Scholar Interviews

Is there a particular source that is important to study?


So, the first source I want to talk about is a speech that Mikhail Gorbachev gave on July 6, 1989. The date is important. It was in Strasbourg at the European Parliament meeting and the speech is entitled “A Common European Home.”

The importance of the speech is that, first of all, it’s a very clear statement of several courses of action that Gorbachev seems to imply he wants to take place, in regard to the relationship between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe, presumably the rest of the world. The timing is very interesting; it’s in July 1989, so this is basically half a year before the events of October, November, December kind of get precipitated. It’s a speech that was also connected in timing to discussions about the creation of a European Union in the West, the basis for kind of institutionalizing the common market into a political, some sort of political entity were then taking place in Western Europe. And so I think that there’s kind of two different contexts here to keep in mind, you know, how Western Europe is becoming more and more sort of interested in representing itself as an entity and the extent to which Gorbachev picks up on that and wants to play a role in it.

The text itself is also very interesting because there’s questions here about Russian identity, and the fact that Gorbachev disputes other people’s notions that the Soviet Union is not European is very important. He wants to be a player, he, I think is in this particular piece trying to preserve the kind of the image and integrity of the Soviet ideological project, but he’s very careful to try to build bridges in ways that Brezhnev before and others before had not done, so that’s the, paramount significance to me.

I got interested in this particular source because I was at Georgetown when it came out and I remember reading in the Post about it and I also remember that it wasn’t viewed at the time as this major thing by a lot of the observers. It was not on the front page. It was in the international section somewhere on the third or fourth page and I was blown over and I kept, you know, walking around with the paper and thinking this is a pretty important I think. Something really is changing. I was expecting some sort of, you know, op-eds to come out in the Post that would reflect on it as a, you know, this big epochal thing.

Not a whole lot happened and so, it was that to me that was very interesting, and then when I started teaching East European history I thought, okay, I’m going to look back to the speech and see how I look at it now and it struck me as being just as empowering and significant, as it was at first. So I really wanted to introduce the voice of Gorbachev through his own words and I think it’s a it’s a clear and eloquent speech and one that is very different from, what other speeches they would have read in this course.

Here’s an example of how Gorbachev, is very different from Brezhnev in talking about security issues in Europe. “The philosophy of the concept of a common European home rules out the probability of an armed clash and the very possibility of using force or the threat of force, above all military force, alliance against alliance.” Here, he talks about NATO versus the Warsaw Treaty Organization, “within alliances”…

He’s definitely talking about Brezhnev and the Brezhnev Doctrine using the force within an alliance is an indirect but a very clear reference to Prague and to Budapest in 1956 or wherever, “to replace the Doctrine of Deterrence, it offers a doctrine of restraint” and this is a powerful word that I don’t think Brezhnev was known to use, “this is not just a game of ideas but the logic of European development dictated by life itself,” and he’s using these, very, kind of universal values, that where, you know, where the ideology of communism as being stripped out of his arguments.

That’s what to me is very remarkable.

How to Cite

Maria Bucur, interview, "Is there a particular source that is important to study?" Making the History of 1989, Item #603, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:25 pm).