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Profiles Pushing back the curtain
Gustav HusákGustav Husak, Czechoslovakia's Communist leader 1969-89

Gustav Husak joined the Communist Party in Slovakia in 1933 while at university. As a lawyer he participated in underground Communist activities and was jailed by Slovakia's puppet government during World War II. After his release he joined the Central Committee of the Communist Party and helped direct the anti-fascist Slovak national uprising of 1944.

After the war Husak became a party official, but he was a victim of a Stalinist purge in 1951 and was jailed from 1954 to 1960.

On his release he found a low-level government job in Bratislava. In 1963 his conviction was overturned and his Communist Party membership restored. Under party leader Alexander Dubcek, he rose to deputy premier of Czechoslovakia in April 1968.

After the Soviet invasion of 1968 Husák took over as Communist party leader and reversed Dubcek's reforms. He re-established close ties with the USSR and held tight party control over the government. Liberal members of the party were purged.

In 1987 he stepped down as general secretary when it became clear that his opposition to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's idea of perestroika ("restructuring") was unpopular.

When Communist rule collapsed in 1989 Husak resigned. His successor was playwright and former dissident Vaclac Havel.

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Václav HavelVáclav Havel, Czech playwright, president of Czechoslovakia (1989-92), president of the Czech Republic (1993-)

Václav Havel was a prominent Czech playwright, poet and political dissident under communism. After the fall of Communism in 1989 he became president of Czechoslovakia - from January 1993, the Czech Republic.

Havel's plays attacking totalitarianism became popular, the best known being the 1965 play Vyrozumeni (The Memorandum).

He was a prominent activist in the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring of 1968, but his work was suppressed after the Soviet invasion that year. He was arrested several times and imprisoned twice.

When anti-government feeling exploded into mass demonstrations in November 1989, Havel became the leading spokesman for opposition group the Civic Forum. He helped force the Communists to share power in what became known as the "Velvet Revolution".

Havel became interim president of Czechoslovakia in December 1989 and was elected to a two-year term in 1990. He resigned in 1992 when the break-up of Czechoslovakia, which he opposed, became inevitable. He has been president of the Czech Republic since 1993.

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Erich HoneckerErich Honecker: East German Communist leader, 1976 - 1989

Erich Honecker will always be remembered as the man who built the Berlin Wall. Its collapse, on 9 November, 1989, was the symbolic ending of his 14-year rule.

In fact, Honecker had been ousted just 22 days before the Wall fell. But the East Germany's economic climate and police state were, for the most, part his creation.

Honecker had risen through the party bureaucracy quickly, first running the party's youth wing. His success was due to his pro-Soviet, orthodox profile and his relationship with Walter Ulbricht, who held the position of party leader from 1950.

But his popularity inside the party was not shared by the public. Honecker was unable to deliver the standard of living available to West Germans. His police state denied any political freedom.

The 1989 demonstrations led to his ousting. In 1990, he was charged with corruption and treason but was never tried. After the German reunification he was charged again with corruption and with manslaughter in the killing of East Germans fleeing west. To avoid jail, he fled in 1991 to the USSR. He returned to Germany to face trial in 1992 but was released because of ill health. He took asylum in Chile where he died in 1994.

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Egon KrenzEgon Krenz: First Secretary of East German Communist Party, 24 October - 7 December, 1989

Throughout his career, Egon Krenz held a number of prominent national positions in the Communist Party. But he will be remembered as the man who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Within days of taking over from long-time leader Erich Honecker, events began to spin out of control. In his book Wenn Mauer Fallen he recounted how Central Committee meetings could not keep pace with increasing demands of the people: "We decided something in the morning and had to change it by evening."

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Communist Party, desperate to repair its image, stripped Krenz of party membership.

But the worst was yet to come. In August, 1997, Krenz sentenced to 6-1/2 years imprisonment for the deaths of those trying to cross the Berlin Wall. During the trial Krenz said he didn't change to policy of shooting would-be escapers because "any change at the border carried with it the danger of war. Krenz was released from jail in September, 1997 pending his appeal.

To this day, Krenz is one of few Communist officials who still defend the Communist state. He also feels that history has treated him unjustly:

"I had only 50 days to change things - most politicians get at least 100 … I realised the way of politics was not working, but what could I do? You have the feeling something is very wrong, but cannot fix it."

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Imre PozsgayImre Pozsgay, former politburu member, Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party

Imre Pozsgay was a politburo member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party and a key player in Hungary's path to democracy.

It was his radical report Turning Point and Reform that started the debate that led to 1989.

Pozsgay joined the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party after graduating from the Lenin Institute in Budapest with a degree in English. He worked for the party at local and national level and became a deputy minister in 1975.

He worked as culture minister and education minister, but his calls for reform led to him falling out with party leader Janos Kadar and he moved on, to become chairman of the Patriotic Front, the party's mass organisation.

With Kadar's removal in 1988, Pozsgay was promoted to minister of state, a position equal in rank to deputy prime minister. It was his work in this job, overseeing political and legal work, that helped Hungary gradually transform into a western style democracy.

When the party renamed itself the Hungarian Socialist Party in October 1989, Pozsgay became deputy president. But in 1991 he went on to quit the party and form the National Democratic Alliance, which he led until its break-up in 1996. He was a member of parliament during 1983-1994.

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General Wojciech JaruzelskiGeneral Wojciech Jaruzelski: Communist Party leader, 1981 - 89

General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who helped end Communist rule in Poland had impressive party credentials. He fought in World War II, became a general in 1956, and began his rise in the Communist party in 1960.

During the 1981 crisis involving the trade union Solidarity, Gen Jaruzelski became premier and party leader. Known as a moderate, he sought a compromise but finally ordered a military crackdown, placing Poland under martial law.

Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa, was arrested. His government, backed by the Soviet Union, outlawed the party and quashed protest demonstrations and strikes throughout 1982.

Though adept at suppressing the political opposition, the General proved less successful in his efforts to restore Poland's stagnant economy. In 1988 he approved negotiations between the government and the outlawed Solidarity movement. These talks ended in April 1989 in an agreement that provided far-reaching reforms in Poland's political system, including the legalisation of Solidarity.

Narrowly re-elected president in 1989 by a parliament that included members of Solidarity, Gen Jaruzelski resigned his Communist party posts.

He resigned as president the following year and was succeeded by Walesa.

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Lech WalesaLech Walesa: Solidarity leader, Polish president 1991-95

Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo, Poland. In the mid-1960s he worked as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk but was dismissed in 1976 for his antigovernment protests.

But in 1980 he returned to lead striking workers at the shipyard who were demanding better working conditions, the right to strike and to form a union. The workers resolve - and Walesa's leadership - won them many of their 21 demands. Over the next 500 days, more than 10m people would join the union.

But it was not always easy for Walesa. He was arrested and interned in the military crackdown of 1981. On his release, in November 1982, he travelled Poland as the "fireman of Solidarity", preaching moderation for fear of an all-out civil war.

His moderation earned him friends as well as enemies. Many in the movement thought Solidarity should push harder - bringing the economy to a standstill until the government fell. Walesa disagreed. Throughout his tenure as leader of Solidarity, and later president of Poland, he has maintained that Solidarity leadership never intended to overthrow the regime but work in partnership with the party.

His tactics garnered him international attention and national power. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1987, he helped block General Jaruzelski's reform initiatives by organising a boycott of a government referendum. In 1988 he led a series of nation-wide strikes that led to a 1989 agreement with the government which legalised Solidarity and allowed to campaign as a political party in the upcoming elections.

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Nicolae CeausescuNicolae Ceausescu: Romanian Communist leader and president 1967-89

At dusk on Christmas Day, 1989, Nicolae Ceaucescu, along with his wife Elena, was executed, without a blindfold, at an army camp outside Bucharest. Just a week before he had been Romania's unchallenged dictator.

He was so hated at the time that according to a military spokesman there had been 300 volunteers for the three-man firing squad. The actual execution was not filmed because soldiers began shooting as soon as they faced the Ceausescus.

The rapid and violent fall of Ceausescu was perhaps little surprise to those who had lived in his brutal Communist state. Ceausescu's compulsion to pay off a $10 billion foreign debt led him to sell most of the country's oil and food production abroad. The result: empty shelves and harsh rationing of food and energy. At one point, in order to make sure industry had enough energy, Ceausescu forbid citizens to have more than one 40-watt lightbulb per room.

Until the end, Ceausescu failed to see that he would have to accept change. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he criticised his comrades and any weakening of the Warsaw Pact. Even as opposition to his government mounted, he firmly believed he could maintain control.

Days before his execution, he went on state television and promised bloody retribution in response to any demonstrations. But it was Ceausescu who would pay the bloody price.

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Mikhail GorbachevMikhail Gorbachev: Soviet political leader, USSR president, 1988 - 91

Mikhail Gorbachev's legacy depends largely on whom you ask. To the West, he was a great reformer. To the party elite, he is a traitor whose actions led to the end of 74 years of Communist rule.

A specialist in agriculture, he was elected to the Communist party's central committee in 1971 and became a full member of the Politbureau in 1980. Succeeding Chernenko as general secretary of the Communist party in 1985, he was elected president of the USSR in 1988 and to a new, more powerful presidency in 1989.

Confronted with deteriorating economic conditions, Gorbachev introduced policies whose guiding principles glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were intended to liberalise and revitalise Soviet socialism and society.

To opposition in satellite states, the new openness equalled opportunity. When in 1989 Gobachev effectively ended Soviet interference in Eastern European nations, most elected non-Communist governments.

In 1990 Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But the signing of a treaty transferring many powers to the republics led hard-liners in Gorbachev's government to attempt to overthrow him in August 1991. In the aftermath Gorbachev aligned himself with Boris Yeltsin and other reformers and resigned from the Communist party.

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