25 years ago today, Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I don’t think I noticed… indeed, other than new slogans like “glasnost” and “perestroika”, which were mostly just words, the system seemed just as crumbling as before. Perhaps even crumbling a bit more… Gorbachev’s rise to power occurred, after all, a mere two months after the Comecon’s worst energy crisis, marked by shortages in natural gas and a massive collapse of the electrical grid. And then, a year later, it was Chernobyl’s turn. Did anyone need more proof that Communism was, even under the best of circumstances, a social system incapable of providing a sustainable, safe, secure, prosperous life to its citizens?
Nonetheless, I had no reason to suspect that Communism would vanish anytime soon. Indeed, I don’t think there was anyone in Hungary in 1986 who would not have considered it a safe bet that the Soviet empire, along with its one-party vassal states in Eastern Europe, would be around for at least another 25 years. These views played a major role in my decision to leave Hungary in 1986. A decision I never regretted, but still… who would have thought that just three short years later, the Berlin Wall would come down and not long after that, the flag of the USSR would no longer fly over the Kremlin?