Revolutions Behind the Iron Curtain I

On March 6, 1953, Eastern Europeans, like the rest of the world, awoke to hear stunning news: Stalin was dead.

Across the region, radios played funereal music. Shops closed their doors. Citizens were urged to hang flags from their homes, and millions voluntarily wore black clothes and black ribbons. Newspapers appeared with black borders around the edges, black sashes were placed on Stalin’s photograph in offices, and schoolchildren took turns standing as honor guards before his portrait. Delegations from factories and ministries trooped through the offices of Soviet commandants in East Germany, where they signed condolence books in mournful silence. In the town of Heiligenstadt, Catholic churches rang their bells and priests said an “Our Father” in Stalin’s name. Enormous crowds of mourners filled Wenceslas Square in Prague, and tens of thousands gathered around the Stalin statue in Budapest. A moment of silence was observed on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin.

In Moscow, Stalin’s acolytes and imitators gathered for his funeral. Bolesław Bierut and Konstantin Rokossovskii, Mátyás Rákosi and Klement Gottwald, Walter Ulbricht and Otto Grotewohl, all of them were there. So were Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej from Romania, Enver Hoxha from Albania, and Vulko Chervenkov from Bulgaria. Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai came from China, Palmiro Togliatti came from Italy, and Maurice Thorez from France. Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Vyacheslav Molotov gave funeral orations, although they did not, one observer noted, “exhibit a trace of sorrow.” Emotions must have run high, however. Gottwald suffered a heart attack after the funeral and died soon after.

Change followed swiftly. By the time of his death, Stalin’s colleagues had grimly concluded that things were not going well in the Soviet empire. For many months they had been receiving regular, accurate, and extremely worrying reports from Eastern Europe. The Soviet ambassador to Prague had written of “near-total chaos” in Czech industry in December 1952, for example, along with steep price increases and a dramatic drop in living standards. Following the deaths of Stalin and Gottwald, strikes across Czechoslovakia picked up pace again. In May, thousands of Czechoslovak workers marched three kilometers from the Škoda factory to the city hall in Plzeń, where they occupied the building, burned Soviet flags, and threw busts of Lenin, Stalin, and Gottwald out of the window—a symbolic protest against the defenestration of Jan Masaryk, the former foreign minister, an anticommunist who had been thrown out of the window of Prague castle in 1948. Strikes also began to spread among tobacco workers in Bulgaria, until then one of the most obedient countries in the bloc. The Soviet Politburo found this particularly disturbing: if hitherto loyal Bulgarian workers were restless, then the rest of the region must be even more unstable.

The news from East Germany was not good either. Despite ever increasing border security, despite police controls and barbed wire, traffic over the internal German border was accelerating. More than 160,000 people had moved from East to West Germany in 1952, and a further 120,000 had left in the first four months of 1953.9 One report warned of “growing unrest among the [East German] population stemming from the hard-line policies of the GDR leadership.”10 Beria himself penned a very accurate, perfectly clear-eyed analysis:

The increasing number of flights to the West can be explained … by the unwillingness of individual groups of peasants to join the agricultural production cooperatives that are being organized, by the fear among small and medium entrepreneurs about the abolition of private property and the confiscation of their possessions, by the desire of some young people to evade service in the GDR armed forces, and by the severe difficulties that the GDR is experiencing with the supply of food products and consumer goods.

Even with the evidence in front of them, the Soviet leaders did not publicly question their own ideology. The ideas of Marxism were still correct—but, they concluded, the people in charge had failed: they had been too harsh, too arbitrary, too hasty, too incompetent. In particular, the East German party bosses had failed. On June 2, the Soviet Politburo summoned Ulbricht, Grotewohl, and Fred Oelssner, the ideology chief, to Moscow to tell them so. For three days, the Politburo lectured their German comrades. They told them to abandon celebrations of Ulbricht’s birthday, to liberalize their economic program, and to postpone, indefinitely, the planned announcement of East Germany’s imminent transition to “full socialism.” This “incorrect political line” was to be replaced by a “New Course.” The Germans naturally obeyed. On June 11, Neues Deutschland published a statement from the party leadership on its front page, apologizing for the “grave mistakes” of previous years, calling for an end to collectivization and even for the rehabilitation of victims of political trials.

Soviet–Hungarian talks followed a week later. This time, the Politburo attacked Rákosi, along with Ernő Gerő, Józef Révai, and Mihály Farkas. Beria—who had himself personally conducted brutal interrogations in the Soviet Union—led the charge: Rákosi, he said, had initiated an insupportable “wave of repression” against the population, even giving personal directions as to who should be arrested and beaten. Beria’s colleagues also accused the Hungarian leader of “economic adventurism.” Well aware of “discontent among the Hungarian population,” shortages, and economic hardship they ordered Rákosi to step down as prime minister, although they allowed him to remain general secretary of the Hungarian communist party.

They replaced him with Imre Nagy, the little-known agricultural minister. Nagy was also a “Moscow communist” who had lived in the Soviet Union before the war—where, as the historian Charles Gati argues, he had probably worked as a secret police informer and maintained informal links to some of the Soviet leadership. But he had long favored a more gradual transition to communism and, more importantly, was not Jewish, which the Soviet Politburo seemed to think was an enormous advantage. He set to work designing a New Course for Hungary, and within a few weeks he was ready to announce it. In July he made his first speech to parliament, stunning his party and his country. Nagy called for an end to rapid industrialization, an end to collectivization, and a more relaxed approach to culture and the media. “In the future,” the Central Committee would soon declare, “the primary goal of our economic policy will be to raise constantly and considerably the standard of living of the people.” Nagy remained a Marxist and described all of his policies using Marxist language—his long, dull, and almost unreadable written defense of the New Course quotes Stalin and Lenin with alarming frequency—but in the context of the time he seemed fresh and very different.

The Soviet Politburo had never intended East Germany and Hungary to make these changes on their own: the liberalization was meant to be instituted across the bloc in order to stem the tide of protest and discontent. Some of them may even have imagined that eventually similar changes would take place in the USSR, where, for a few short years—a period known in the USSR as “the Thaw”—it would also seem as if truly radical change were possible. Certainly in all of their conversations with their Eastern European partners in 1953, the Soviet leaders made it clear that their criticism was intended “not just for a single country but for all the people’s democracies.” Talks with the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha followed those with Ulbricht and Rákosi. More conversations, plotting more New Courses, were planned for late July. The Politburo also intended to invite the Poles, the Czechs, and the Bulgarians to Moscow, where they would also be told to change direction and make themselves popular—or risk catastrophe.

But catastrophe came anyway, though in a form nobody had expected.

The weather broke bright and clear in Berlin on June 17, 1953. Nevertheless, many Berliners stepped into the sunshine with trepidation, not sure what the morning would bring. The previous day, East Berlin had witnessed its first major mass strikes since the war. Emboldened by the announcement of the New Course, cheered on by Stalin’s death, frustrated by the fact that the new policies didn’t seem to include lower work quotas, Berlin’s workers had taken to the streets to protest. Lutz Rackow, an East German journalist, had walked down Stalinallee on June 16 alongside several thousand construction workers. They carried banners—“Berliners, join us! We don’t want to be slaves to our work!” Few had dared. But as soon as he got to Stalinallee on June 17, Rackow immediately saw that things were going to be different: “This time people were joining. Not only that, workers were coming into the city from as far as Henningsdorf to join, even though public transportation had been halted and the walk took three hours.”

Erich Loest, the novelist who had tried to teach workers to write theater reviews, was on his way into the city that morning from Leipzig and he saw strikers too. But he also saw Soviet tanks and trucks moving north from bases near Schonefeld and Ahlsdorf. They were heading for the center of Berlin at about the same speed as his train. On another train from Leipzig—or perhaps even the same one—the writer Elfriede Brüning saw the same tanks. She was sitting with a colleague, who read aloud a newspaper headline: “Tumult in Bonn,” it declared. Her friend laughed, and made a daring joke: “How is it that the government has heard only about the tumult in Bonn and not the uprising in Berlin!”

On the Western side of the city, Egon Bahr, then the chief political editor in West Berlin for RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), was anxiously waiting to hear what was happening. A couple of days earlier, a delegation from East Berlin had come to his office to ask him to publicize their planned strike. He had agreed to broadcast the strikers’ demands—they wanted lower work quotas, lower food prices, and free elections, among other things—and he had continued to do so until the radio’s American controller, Gordon Ewing, burst into his office and told him to stop: “Do you want to start World War Three?” Ewing told Bahr that American responsibility and American security guarantees ended at the border, and he’d better be clear about that in his broadcasts. As Bahr remembers, “This was the only order I ever got from the U.S. government at RIAS.”

On the Eastern side of the city, most of the Politburo had left their homes early and made their way to Karlshorst, where they could hide from the expected crowds. In fact, they wound up spending the entire day there, standing around the office of the Soviet ambassador, Vladimir Semyonov. This was not a voluntary activity. At one point, Ulbricht asked to return home, and Semyonov snarled at him: “And if anything happens to you back in your apartment? It’s all very well for you, but think what my superiors will do to me.” It was perfectly clear who was in charge: at lunchtime, the Politburo learned that the Russian authorities had unilaterally imposed martial law on East Germany. The Soviet “state of emergency” would last until the end of the month.

The Politburo were not the only ones who didn’t know what to do with themselves on June 17. After watching the march on Stalinallee, Rackow went to his office. But hardly any work was done that day. Journalists wandered about aimlessly, and the chief editor was locked in an office with the party cell leader, unsure what to do or what their line should be. Meanwhile, both Brüning and Loest made their separate ways to a long-planned meeting of the Writers’ Association, where no one could talk about anything except the strike. The general secretary of the association put a call in to the Central Committee. Then he made an announcement: the writers should go out and discuss the situation with the workers. “And don’t let yourselves be provoked!”

Loest went out, along with a colleague. As a precaution, they put their party badges in their pocket. Brüning waded into the crowd as well. So did the journalist Klaus Polkehn, who had taken the U-Bahn into the center of town and wanted to find out what was going on. By then, tens of thousands of people were walking down Unter den Linden and toward the House of Ministries, the headquarters of the East German government, the outside of which was adorned with Aufbau der Republik, Max Lingner’s mural.

Walking beside them, Loest saw right away that things were getting out of hand. Dozens of young men, “the fighting type,” dominated the scene. “I was standing on the side,” he remembered thinking with surprise. “They were on strike, the workers were on strike against the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, against myself.” A newspaper kiosk was in flames. No Volkspolizei—German policemen—were to be seen. This was deliberate: Ulbricht didn’t trust them, and they only arrived later on. But there were plenty of Russian soldiers. They had “immobile faces,” Loest remembered, “their caps fastened to their chins, their guns between their legs. Officers were standing beside them, not moving.”

These soldiers were merely the advance guard. The real demonstration of Soviet force came later in the morning. Loest was standing at the corner of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstraße when he saw the tanks roll in. A few hundred yards away, Karl-Heinz Arnold, also a journalist, watched the same tanks through the window of a building on the corner of Leipziger Straße and Wilhelmstraße. From above, he could see the crowd gathering outside the House of Ministries: “The people there were definitely ‘eight penny’ boys from West Berlin. You give them eight pennies and tell them to go and pick up trouble. They were completely different from the demonstrators on Stalinallee, those were our construction workers.”

Hans-Walter Bendzko, a border control officer, was watching the same crowd but from the other side of a barricade. That morning, he had been told to report for special duty and had been sent to the House of Ministries as a security guard. He didn’t know who was in the crowd, East German construction workers or West Berlin provocateurs. He only knew that it was not a “normal” demonstration, with banners and slogans, but rather “a dark mass that moved back and forth.” “I thought they wanted to storm the ministry, I was afraid that there would be a fight, but I did not know what was going on.” When Bendzko heard the tanks, he panicked, thinking, “This is the moment when the Americans will interfere.” But as they approached, he saw—with enormous relief—that they were Soviet T-34 tanks, with red stars. Arnold, looking down from his window above, was also relieved: “It was a kind of liberation. It stopped the pressure.” Two of the tanks slowly drove into the crowd around the building. People moved aside to let them through. One of them halted in front of the House of Ministries, and, as Bendzko looked on, the commander of Soviet troops in Berlin emerged.

He got out and walked through our cordon to the House of Ministries. And then he came back, got up on the tank, said something which, of course, nobody understood. Maybe he was announcing martial law. Then the tanks turned away again and moved toward Potsdamer Platz. And everybody ran away. Some were caught and arrested … The troublemakers started to attack the tanks. One of them got a large beam from among the rubble and put it under the wheel of the tank so the chains wouldn’t move.

Some of the tanks began firing when they reached Potsdamer Platz; others had already started shooting on Unter den Linden. Some of the Volkspolizei belatedly began using their pistols. Most people ran away, and hardly any fought back. What was there to fight back with? A few people threw stones, but there wasn’t anything else. Some fifty people are thought to have died that day, though the numbers have never been confirmed. Hundreds were arrested, of whom thirteen were eventually sentenced and executed as traitors. Not all of the victims were demonstrators: in Rathenow, a Stasi functionary died after an angry mob dragged him into the canal and prevented him from getting out again.

In the melee, Polkehn was arrested. He was dragged into a truck, waving his press card to no avail, and taken to Soviet headquarters at Karlshorst. He spent two days there, emerging filthy and hungry but relieved. Most of his fellow prisoners seemed to be there by accident: they had joined the demonstrations out of curiosity, or perhaps naïve conviction. Not all of them were from Berlin. Indeed, demonstrations took place in all of the major cities and industrial centers that day, especially those with a strong communist or social democratic tradition: Rostock, Cottbus, Magdeburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Erfurt, and Halle. In total, about 500,000 people in 373 towns and cities went on strike in about 600 enterprises. Between a million and 1.5 million people took part in demonstrations of some kind.

Nobody was more surprised by the geographic spread of the strikers than Bahr, who had assumed the protests would be confined to Berlin. But he felt a peculiar thrill of responsibility when he heard that some of the demonstrators outside the capital had voiced demands that were the same, word for word, as those he had played on the radio the day before. As it turned out, the Russians had been right in 1945: radio really was the most important mass medium of its time, and the only one that could reach a broad audience. But RIAS’s audience turned out to be much broader than the audience of state radio. “June the seventeenth proves how many people listen to RIAS,” an angry East German communist argued at a meeting a few weeks later. “We’ve done so much education and training, but none of it was absorbed.”

In Berlin, the appearance of Soviet tanks had ended the demonstrations. But by the time Semyonov sent his first cable to Moscow at 2 p.m., a good deal of damage had been done in the city and across the country. The windows of government offices had been smashed and a bookstore selling Russian books in central Berlin had been ransacked. In the town of Görlitz on the Polish border, a mob of 30,000 had destroyed the headquarters of the communist party, the offices of the secret police, and the prison. In Magdeburg, the party headquarters and the prison had actually been set on fire, and in factories near Halle workers had overwhelmed the police. There were some more subtle rebellions as well. In one factory, workers struck up a “whistling concert” in order to drown out the propaganda coming out of the sound system.

East Germans reacted to these events in many different ways. Communist sympathizers, as Loest was at the time, were shocked by the idea that the workers could be protesting against the Workers’ Party. Günter Schabowski—whose out-of-context comments at a press conference led to the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989—recalls that June 17 “showed us how endangered was the communists” seemingly “immovable and firm creation.” Functionaries like Arnold, seeking to explain the situation, sought to blame the violence on troublemakers from West Berlin. Those inclined to make excuses for the regime agreed with them. Though he later became more ambivalent (wondering, in the poem cited in the epigraph to this chapter, whether the government shouldn’t “dissolve the people” and elect another), Bertolt Brecht’s first reaction was to blame “organized fascist elements” from the West. In a Neues Deutschland article published a few days after the riots, Brecht, who was living at the time in Berlin, praised the Soviet intervention: “It is only thanks to the swift and accurate intervention of Soviet troops that these attempts were frustrated.”

More careful observers, Polkehn included, knew that many of the people involved in the strikes were dissatisfied workers and innocent bystanders—though even Polkehn, decades later, also thought that Western provocateurs must have been involved, somehow. It was too difficult and demoralizing to believe otherwise. Rackow insisted differently: “It’s nonsense that it was a Western plot, nobody believed that. Even those saying it didn’t believe it.”

The Soviet authorities, with their excellent informer networks and multiple spies, were less surprised by the strikes than some of their East German comrades. They had expected demonstrations on June 17 and had known in advance that they would have to support the East German police. They were not shy about bringing their tanks onto the streets. But they had not expected demonstrations on such a large scale, with such evidently broad support and with such clearly anti-Soviet intentions. One memorandum sent to Nikita Khrushchev mentioned the “abuse,” “vulgar insults,” and “violent threats” directed at Soviet soldiers and officials, not to mention the stones thrown at them. “The mass of the population have retained a hatred toward Soviet officials, which has now been inflamed again.” The memo concluded: “This hatred was openly on display during the demonstrations.”

Initially, the Soviet authorities did not blame the West at all. In his first reports, Ambassador Semyonov spoke about strikers, workers, and demonstrators. Later his language changed, and he began speaking of provocateurs, ringleaders, and rowdies. Eventually, Soviet reports spoke of a “great international provocation, prepared earlier by the three Western powers and their accomplices from the circles of West German monopolistic capital”—though even then they conceded that there was still a “lack of factual material” to justify this thesis.

For the Soviet diplomats and officers in Germany, the “provocation” explanation may have been a face-saving measure, a way to conceal their own failure to predict or prevent the riots. But it also might have been the only explanation that made sense to them. According to their ideology, their education, and their prejudices, this sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen. Not only was it impossible for workers to rise up against the workers’ state but Germans were not supposed to oppose any authority at all. Stalin himself had once laughed at the thought of political protests in East Germany: “Revolt? Why they won’t even cross the street unless the light is green.” But Stalin was dead.

The riots in East Berlin had one immediate and unexpected casualty. Nine days later, on June 26, Khrushchev engineered a dramatic coup against Beria. The Soviet secret police boss was taken by surprise, arrested by his colleagues, jailed, and eventually executed. Khrushchev’s motivations were largely personal. He feared Beria’s influence over the secret police and probably suspected, no doubt correctly, that Beria held compromising material on all of the Soviet leaders. But instead of saying so openly, he found it convenient to justify his arrest by blaming Beria for the June 17 riots. Although none of the Soviet Politburo members had objected to the New Course, and although all of them had pressed Ulbricht to implement it, they self-righteously deemed the riots evidence of Beria’s dangerous “deviationism,” his traitorous instincts, his high-handedness, and his arrogance.

Like all Politburo politics, Beria’s arrest had an echo in Eastern Europe. The “hardliners” in Germany now attacked the “reformers”—principally Rudolf Herrnstadt, then the editor in chief of Neues Deutschland, and Wilhelm Zaisser, the Stasi boss—for their alleged affiliations with Beria. In Budapest, Rákosi also began to drop knowing hints about Nagy’s lack of support in Moscow and his own imminent return to power.

Yet although German communists threw Beria’s name around during the angry internal debates that followed the June 17 riots, his supposed influence was not really what was at stake. On the contrary, the argument that began in Germany in the summer of 1953 was part of a much wider debate about the nature of Eastern European communism. Should the regimes liberalize, allow more pluralism, open up debate, and bring back economic freedom? Or should they keep harsh, punitive, and controlling policies in place? Would liberalism lead to chaos? Would a crackdown cause a revolution?

In July 1953, both views were voiced in Berlin. At a stormy, angry Central Committee plenum in July, Anton Ackermann, previously an opponent of Ulbricht, declared that the party’s enemies were growing stronger, the media should be more strictly controlled, and “only letters to the editor that have been checked for factual correctness should be published.” Another functionary present agreed, calling on the party to “intensify the fight against formalism, in favor of social realism,” and to “persuade the masses to develop a love for Soviet art.”

But the liberalizers were not defeated altogether. At the same meeting, Zaisser reminded his comrades that the “change of course” had been designed, among other things, to prevent people from fleeing the country, and “June 17 was an even more alarming signal” of mass discontent. Johannes Becher, the former head of the Kulturbund, also spoke out in favor of looser controls on media and culture. Even in the USSR, he said, it would be “unthinkable for a Goethe museum to contain [Free German Youth] posters,” as one did in East Germany.

In the wake of the 1953 German riots, the argument between neo-Stalinists and liberalizers intensified in the other Eastern European capitals as well. In Warsaw, Bierut and Władysław Gomułka’s battle for personal power had long ago turned into a struggle between neo-Stalinism on the one hand and a more “Polish,” less Soviet form of communism on the other. Gomułka’s cause received a sudden boost in December 1953 when Józef Światło, a senior secret policeman—the boss of Department X, responsible for watching party members—unexpectedly defected to the West. A few months later, Światło began broadcasting an extraordinary series of reports on the Polish service of Radio Free Europe, describing the privileged lifestyle of the party elite, the role of Soviet advisers, and the arrest and incarceration of Gomułka in lurid detail. Millions openly tuned in to listen, even in government offices. In its own report on the broadcasts, the Security Ministry noted with alarm that previously reliable informers were now refusing to cooperate and were demanding to know whether Światło would reveal their names. By December, Gomułka had been freed from house arrest.

In Budapest, the party took a radically different turn. Rákosi—still the communist party’s general secretary—used the Berlin riots as an excuse to call for renewed “vigiliance” and to begin preparing for a comeback. Taking advantage of Moscow’s general disorientation, he contrived to reverse the Hungarian New Course. By 1955 he had convinced the Soviet Union to dismiss Nagy from the prime minister’s job and to replace him with a more pliant sidekick, András Hegedüs, the former youth leader. Nagy retaliated with an even more vociferous attack on Rákosi’s harsh policies. But while these arguments were going on at the very top of society, other things were happening far below.

If the first hint of discontent in Berlin came in the form of construction strikes, the beginning of the end of Stalinism in Poland came in the form of a large party. More precisely, it came in the form of the Fifth Youth and Students’ Festival of World Peace and Friendship in the summer of 1955.

Like its predecessor in Berlin, the Warsaw youth festival was designed to be a vast propaganda exercise, a meeting place for Eastern European communists and their comrades from Western Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Also like its predecessor in Berlin, it was meant to be carefully planned and orchestrated. Advance propaganda and enthusiastic coverage brought hundreds of thousands of Polish spectators to Warsaw for the five days of the festival. They traveled from all over the country to watch the dancing, the theater, and the other attractions—a Hungarian circus, a puppet show, and an opera were all performed on the first day—as well as sporting contests and economic debates.

Yet from the very first day of the events, the crowds in Warsaw were not primarily interested in politics, culture, or even sports. The real attraction was the foreigners. Strolling the streets of the Polish capital for the first time since the war were Arabs in long robes, Africans in native dress, Chinese in Mao jackets, even Italians in striped shirts and French girls in flowered skirts. Maciej Rosalak, a child at the time, remembered the shock:

Gray, sad, poorly dressed people living among ruins and the rubble of streets were suddenly replaced by what seemed to be a different species. The newcomers smiled instead of listening to the static on Radio Free Europe like our parents, and they sang instead of whispering. Warsaw children ran among them and collected autographs in special notebooks. An Italian drew us a picture of his country, shaped like a boot, with Sicily and Sardinia alongside; a Chinese man left mysterious symbols; and a beautiful African wrote her exotic name and tousled our hair …

The contrast between Poles and foreigners—especially those from Western Europe, who were culturally similar but so much richer and more open—struck everybody. Trybuna Ludu, the party newspaper, quoted a factory worker declaring that the dresses of the French girls were “amusing, happy, and tasteful … can’t Polish clothes be more beautiful?” The same newspaper also observed the contrast between the unsmiling Polish youth leaders—“we were sad, gloomy, incredibly stiff, uptight”—and their more cheerful foreign counterparts. “It turned out that it was possible to be ‘progressive,’ and at the same time enjoy life, wear colorful clothes, listen to jazz, have fun, and fall in love,” wrote Jacek Kuroń, who had been one of those unsmiling youth leaders at the time.48 Particularly shocking, many noted, was the sight of young people kissing in public.

The political implications of this nonpolitical experience were clear even at the time. Jacek Fedorowicz, whose cabaret group Bim-Bom played in one of the theaters during the festival, remembered that “suddenly everything had became colorful, in a manner that was unbelievably unsocialist.” It was, he reckoned, “a propaganda mistake: without warning, they had let a crowd of multicolored outsiders into gray Warsaw.” A decade’s worth of anti-Western rhetoric was shown to be false: “Young people from the capitalist world were healthy and well-dressed, even though we’d been told that everything there is bad …”

Spontaneity, the human quality most vigorously repressed by the communist regimes, suddenly flowered. To the horror of the festival organizers, Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, and others from the communist bloc actively socialized with one another and with the more exotic visitors, not only in the streets but in private apartments all over the city. Romances, friendships, and drunken evenings unfolded in an uncontrolled and unmonitored manner. A student meeting at the library of the University of Warsaw developed into an argument when it turned out that not all of the French delegation were actually communists. For young communists such as Krzystof Pomian, this was the first experience of open public debate.

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