloved Jaguar, sometimes in a carefully choreographed shower of gravel. If this was democracy western style, he was all for it. We did our best to curb a bit of his enthusiasm, which must have seemed arrogant. Nevertheless it was undeniably fun to be so clearly in the driving seat for a day, in a country whose government had till recently made its poor opinion of all things western very clear. Rosina enjoyed every minute of it. When the UDF and their allies lost they let themselves down in a display of sour grapes, alleging fraud, irregularities etc, when in fact the consensus of the international observers was that the election had in the main been conducted freely and fairly. The UDF’s membership was mainly urban, sophisticated, radical and youthful, and was almost certainly outnumbered by the rural, cautious, conservative middle-aged and elderly, who would have been easily persuaded by the BSP to stick with the old BCP certainties. It is easy to write this years later, with the benefit of plenty of hindsight, and I realise that at the time I sympathised with the UDF, thinking that we must all have been hoodwinked into believing that the election had been stolen by concealed irregularities. There was a good deal of naivete about at the time, on the part both of the anti-communists and the ‘West’. Give democracy a chance, and everything will come right in the twinkling of an eye - which was very far from the way things turned out. The UDF—the ‘Blues’—had been deceived by the size and enthusiasm of their final rallies in Sofia and elsewhere, but particularly in Sofia, where theirs easily outshone that of the ‘Reds’. And certainly we in the embassy, and our dozen or so acting returning officers, had never thought we would ever see such an enormous crowd, which we were told numbered more than a million people. None of us had the slightest idea how to calculate crowd sizes. All we knew was that the Blues filled Boulevard Tsar Osvoboditel, from the Eagle Bridge in the centre of the city almost to the airport four or five kilometres away. This is a six-lane highway with, for a kilometre or so at its city-centre end, broad tree-lined grass verges in the manner of a somewhat shambolic Champs Elysees. To fill all that up must have taken an awful lot of people, and certainly far more than the competing Red crowd that stretched back from the Eagle Bridge in the opposite direction. The Reds, used to half a century of regimentation, would have turned out only if they really had to, while being fully prepared to vote for their side the following day even if they had managed to avoid standing

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around for hours on end in a rally. Whereas for the Blues the prospect of an anti-BCP/BSP rally was an exciting novelty. The ruling BSP—in other words the government—provided all the sound equipment and so on for the Reds. We had assumed that the Blues would have to manage with amateurish, improvised kit. But not a bit of it. Fraternal Greek centre and right-wing parties lent a massive amount of apparatus, so that half Sofia rang to the Blues’ catchy anthem ‘Forty-five years is enough’, punctuated by impassioned speechifying. One of the speakers proved to be Sol Polansky, my US colleague. This was quite a surprise, completely against all the rules, and could well have proved counter-productive. I can well imagine what the UDF, and Sol himself for that matter, would have said if the Soviet ambassador had spoken for the Reds at their rally next door. But at the time Sol was received rapturously by the Blue crowd. Soon after the election we went on home leave, only fifteen or so months after arriving in post. Normally we would have been expected to wait at least eighteen months, but we had two special reasons for wanting to get home early, one domestic and the other diplomatic. The former was my parents’ diamond wedding, due on 19 July, and the latter was an invitation to dinner at Claridges from ex-King Simeon. We chose to drive back to England and, with a good deal of help from overnight car-carrying trains, made the dinner in the nick of time. Buckingham Palace had advised us that it would be wrong to address the King and Queen as Their Majesties, or even Royal Highnesses, so we managed to avoid calling them anything, which they clearly did not hold against us as they both proved charming and friendly hosts. This was just as well, as to our surprise we were seated next to them as guests of honour. The King had had to supply his own Bulgarian wine, much to his feigned chagrin, and the evening was punctuated by numerous toasts to Bulgaria, freedom, democracy and so on. There must have been at least two dozen guests, the cream of the Bulgarian émigré community, including Johnny and Alexandra Stancioff and Johnny’s cousin Dimi Panitza, the European Managing Editor of The Readers Digest, and his wife Yvonne. Dimi was later to go on to set up homes for Bulgarian street children and to help found the American University at Blagoevgrad. While we were away things hotted up in Bulgaria, especially in Sofia, where student led protest became a daily affair. Mladenov, the Prime Minister, was caught on a UDF video apparently asking someone with whom he was watching a demonstration from a balcony ‘Shouldn’t we send in the tanks?’ This did for him, and he stepped down in early July, to be replaced by Andre Lukanov. Lukanov was the West’s—especially western business’— favourite Bulgarian communist, a smooth talking and plausible cosmopolitan, but he was not much loved by his own compatriots. The left thought he was too chummy with western businessmen and politicians, including Robert Maxwell, while the right could not forget his Moscow upbringing and his Soviet connections, especially with the KGB. I always found him good company, but had to remember to try extra hard not to let my guard down, as behind the apparent easy-going charm lay a razor sharp and possibly still hostile mind. The poor chap was destined to be gunned down in 1996 at the door of his flat by an unknown assassin. One form of protest was the ‘City of Freedom’, consisting of dozens of tents set up in the centre of Sofia and occupied round the clock by anti-government students. Some of it was still there when we got back from leave. But we missed the main excitement, which took place during the night of our return while we were sound asleep after our long drive across Europe – assisted once again by a couple of car-carrying trains – when the protestors broke into the Party House (BCP/BSP headquarters, and one of the most imposing buildings in the city centre), ransacked it and set it alight. Most of the embassy staff watched from the

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sidelines, but they elected not to wake us, no doubt from the highest of motives. I was fed to the teeth to have missed out. The protests continued well into the autumn, still led by the students but gradually spreading to workers in the media and hospitals and clinics. Lukanov gave up at the end of November and handed over to a caretaker ‘technocratic’ government led by Dimitur Popov, pending fresh elections. This was the government that presided over the switch to a market economy, a period characterised by severe shortages, hoarding and a currency collapse. There was nothing in the shops. The dreary, fly-blown supermarket across the road from the embassy, never over-enticing even at the best of times, contained nothing but bare shelves for two or three months, as did all the other shops that we came across. Queues for bread got longer and longer, power cuts became the norm, and it was clear that there was genuine hardship. Most city-dwelling Bulgarians had rural connections—a granny in a cooperative farm or a friend with a scrap of land - from whom they could scrounge, and a certain amount of produce continued to find its way into the markets, so somehow people scraped through the winter. This state of affairs had a perversely beneficial effect for the embassy’s UK based staff, as it coincided with the arrival of the FCO overseas inspectors charged with a management and allowances audit. Their final report, ‘written by guttering candlelight in a freezing Chancery’, painted an alarming picture, and our overseas allowances were duly and satisfactorily bumped up. It was during this grim winter that the great Zhelev visit to London took place, and the Bulgarian visitors were made uncomfortably aware of the plentiful supplies in British shops. Arrangements had been made by one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting to take Maria Zheleva to a supermarket where she could have for free whatever she could cram into a large trolley to take back to Bulgaria, presumably in return for a publicity photograph. Maria was tempted by this offer, which she thought she could turn to good account by acquiring largish quantities of a few basics for a number of people at home she knew to be in pretty desperate need of help. But her husband would have none of it. She could certainly go ahead with the shopping, but she would pay for it like anyone else, for he had no wish to risk his, or Bulgaria’s, reputation with such an exercise, which could easily be misrepresented by his political enemies, and which anyway he thought would be wrong. With a new government in power and the Know How Fund now extended to Bulgaria, our relationship with the country and its institutions widened and deepened. Programmes were set up in a number of fields, including local government (headed by the leader of our election monitors), labour and employment (with job centres—a novel idea in a country used to a command economy, where job choices were pre-ordained), and environmental issues. Ways were found to boost the scope of our special concern, the care of disabled children. We worked under the aegis of the Thomson Foundation to help Bulgarian journalists and the media in general become proactive and independent minded – unthinkable in a communist state. Within the embassy’s own competence we started programmes aimed at civilianising and making more accountable the defence and interior ministries. The Defence Attaché spent more and more of his time in the Ministry of Defence, to which he had a pass and in which he had his own office space. As part of this education process the head of what until very recently we had referred to as the secret police, the Durzhavna Sigurnost (State Security, or DS), together with half a dozen of his most senior officers, came to lunch, before setting off for a fortnight’s exposure to western ways and training methods in England. As social occasions go this was a pretty sticky affair, and surreal. These stiff but polite men, exchanging toasts to eternal Anglo-Bulgarian friendship and cooperation, were after all the

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very same ones who had spent most of their careers making dissidents’ lives miserable, as well as harassing western diplomats and other foreign residents. The General—they all had military ranks—solemnly presented me with an Interior Ministry officer’s ceremonial dagger as a memento of our cosy get-together. We were of course aware before The Changes got under way that we were all bugged, in our homes and in our offices, and under constant surveillance, by our locally engaged (LE) staff, by DS heavies, and by electronic means of various sorts. The surveillance fizzled out very quickly, and it was not long before we were able to be confident about our relationships with the LEs. Socialising with Bulgarians, hitherto permissible only for senior staff and within strict boundaries, soon became the norm. We were able to establish that the various bugs that we had identified had been deactivated, but one gadget—a concealed directional camera trained at times on the Chancery entrance and at others on one or other of the Residence front gates—was still functioning. We knew this to be so because our technical officer was able to see what it was seeing, through one of his gadgets that picked up the camera’s ‘tempest radiation’. The camera was hidden behind a grimy net curtain in an upstairs window above the supermarket across the road. We were puzzled, and just a bit disconcerted. Why hadn’t the camera been removed, or at least switched off, now that everything else of that sort had been scrapped? An opportunity to find the answer came when we had the new Minister of the Interior to dinner. He was a former judge, seemed moderately apolitical, and certainly well disposed. And, happily enough, it was he who brought the conversation round to bugging and how it had all stopped, thank goodness. But, I asked, what about the camera across the road? Why was it still there? Ah-ha, he replied, fancy your having spotted it. We could rest assured that it had been switched off some weeks ago. I explained that, on the contrary, it was still working, and that the superior nature of our kit had long enabled us to pick up its transmissions. The Minister said that he had given orders for the camera to be deactivated, and that someone must have either forgotten to do this or had deliberately disobeyed his instructions. He would investigate. The next morning he rang me up. Any better? he asked. I said I’d find out and ring him back. I rushed up to our security boffin’s eyrie and asked him to check. Sure enough the camera had been switched off, to the boffin’s distress, as he had enjoyed tuning in to see what it was looking at. I rang the Minister back. Much better, I assured him. And a few days later we saw that the gadget had been removed. New notes and coins were issued, with the Lev pegged to the Deutschmark, and goods reappeared in the shops, but at much increased prices in real terms. Agriculture withered, with pathetic little private enterprise attempts to manage with whatever equipment had been filched from the now largely defunct or moribund cooperative farms. Commercial advertising gradually replaced communist propaganda banners, at first concentrating bizarrely on Marlboro cigarettes. Small private enterprise shops and restaurants sprang up, many of them in garages beneath blocks of flats. An unpleasing class of petty crooks or Mafiosi developed, many of them armed. Their main field of activity appeared to be in stolen cars, with Mercedes the car of choice for anyone attempting to set up in ‘business’. Constantine, our hitherto totally dependable butler, son of Simeon his predecessor and grandson of the Legation’s first butler in 1914, suddenly upped and left, to try his hand as a ‘businessman’, complete with elderly Merc, trading in the Central Market. Economic change was certainly in the air. Relationships also changed, vastly for the better. Bulgarians turned out to be open hearted, welcoming and hospitable, and in what seemed next to no time we were making friends with plenty of them. A walk in the countryside or through a village almost always

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included one or more encounters with people who were eager to know all about us and where we came from. Catherine exchanged knitting techniques with cheerful crones gossiping in village streets, nuns and monks invited us into their monasteries and plied us with yoghurt and rakia, fellow skiers stood us beers in the amateurish looking bars that were springing up round the ski-lifts. We went on a seaside holiday with a family—Ivo and Regina Indzhev and their three children—at Ivo’s old-style trade union holiday camp at Shkorpilovtsi, something that would have been totally unthinkable only a couple of years earlier. Ivo was the head of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency, and the BTA summer camp consisted of chalets and a central block containing a canteen and games rooms, all surrounded by sand dunes. We queued for our moderately disgusting canteen food twice a day, but did for ourselves for breakfast in our chalet, and spent the day lazing on the beach and splashing around with the children in the sea. It was a good, old fashioned seaside holiday, little different from those enjoyed during the communist era by thousands of Bulgarians as a matter of course— provided they had kept their noses clean and done as they were told. We got to know the Indzhevs well, and spent many evenings with them in their Mladost (‘Youth’) flat, one of thousands, all much the same, in the dreary, jerry-built, hortatively named blocks of flats that surrounded Sofia and most other towns and cities in the former Soviet bloc. Like most of their neighbours, Ivo and Regina had glassed in their balcony to give themselves more living space. But even so there was not enough bedroom space to go round, and someone, usually Mum and Dad, had to sleep in the living room – a standard arrangement. (Childless couples were generally allocated single room studio apartments.) These blocks were mostly eight to ten storeys high, and the lift was quite often out of order. But the Indzhevs enjoyed a wonderful view of Vitosha, the crouching lionshaped mountain that rises straight out of Sofia’s southern suburbs, and their hospitality was generous and fun—a welcome contrast to so much of the formal variety to which we were constantly subjected (and which perforce we had to dish out ourselves). Ivo had learned his English by listening to and imitating Beatles songs on—frownedon and frequently jammed—western radio. He was half Czech, on his mother’s side, and Regina was German, from the GDR. He had spent a number of years as the BTA correspondent in Beirut, where he had been able to mix with westerners and, presumably, honed his anti-communist views. So the Indzhevs were a bit too cosmopolitan to count as a typical Bulgarian family, but they had played the system skilfully, keeping their real opinions well hidden from Party busybodies, so that not only did Ivo have an important job but the children were able to attend one of the best schools in the country, with places reserved largely for the offspring of Party bigwigs and fraternal diplomats. We had first met Ivo during the early stages of The Changes, when he struck us as a friendly, open minded and well-informed journalist, in marked contrast to most of the other local hacks we’d come across, though we didn’t at that stage know him at all well. But when our daughter Phoebe and her boyfriend Kim Mordaunt, a student at Australia’s national film academy, arrived at Christmas 1990 to stay for the Australian Long Vacation, and Kim told us at that he wanted to make a documentary on The Changes as his final diploma exercise, Catherine reckoned that Ivo could well prove a useful contact and arranged for them to meet. Her hunch was spot on. Ivo and Kim got on well, and Kim was soon introduced to a mass of people, all eager to help. It was as a result of all this networking that Catherine and I first got to know Ivo and Regina properly. Making the film brought Kim into contact with an even wider spread of people, ranging from Maria Zheleva, the President’s wife, to folk singers, former political dissidents, artists, journalists, poets - including the Vice-President, Blaga Dimitrova—actors, musicians, politicians, all sorts, most of whom eventually featured in the completed film. He met many

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of them through us or Ivo, but plenty more materialised out of the blue, having heard what was afoot, and so the range of contacts and cast list snowballed. In the end it was a matter of Kim’s introducing people to us as much as the other way round. We had made an arrangement for what we assumed would be a standard interview with the head of the BTA, little thinking that this meeting would grow into friendship with the whole Indzhev family, as at that stage we had known Ivo merely as an occasional official contact. We benefitted similarly from a number of Kim’s other contacts. Maria Zheleva was a documentary film maker, and on her recommendation Kim was able to use an editing suite at Sofia’s main film studios for free, provided he did so in the middle of the night when it was not otherwise required. So, while he stayed with us off and on for a number of weeks while he made the film, we did not see very much of him, as he tended to be asleep when we were awake. Eventually we prevailed on him to accompany us on a trip to Ochrid in Macedonia, the Canterbury or Rome of the Macedonian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, beautifully set on the shores of its lake facing across to Albania, full of wonderful medieval churches, and with restaurants featuring the arctic char for which the lake is famous. Kim slept most of the way there, but managed to wake up enough to enjoy Ochrid’s buildings and view, and the char. ‘Forty-five Years Is Enough’ was shown to an invited audience in a cinema and then, more publicly, on Bulgarian and Australian television. Inevitably it stirred up controversy in Bulgaria, with some old diehards maintaining that they had been traduced and not been given a fair hearing. But, for most of the people who saw it, it was a clear and moving account of an immense upheaval in Bulgarian history, and all the more remarkable for having been made by a student from the other side of the world with no previous experience of or exposure to communism or to Balkan or any other non-Australian form of politics. As the political social and economic situations gradually settled into their new norms various skeletons began to emerge from a variety of cupboards. The one that concerned us most was the appalling state of the ‘detsky domove’ (children’s homes) and the thirty-five thousand or more disabled, unwanted or politically inconvenient—mainly Roma—children who were hidden away in them. This became the main focus of our welfare concern, and we got fairly deeply involved, so it is the subject of a separate chapter. While NGOs, foreign aid programmes and international agencies have paid a great deal of attention to this unpleasant legacy of decades of a cruel and uncaring system, quite a lot of it is still intact, as various articles and television programmes, from Britain and other countries, have shown—to the irritated embarrassment of the Bulgarian authorities. On a more cheerful note, cultural life and exchanges blossomed. The British Council, represented during the communist years by a single cultural attaché on the embassy staff, was able to re-establish its independence and activities, with a splendid new library and programme. The BBC opened a shop and English language teaching centre, and a steady stream of British academics, writers, musicians, artists of all varieties, flowed in. This was definitely a fun side of diplomatic life, and we were privileged to be able to entertain and accommodate many of these people, including Malcolm Bradbury, Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Michael Holroyd, George Newson, John Amis, Susannah Walton, Steven Runciman, and many others. With Malcolm Bradbury we became marooned in a hotel in a snow-bound Veliko Turnovo where he was the star turn at a residential literary seminar, reminiscent of something in one of his campus novels. Julian Barnes was in Sofia to mark the translation into Bulgarian of his novel Flaubert’s Parrot (Papalagut na Flober); Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd (biographer husband and novelist wife) were with us off and on for a week while they lectured and held seminars in universities around the country; George Newson

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attended the premiere of his double violin concerto, commissioned by the Arts Council and dedicated to the Bulgarian violinists Angel Stankov and Yosef Rodionov, who played it with the Sofia Philharmonic; John Amis and Susannah Walton led a group to perform her late husband William’s ‘Façade’ at the Rousse Festival; Steven Runciman attended a ceremony to mark at long last the Bulgarian translation of his History of the First Bulgarian Empire, which he had written in 1934, and the conferment of a very overdue Honorary Doctorate by Sofia University. He stayed with us for several days, carrying out an exhausting programme, speaking mainly in Bulgarian, which he had not used since 1940, and insisting on walking everywhere. Each evening, when he got back to us after whatever he had been up to that day, he would say ‘Thank goodness I don’t have to go on being polite for a bit!’, then flop down on a sofa and accept a large restorative Armagnac before bed. He was over 90. Meanwhile there was an equally steady stream in the opposite direction to London, where the Bulgarian embassy under Johnny and Alexandra Stancioff soon became known as a hive of stimulating arts events, spread throughout the land by Johnny’s amazingly energetic and effective cultural attaché, Aglika Markova. Johnny and I often worked in tandem, swapping ideas for political and cultural exchanges. This bypassing of official channels undoubtedly speeded things up, but it irritated the FCO, and maybe also the Bulgarian MFA, as they were not in the loop until such time as we launched our jointly concocted suggestions on them. Much depended on the state of Johnny’s personal rapport or otherwise with particular FCO officials. He got on well with one head of department, and therefore kept him broadly informed of what we were up to. But this chap was succeeded by someone whom he didn’t take to, and therefore largely ignored—a recipe for irritation, which eventually rubbed off on me and my relations with both him and the undersecretary to whom he reported. Sofia also became the destination of plentiful quantities of ministers, senior officials, trade unionists, MPs, business and finance people, and so on. The general pattern was that we arranged their programmes, put them up in the Residence, fed and watered them, and laid on at least one meal or reception in their honour, so as to enable them to meet their opposite numbers in congenial company and surroundings. I accompanied many of these visitors on their calls, with specialised help from other members of the staff, while Catherine organised whatever was planned for the evening—reception, buffet supper or formal dinner. We could cope comfortably with a hundred or so at receptions (many more for the annual Queen’s Birthday Party, but less comfortably, unless we were lucky with weather which enabled it to spread out into the garden), around fifty for buffets, and twenty-six for formal dinners. As the pressure on our entertainment budget increased we switched more and more to buffets, with people seated at round tables knocked up quickly by the embassy carpenter. In our busiest year, 1991–92, we entertained over five thousand people, more than half of them to a meal. Fortunately we had a good and hard-working cook, Jenny. Her range was not very wide, but it included all the kinds of things that could readily be expanded for suddenly increased numbers and which, crucially, needn’t cost too much. She used mainly local ingredients, except when, during the lean winter of 1990–91, there hardly were any— which meant that Catherine had to shop in Greece (a three-hour drive away) or sometimes Yugoslavia. The embassy had its own shop, located in our basement, mainly for home comforts and basic essentials, but it was stocked really for the needs of the UK-based families, so we tried not to use it to cater for official entertaining. When Constantine the butler left us to become a ‘businessman’ we were at our busiest. It was the butler’s job to manage the domestic staff, procure food and wine, recruit additional help for big parties, and help the cook buy food in the market—all under Catherine’s direction and budgeting, while the two of us did the necessary accounting for the ‘frais de representation’. We were lucky to find an excellent replacement for Constantine in

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the person of Veska, who had been the head stewardess on one of the Danube cruise boats and was used to managing a largish staff (and speaking to passengers in a variety of languages). Each morning she and Jenny met Catherine to plan the day’s menus, and the general requirements for the next week or ten days. This kind of thing, which amounted to running a small but specialised high-class hotel, was expected of a Head of Mission’s wife. It was hard and responsible work, with no training, and entirely unpaid. Things, I’m glad to say, are different now, with training and pay. The FCO certainly drove a hard bargain and got more than their money’s worth in our time—particularly from Catherine who, as she sometimes pointed out at moments of frustration, was not even British. While most of our official houseguests were appreciative and polite, a few were most definitely not. I remember the froideur that descended on the dining room when Catherine came down for breakfast one morning. Her bright ‘Good morning’ was totally ignored by the visitors, all happily chomping away on their bacon and eggs. They included an FCO Minister of State, a Tory grandee who should have known better. So she repeated her greeting, adding ‘I live here, you know’. These niggles were far outweighed by the plus side. We lived in exciting times in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe in general. We got to know many interesting people, and made many Bulgarian friends. We had a huge and wonderful house in which to live and to operate, set in a fascinating if not particularly touristy city. We were very lucky to have excellent colleagues in the embassy and in the diplomatic corps, and domestic staff on whom we could rely, more like family than ‘servants’. We were also lucky to have sympathetic back-up in London, always ready to consider sympathetically requests for extra funds for yet more official entertaining. And we had the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful corners of Europe. Bulgaria was certainly run down, but great swathes of it consisted of unspoiled mountains, forests and rolling agricultural land, dotted with pretty villages and more than four hundred monasteries, nearly all of which had something special about them, such as frescoes or carvings. The communist regime had done its best to spoil some of this, surrounding towns and larger villages with dreary identikit blocks of flats and polluting, crumbly factories and cooperative farms. But there was simply too much of Bulgaria for them to ruin everything and, to give them their due, they had made genuine and effective efforts to conserve a lot of their architectural heritage in places like Rila, Troyan, Lovech, Veliko Turnovo and Plovdiv. The communists had reorganised agricultural production into large cooperative farms. Much of this had worked reasonably well, with viticulture as a particular success story. Wine had been produced for thousands of years in ancient Thrace and throughout the Bulgarian and Ottoman periods, but it was not until the government sought French technical cooperation in the Sixties and Seventies that large-scale production of internationally marketable wine took off. As quality improved so the market shifted, away from the Soviet Union to Western Europe, particularly Britain, where for a while in the late-1980s and early 1990s a certain Bulgarian variety was the single best-selling red wine—disparaged as Bulgarian plonk but decidedly drinkable and very good value. But in the years following the collapse of the communist regime the cooperatives withered and died, with very little work being done in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Assets were stripped, just as they were in industry, and then a law for the restitution of private property came into force, which to begin with added to the decline of agriculture, as people scrambled to reclaim what had once been their family land – most of it in tiny, scattered holdings. The vineyards were the first to suffer. Wine is still being produced, but far less of it is now internationally marketable than during the closing years of the communist era.

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The new democratic government’s honeymoon period did not last very long, and all too soon the various factions and parties which made up the UDF started quarrelling and falling out with each other and with the largely Ethnic Turkish liberal party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), with which it was in coalition. The government was dissolved in late 1992, to be replaced by an appointed technocratic team put together mainly by the BSP but led by an MRF economist called Lyuben Berov. Berov had been an economic adviser to President Zhelev, and his heart was in the right place. But he was no politician, lacking even a scintilla of charisma. During the Berov era the Secretary of State, Douglas Hurd, paid an official visit. The Bulgarians laid on an official dinner in Hurd’s honour, the tedium of which began to play on his patience. Guests were placed at a number of smallish tables dotted about a vast banqueting hall, a relic of Zhivkov’s grandiose architectural arrangements, and conversation was dwindling. I was placed at a table some distance from Berov and the guest of honour. At some stage, after what seemed innumerable courses and toasts, I was approached by a desperate Assistant Private Secretary who whispered in my ear, none too quietly, to ask how in God’s name we could break things up before the S of S died of boredom. I could only suggest a bout of diplomatic indigestion. Whether this tactic was deployed I never knew, but to everyone’s relief—including I am sure poor Berov’s—the dinner was suddenly at an end and we were able to escape back to the Residence for a quiet nightcap. Douglas and Judy Hurd were easy and delightful guests, not at all like the ones who had once incurred Catherine’s displeasure at breakfast. Douglas Hurd’s main objective was to encourage the Bulgarians to stick firmly to the UN Sanctions against Yugoslavia, which had been imposed in April 1992 in response to the Bosnian War, by for instance preventing smuggling across the border and money laundering, and by ensuring that the border, and access to Serbia up the Danube, were kept effectively sealed. The Bulgarians were complaining that their economy was being almost as badly damaged by the sanctions as Yugoslavs’, since the main route for their exports to Western Europe, the E5 road from Istanbul to Belgrade and beyond, was closed, as were the railway line and the Danube, with its freight barges. Their economy was already desperately fragile, having only just a couple of months earlier made the abrupt and hazardous modal switch from communist command to western market. And they were appealing for help. The Bulgarians were voicing their appeals and complaints mainly in the UN in New York, and one day I received a lofty telegram from the UK Mission there urging me to tell them to stop whingeing and use a bit of common sense. All their lorries had to do was to turn right to bypass Serbia by going through Romania. I pointed out in my reply that there was a slight snag in this otherwise excellent piece of gratuitous advice: a mile-wide river called the Danube, which formed the Bulgarian-Romanian frontier, crossed by a single bridge which was at the ‘wrong’, i.e. eastern, end of the country, the approach to which was blocked by a thirty-mile-long queue of trucks emanating from Turkey and the Middle East, also forced to avoid Serbia. On the day I sent my reply the waiting time in the queue was seventeen days. I heard no more from UKMIS NY. British diplomatic postings in my time generally lasted no longer than three or, occasionally, four years. We were lucky to have been left in Sofia by the FCO for more than five, during a time of momentous events and great change, a time which by then had indeed already come to be known as ‘The Changes’. We left in the summer of 1994, sadly, but enriched by what we had witnessed and shared with the Bulgarians.

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Appendix III Michael Atkinson CMG, Ambassador, Romania, 1989–1992: ‘Bucharest during the 1989 Revolution’ The Romanian Revolution through British Eyes From: https://blogs.fco.gov.uk/paulbrummell/2014/12/16/romanian-revolution-throughbritish-eyesmichael-atkinson-bucharest-during-the-1989-revolution/ By December 1989 the situation in Romania for the population was bad. Years of erratic dictatorial rule, ever increasing privation and austerity had produced an atmosphere ripe for change. But because of the very powerful communist tyranny and repression not even the most expert and experienced diplomatic and foreign media observers foresaw the sudden overthrow of the Ceaușescu regime more than a few days in advance, if at all. As late as October a Congress of the Romanian Communist Party had been held at which foreign journalists had only found a single delegate, who was willing to voice dissent, but only privately, in a cloakroom. Events elsewhere in Eastern Europe late in the autumn were the first harbingers, and Ceaușescu, alarmed came hurrying back early from East Berlin in the middle of the night, going straight on to visit food markets. His last-minute attempt to improve supplies had no effect. For already the first open revolt had broken out in the most unexpected quarter. In Timișoara the parishioners of an outspoken Hungarian ethnic Romanian pastor named Tokes had started to demonstrate with him against an attempt by his church authorities to rusticate him. In the week before 21 December the demonstrations had grown in size and came out in open opposition to the regime. The army opened fire in a vain attempt to end the trouble and by the 20th news of these events (ignored by the official news channels) had filtered through to Bucharest. On the morning of the 21st I was in the Anglican Church building with the newly arrived US Ambassador to discuss a carol service. When we heard the animated voices of a crowd outside we left hurriedly to return to our offices. Ceaușescu had rashly called a mass meeting on the square in front of the Communist Party headquarters to express support for him. Spontaneous jeering and whistling from a section of the crowd brought his oration to a sudden, unscheduled end. He was bundled away and only to be seen on television once more, four days later at his trial. Having reported to London on the morning’s momentous events I visited the square where the crowd had been. The people remaining there created such an atmosphere of relief and joy that I went quickly to the Residence to bring my family to the centre to see things for themselves (my sons and daughter had come out for Christmas). We were impressed by the quiet, peaceful mood in the streets. There was no sign of any looting, except that bookshop windows had been broken and propaganda tracts, especially volumes ghost-written for Ceaușescu, were in piles burning on the street. The only odd thing was that there were demonstrators outside a theatre on Magheru Street urging everyone to ‘go to the TV station to defend it’. We wondered ‘defend against who? Is this a student prank?’ This was the only hint of the battle to come. I went back to the office. Some demonstrators marched past shouting ‘Libertate, libertate! Help us, we are Europeans too!’. Veronica telephoned to say there were people with staves milling about near the Residence. My family went into the garden to admire the red streaks of fireworks in the sky. But the fighting there started soon afterwards and they realised that the red streaks were

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tracer bullets. Soon the building began to shake with the impact of heavier ammunition and Veronica and the young joined the frightened support staff in their basement sitting room. I was trapped in the office where I stayed all night trying to find out what was happening in the city and round the TV station. The telephone to the Residence was cut and the only later news was from the French military attaché who reported that the situation there ‘could hardly be worse’. My family told me later that our Residence itself came under particularly direct attack at breakfast time on the 22nd. Windows were broken, the glass panes on pictures were shattered and the building shook much more than on the previous night. They sheltered in the sub-basement cellar but became aware that there were intruders upstairs, firing from there at the revolutionaries at the TV station. They must have been Securitate or special forces who had entered our building stealthily. During a low in the fighting in the early afternoon there was a knock at the outside door and my son, recognising a German accent, opened it. I shall always be grateful to the West German Minister, Christiane Geissler-Kuss. Her house nearby was more sheltered from the fighting and she had sent a member of her staff to rescue my family. She had them taken later to join other staff and dependants in our Chancery. They arrived there before I returned from a drive to the Residence to find them. Given the great insecurity (there was sporadic shooting near the Chancery) we all worked during the evening in the Registry shredding and burning confidential papers. On the 23rd Veronica and I returned to the Residence for a brief visit. Soldiers nearby warned us not to stay long as there were snipers about. As the Residence came to sight we saw smoke drifting lazily from the roof. The attic area had been completely destroyed. The fire might have been started by tracer bullets in the roof. I had burned fiercely but slowly in the windless weather. Had it been windy the whole house would surely have been destroyed but as it was the flames and smoke destroyed many of our personal possessions including all my photographs from earlier Posts, our family letters and papers. It was very eerie to enter the ground floor with its ceiling radiating the heating from above. All the food prepared for the staff Christmas Party lay untouched in the kitchen. There had been some looting and a framed picture of myself with Ceaușescu at the presentation of my credentials had been torn in half and his side of the photograph had disappeared! Rumours of a possible attempt by the Securitate to kidnap some diplomatic personnel had reached London and Washington and it was agreed across the Atlantic that all we Brits could take refuge in the American Embassy which was guarded by armed Marines. We were very glad and grateful to accept this hospitality which gave us some peace of mind for the night. With our temporary hosts arrangements were made for the so-called ‘non-essential’ staff, their dependants and my family to leave for Ruse on the Bulgarian frontier. On their way to the border the convoy of cars flying our two countries’ flags were greeted by people at the roadside who waved and made ‘V’ signs. The party reached Bulgaria safely, and with great help from the staff of the British Embassy in Sofia went on to London. I stayed working (and whenever possible at night sleeping) in my office the next night and for several more. With the trial and execution of the Ceaușescus which we followed on television the situation calmed down and a new coalition government was formed. There was an immediate change in the atmosphere, as from night to day. For example a very high ranking official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a courtesy call at the Chancery and stayed on for a drink in the Embassy social club. On arriving to the Ministry for the first time after Christmas I was met at the door by the Head of Protocol whose only greeting was to say with a faint smile ‘Well, well, well’. I think he actually meant it literally. From then on it took a lot of work and pressure of the MFA to find a new Residence as the Pangratti St. house would take months to rebuild and a return to that address for us was

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Witness Seminar: British Embassies and East European Revolutions of 1988–89

out of the question. With help from the new Prime Minister Petre Roman, a new Residence was found in an area of the city unknown to our Embassy drivers as it had been out of bounds to all except senior Party leaders, the ‘nomenclatura’. Our next door neighbour was the Minister of Defence. I greeted him over the garden wall and said we felt safer having him living there. He replied that he felt the same about our moving in next to him! To end, two snapshots of Bucharest immediately before and after the Revolution. First, a performance of Verdi’s Nabucco in the unheated Opera House. The fur-clad audience rising to its feet to demand and get an encore of the Hebrew Slaves Chorus, sang at captives in Babylon. Second, the actress Caryl Churchill in a play in the National Theatre about life under the deposed dictator. A family showed desperate grief over a hen’s egg, broken on the floor which they tried to scrape up as valuable food…The rest of my stay in Romania was relatively peaceful although I did not know in January that the miners were going to come and ransack the house next door to our new Residence.

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Profile for FCDO Historians

British Embassies and the East European Revolutions of 1988–89  

The edited transcript of a seminar with British diplomats who witnessed the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Published by Foreig...

British Embassies and the East European Revolutions of 1988–89  

The edited transcript of a seminar with British diplomats who witnessed the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Published by Foreig...