Scholar Interviews

Vladimir Tismaneanu: What are recently released archival materials revealing about the events of 1989?


First of all I think that what has been happening with the opening of the archives, with the discussions in these countries on how to come to terms with the past, how to deal with the communist and pre-communist forms of dictatorships including fascist dictatorships that some of these countries experienced.

We encounter quite a lot of problems still with dealing with the files. There’s a debate going on in Poland about the access to the archives and to what extent the Institute for National Remembrance has a legitimate right to issue all this information about people who did or did not collaborate, etc., with the secret police. This past will not fade away without a continuous public discussion.

Archives are going to show us first of all the nature of the system quite clearly, that it was indeed a totalitarian system. Indeed, the party’s role was overwhelming. That cannot be denied. The party knew about everything, and it was present in every fiber and every cell of these societies. The secret police role is going to appear more and more clearly, and the relationship between the party and the secret police is going to be a very important element.

Issues related to culture and legitimacy and ideology I think are going to be also very clear. So also the problem of course, we’ll know more and more about the everyday life under communism, because the history is not just the history at the top, it’s not just the history of the [fractious] struggles between X and Y and Z. So it’s not only what happens to Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, but what happens to “Jan Janescu” or whoever who is just a modest greengrocer who experiences totalitarianism as part of his and his family’s life.

So I think we are going to reconstruct a lot. Not everybody was an accomplice, not everybody collaborated, not everybody was a coward. And this is also part of the story that needs to be revealed, unearthed, and very well known.

How to Cite

Vladimir Tismaneanu, interview, "What are recently released archival materials revealing about the events of 1989?." Making the History of 1989, Item #611 (accessed May 28 2021, 3:22 pm)