1980s

When the Guns Fell Silent

The battle was to commence right here, along the deep fault in the German soil troops from the Warsaw Pact would exchange fire on NATO's elite divisions. Only a decade after the Cold War, it is easy to forget just how close it all came. The Berlin airlift, the Cuban missile crisis, an accidental misreading of an antiquated radar station on the Baltic Sea - each could have commenced the final chapter in human civilization. And then, one winter night in November of 1989, the world watched as a gloomy fog lifted over the East and triumphant celebrations began. East German refugees, who only days before had climbed over the walls of the German Embassy in Budapest in a desperate bid for freedom now waltzed into Das Kaufhaus des Westens. West Berlin was once more their city again.

 

Germany's leading political scientist, Professor Karl Kaiser remembered a euphoric book that came out soon afterwards detailing the final chapter of the Cold War, When the Guns Fell Silent. The title struck him as foreboding and erroneous: "The Cold War was when the guns were silent; perhaps now the shooting will start?" About this time a debate broke out concerning the future of the EastWest Institute. Should EWI be shut down, its mission considered accomplished through luck, persistence and hard work?

 

Meanwhile, our Fellows and members of our network were deluging EWI with requests for assistance and action. In 1991, for the third time this century, violence was breaking out across Eurasia. In the Balkans a devastating civil war erupted in Yugoslavia, conflict in Chechnya reached a crisis point, and Tajikistan edged toward civil war as fighting deepened in neighboring Afghanistan. Taking into account changing times, the Institute that has often been called "the best tugboat in the harbor" had begun to transform itself. The collapse of the communist monolith meant that previously restrained conflicts were finding violent outlets. The process of privatization produced very mixed results, sometimes leading to disproportionate poverty and illicit new sources of wealth. Nationalism, long suppressed by Marxism's ideological grip and the force of the State, once again emerged as a specter to haunt Europe.

 

The troubles that resurfaced following the dismantling of the Stalinist system demanded new responses. The challenges were real and the stakes remained high. From Yugoslavia to Chechnya, the shooting had indeed begun. The guns were no longer silent, and suddenly, the presence of EWI was crucial to the peace and prosperity of Europe and Eurasia more than ever.

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