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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Eastern Europe


On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, allowing citizens of both East and West Germany to travel freely between the two countries. This was a clear sign to the Soviet government of the rapid acceleration of change in Eastern Europe, as the Berlin Wall had been both the physical and symbolic divide of West and East Europe. In this frank assessment of Gorbachev's reaction to the rapid change in Eastern Europe, U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock lays out not only Gorbachev's fears but all of the signs of the end of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. With the more violent upheavals to come in Romania by the end of December 1989, it is clear that even Matlock's pessimistic assessment of the precarious state of Soviet power was not entirely accurate, as Gorbachev's influence rapidly erode throughout all of Eastern Europe in just a few months.


Moscow Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Soviet Concerns About Germany," 9 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

To the Soviets, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Eastern Europe are chaos, massive outbursts of anti-Sovietism, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the reopening of World War II frontier questions. To manage these specters, as the pace of change in Eastern Europe has accelerated in recent months, the Soviets have repeatedly emphasized the need for stability and for an agreed international process. While Gorbachev has in recent high-level meetings reiterated the consistency of Soviet policies and projected his usual sense of confidence, energy and determination to extract the positive from developments. Shevardnadze's harsher and more emotional reaction &hellip has, probably deliberately, been a more accurate reflection of Soviet fears.

Throughout the post-War era the Soviets have equated control over events in Eastern Europe with vital Soviet national interests, and they have been prepared to fight to maintain it. The Gorbachev regime has taken a leap into the unknown, giving up control and bargaining that they could maintain influence, while involving themselves and their allies more productively in European society. In Poland and in Hungary, that gamble has thus far paid off. Gorbachev's initial message to Western leaders as the Berlin Wall crumbled revealed his fear that in the even more emotionally charged environment of East Germany, the gamble would fail. Those fears, initially eased when the East Germans returned to home and work on Monday morning, have now been revived... The sharper Soviet attitude toward events in Germany is due to perceptions of increased disorder and a belief that Kohl, in a demonstration of "national egoism," had with his 10 point proposal broken his word to Gorbachev not to undertake any pan-German initiative.

How to Cite this Source

Jack F. Matlock, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Eastern Europe," Making the History of 1989, Item #229, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:27 pm).

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