Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Europe's revolution: Your memories

East German border guards look through a hole in the Berlin Wall

Twenty years after revolutions swept away communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe, BBC News website readers reflect on what happened in 1989 and how it changed their lives.


I was a student back in 1989 in Romania. I always say communism lifted like a fog, when we least expected it. Nobody had thought communism would one day disappear and we'd become citizens of the free world. My generation was driven by the power of the forbidden [the appeal of countries that were forbidden] and I am still amazed that some people born in the free world never took interest in visiting and seeing places on the other side. I remember that as a teenager I was dreaming to see Paris once in my life, when I was old. I got to see Paris at 25 and several times since. Now I live in the US and I still think that what happened was amazing!
Michelle, Massachusetts US

Brian Hanrahan
It was a baffling year - neither predictable nor inevitable
BBC diplomatic correspondent Brian Hanrahan

I watched Ceausescu's execution on TV on Christmas day. It was a happy day for all Romanians. Yes, it is possible for such a thing to bring joy. Some people said that what happened was not a revolution but a conspiracy - all of us who were on the streets and heard the gun shots and saw the blood would strongly disagree. But 20 years of freedom and change did not succeed in putting food on Romanian tables.
Gabs, New York, US

I was in Brasov when Ceausescu was executed. I was only 11 years old and didn't understand much of what was going on. I could sense the gravity of the events by the way my father acted and I cried my heart out thinking that he might get hurt in the "revolution". He was one of those who could no longer bear the hypocrisy of communism. When Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were shot, there was a huge joy with people singing and dancing as if it were the end of a football match. Now I am grown up person and I think the trial and the executions were unjust. But at the time we didn't know anything about human rights. There are still people in Romania who think that communism was good, mainly because you didn't have to worry about a job or a place to live. My childhood memories are of learning by candle light, not having hot water for days, waiting long hours in line to buy bread and not being able to find ink for my pen.
Maria, Minneapolis, US


I live in the eastern part of Germany. Until November 1989 I was convinced that the Berlin Wall would never come down and every movement to change our situation would end up like the Prague Spring - with people killed or in jail and even more oppression. The first time we crossed the old border it felt like a miracle. And every time we now travel to a western country we feel a bit of that miracle again.
Marianne, Gera, Germany

Were you living under communist government as it collapsed?
Did you help pull down the Berlin wall?
Were you in Romania when Ceausescu was executed?

I was seven when the Berlin wall came down. I remember watching it late at night on telly and I remember my father crying with happiness. The next day we drove all the way to Berlin and helped bring down the wall. I still have my piece of it as a book stand. Soon after that I remember us visiting relatives and friends in East Germany - people I had of course never seen before. I also remember my first ride in a "Trabbi", going at 80km/h felt like 180km/h in my dad's VW Passat. Everything was old and falling apart. Many places in eastern Germany still are. But at least the overwhelming omnipresent smell of brown coal has faded.
Markus K., Hamburg, Germany


I was 16 back then and will never forget the moment - it was a cold and grey November day. The TV was on and a dry-voiced announcer read the news that Todor Zhivkov stepped down as secretary-general of the Bulgarian Communist Party. So surreal I could not believe it. What followed were some of the most amazing events and experiences - open discussions at school, public gatherings, experiencing glasnost and hoping that our generation would have a better life. If only we had known how difficult it would be to get rid of the old well-oiled communist apparatus - whose omnipresence can still be felt in many facets of Bulgaria's life, even after 20 years. It was painful to see how we were failed by incapable governments while our Central European "cousins" - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - emerged as new democracies and promising market economies. Nonetheless, I am so happy that finally, in the 21st Century, Bulgaria has managed to re-emerge as a democracy. Georgi Dimitrov's mausoleum in Sofia is gone for good, but let's not forget how fragile democracy is and how quickly we could lose the achievements that many have died for. Democracy is not an entitlement, as we have all learned. It's a prize for those who have the persistence to fight and live for it.
Andon Baltakov, New York, US

I was eight years old and I was living in a small town in southern Bulgaria. As Bulgaria was one of the closer satellite states to the USSR there were no large protests in the beginning. The communist party decided to step down peacefully and to allow free elections. There was no bloodshed or trouble. But people were scared, not knowing what to expect. Everyone was glued to their TV sets. The hard times for my country began after 1990 - hyperinflation, energy crisis, destruction of the agricultural sector and a general decline of the economy. It took more than 15 years to get back to the GDP level of 1989. The lesson learned is that wealth doesn't get destroyed: it is merely transferred to the privileged few. It makes you wonder: are they not all the same people, but with different names?
Pesheff, Sofia, Bulgaria


I was brought up in Silesia, in communist Poland. We had Russian tanks on the streets as our coalminers, including my father, took part in the Solidarity movement. We had family in West Germany who we could not see. When we became a democratic country we could start travelling without being interrogated. There were tears of joy when the Berlin wall came down. I hope other oppressed countries today, like Burma and Tibet, can look at those events with hope for their own future.

Olga, London

I was studying for exams when my mother started yelling from the other room. It wasn't the round table talks or the democratic elections, but the Berlin Wall coming down that elicited the reaction. My parents were crying and my grandmother was saying "It's finally over!" It is difficult to describe those emotions - I think it is hard for those who didn't live it to fully appreciate it. Freedom! The jails, the murders, the whispering and the everyday tension were gone. People understood that there would be hard times ahead, but also that nothing could be worse than what had passed. Unfortunately my grandmother didn't live to see the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well - she would have smiled.
Maria, Warsaw


I was only in the seventh grade of elementary school when the Velvet Revolution in Prague happened on 17 November, 1989. I remember that everything changed at our school. Our school director who was teaching political science was no longer available -it seemed to me like he disappeared. The teachers collected our history and political science books and we had no history or political science classes for the rest of the year. Russian language classes were replaced with German or English, which were taught by former Russian language teachers with, I would say now, quite limited knowledge of the other languages. Our mothers removed our pioneer uniforms and red scarves from our closets and everything suddenly seemed so leisurely and relaxed. Our parents were speaking openly; my beloved grandma and grandpa were no longer reminding me and my sister after our visits not to repeat what we've discussed. It was great and exciting. I will never forget it!
Lenka Garcia, Vsetin


It was a sad day for the former Yugoslavia. The fall of that [Berlin] wall turned into Yugoslavia's nemesis and thousands of people were killed and re-settled during that period. The wall should have never come down!
Veljko, Belgrade

I was only 11 years old, but I remember the 90s and the following wars quite well. From my personal perspective communism meant that I did not know who I was until the war started. I learned only when the war began that I was a Serb. The wars in the region, which followed the collapse of communism, were an attempt of the different nationalities in Yugoslavia to create their own nation states. We're still struggling, not even having a clear start to take things from. Communism has shaped our history to this day. Countries with wounded people, soil soaked with blood, death, refugees, poverty and messed-up identities.
Danijela, Belgrade


I was still in primary school during the revolution. One day I saw classmates carrying books out of the school library and I asked them where they were taking all those books. They said they would all be scrapped because they were communist material. I felt a little confused because the years before we had to stand through all those boring school events hailing communism. I was fed up with meaningless slogans and ceremonies so I was quite relieved that will be over and that I will not have to learn Russian.
Marton, Budapest

Were you living in Eastern Europe under a communist government when the system collapsed? Did you help topple communism in your country - or try to keep the system going?

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