Academics Struggle To Keep Up With Eastern Europe's Changing History With PM-East Germany,
Nov. 14, 1989
Academics Struggle To Keep Up With Eastern Europe's Changing History With PM-East Germany, Bjt
BOSTON (AP) _ Sudden reforms in the Eastern bloc have historians scrambling to replace old assumptions that are being eradicated as quickly as sections of the Berlin Wall.
History books already need updating to reflect last week's stunning events in East Germany, and academics and their students watch as each day's headlines make the previous day's reading assignment obsolete.
''The rules are changing by the hour,'' Professor Carol Saivetz of Harvard University's Russian Research Center said Monday. ''No one is writing and no one is willing to commit themselves because once you write a book it's out of date.''
The East German government shocked the world, including many of those who study the region's politics, with its announcement last week that citizens were free to travel to the West.
Suddenly the 28-year-old Berlin Wall, that ultimate Cold War symbol, was being dismantled. The old Iron Curtain mentality that permeates today's books on modern European history - already undercut by the thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations and other East bloc reforms - suffered a staggering blow.
''We're all sort of grappling with what to do next and how to approach this area of the world that we've been teaching about for years given the fast- paced changes that are going on,'' said Saivetz, who also teaches political science at Tufts University.
Edwin Gere, a historian at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, said his lesson plans were jolted this semester by the events in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary.
''Talk about changing the class curriculum,'' Gere said. ''We were going to talk in the coming weeks about whether the wall would ever come down. My God, we never had a chance to get to it.''
The changes sweeping the region will affect cultural, political and economic relationships with the West, academics said.
''It was almost inevitable that all these East European communist regimes would explode one way or another,'' said Adam Ulam, director of Harvard's Russian Research Center. ''But this has been spectacular.''
''Different events have piled one on top of another with a suddenness no one anticipated,'' said Boston University Professor Walter D. Connor.
He said, however, change in the Eastern bloc was inevitable given domestic dissatisfaction and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms.
William Parker, a professor emeritus of economic history at Yale University, said, ''It's too soon to know what eventually will happen with such a free-floating situation.''
But he predicted the Eastern bloc countries would now be a factor in 1992, when Western European nations plan to drop their trade barriers.
''It's conceivable that all those countries would float into a common European market,'' Parker suggested.
Philippe Schmitter, director of the Center for European Studies at Stanford University, said that recent events would be interpreted not just as a major step toward German re-unification but also as part of Europe's unification.
''As of six months ago, the only thing my students were talking about was 1992,'' Schmitter said, referring to the trade agreement. ''Now all of a sudden we have have to think about a whole new set of combinations.''