Publisher web: Central European University Press

The end of the Cold War, among the most important events in recent history, continues to shape international relations. The authors of Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 attempt to provide a profound and objective framework for discussion and research on this highly significant period.

This is the sixth book in the National Security Archive Cold War Readers series, the main focus of which is to provide assessments of primary archival sources related to the Cold War period. The key subject of this particular volume is the situation unfolding in Eastern Europe in the wake of 1989, the year bringing about the non-violent regime changes in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall and re-unification of Germany.

The materials consolidated in this volume were specially chosen and collected within a 15-year project on de-classification and research of Cold War documents from the USSR and Eastern Europe. Some of them have never been published in English before. The topics discussed in the book are largely taken from the agenda of a three-day conference held at Musgrove, Georgia (US) in May 1998. The authors were challenged by the necessity to accommodate the archival information, transcription of the conference and an analytical part within a single volume.

The book is divided into three sections. The first presents the analytical findings of the project in the two essays by the editors of the book. Savranskaya approaches the issue from a Soviet perspective, while Blanton writes about the implications the events in Eastern Europe produced for the US.

The second section is the transcript of the Musgrove conference. This event brought former US and USSR officials, who had held their posts in the last years of the Cold War, as well as academics from the US, Russia and Eastern Europe, together under one roof for the first time.

Finally, the last two thirds of this 700-page volume are devoted to the archival documents from the last years of the Cold War. A total of 122 unique Soviet and Eastern European documents are presented. The three sections are connected by a number of focal points. These include: reasons for the transformation of Soviet policies towards Eastern Europe from the so-called “Brezhnev Doctrine,” to non-intervention into internal affairs; the origins and evolution of Gorbachev’s “new thinking;” the role of Soviet administrations; and the roles played by the US and local Eastern European governments.

One of the central problems outlined by the authors is a tendency to understand the conclusion of the Cold War in zero-sum terms. According to this vision, the conflict ended with a decisive victory of the US over the USSR. This approach, besides simply being fallacious, tends to invoke undesired and even dangerous political implications. The revanchist rhetoric based on this vision may be used by the radical right in Russia; enhancing antagonism might provoke the rise of Russophobia in Eastern Europe; finally, hardline US politicians can use this discourse as justification for a more aggressive approach to US foreign policy.

The revolutions in Eastern Europe, as the authors claim in their analysis, took place at that particular time primarily due to the shift in Soviet policies regarding the internal affairs of its allies towards non-intervention. This shift occurred, as Savranskaya suggests, thanks to the three main factors: Gorbachev’s firm belief in the ideals of his ‘new thinking’, which implied that the Eastern European allies would be free to make independent policy choices; political events inside the USSR in 1989, together with the worsening economic conditions, made Eastern Europe a lower priority for the USSR; ‘Gorbachev’s idea of a common European home made the use of force in one part of that home seem unacceptable and counterproductive.’ (p. 46)

It is somewhat frustrating that the analytical part of the book does not contain pieces by scholars from Eastern European countries, despite that such scholars were actively involved in discussion during the Musgrove conference, the transcript of which comprises the second part of the volume.

The book is indeed an essential reading for everyone who is interested in the late Cold War period. It contains an enormous amount of first-hand information, scrupulously collected for 15 years, in one compact volume, conveniently placed, translated and numbered. Besides the valuable archival sources, it provides some useful theoretical and analytical insight, marking possible directions for the further research on the period.