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Too Much Credit Given Pope

Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A18

In his April 3 news story, "The Inspiration for a Workers' Revolution," Michael Dobbs wrote, "Some historians credit the pope with initiating the extraordinary sequence of events that culminated a decade later in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the overthrow of Communist governments from Warsaw to Prague to Bucharest, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union."

However, until 1989, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, had been discussing with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and former foreign minister Andrei Gromyko maintaining the status quo in Europe and granting more religious freedoms to the European nations living under communism in accordance with the Helsinki Act of 1975. Pope John Paul II did not oppose this diplomacy officially or publicly.

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In addition, most people living under Soviet totalitarianism in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria were Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Vatican exercised minimum influence over the religious establishments of those nations to help the revolt against communism.

Moreover, Mr. Gorbachev's invocation of the "Sinatra doctrine" -- that each country can do it its way -- prepared the ground for democracy movements in Eastern Europe to come to power.

The Roman Catholic Church did not command large popular support in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, with their slight Catholic majorities, to lead the masses to challenge communism. Nor did the Vatican do much to inspire the Lutheran states of East Germany, Latvia and Estonia or Muslim republics such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Perhaps, Zbigniew Brzezinski's diagnosis of the syndrome of the "terminal crisis of communism" -- a combination of economic failures and societal problems -- was the motivation for people who agitated for the Velvet Revolution in the fall of 1989.


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