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Did Civil Resistance End the Soviet Empire?

Panel discussion, held on 27 October 2009, 6.30-8.00pm (venue: The British Academy).

Twenty years after the opening of the Berlin Wall, the question of what caused the end of the Soviet empire remains contested. One significant factor was ‘people power’ in Central/Eastern European countries and in the Soviet Union: especially Solidarity in Poland, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, New Forum in Germany, the independence movements in the three Baltic states, and the resistance to the coup d’état in the Soviet Union in 1991. Such civil resistance movements contributed significantly to the remarkable process of peaceful change that ended the Cold War and the Soviet Union itself. This meeting marked the publication by Oxford University Press of Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash.

The speakers explored not only the particular role of non-violent forms of resistance in these events, but also the complex question of how they relate to other factors of power in bringing about historical change – not just in the past, but also today.


Sir Adam Roberts KCMG FBA, President of the British Academy and Emeritus Professor of International Relations, Balliol College, Oxford.

Dr Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a leading figure in Solidarity in the 1980s and for two spells in the 1990s the Defence Minister of Poland.

General the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank GCB LVO OBE DL, Chief of the UK Defence Staff 1997–2001.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash CMG, St Antony’s College, Oxford, and author of a number of works about the 1989 events