I remember going to Poland as vice president to visit Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski who, incidentally, felt that, of all the Eastern European leaders, he was personally closest to you. We had difficulty figuring out how much freedom would be permitted. And I think Jaruzelski also had difficulty figuring that out.
Mitterrand: The events in Poland were highly symbolic, but no more. The trade unions were awakened with Solidarity, but the Soviet Union never stopped controlling the evolution of events there as it did in Czechoslovakia. What brought everything down was the inability to control the fantastic migration out of East Germany into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and later to West Germany. That was the end for the Soviet empire.
If Gorbachev had chosen to use force in those countries under Soviet sway, none could have resisted. But he made it known that he considered that option an historical blunder. The very moment that Gorbachev said to the president of the GDR (East Germany) that he did not intend to use force to solve the crisis, that this was a new day and a new deal, that was the end. This was when the big shift occurred. The fault line was not in Warsaw or Prague. It was in East Berlin.
So, the Communist leaders in Germany continued to be Communist leaders, but they no longer led anything. This was a truly popular, peaceful revolution against which they could do nothing. After that, it all broke down, leading to the transformation of Europe and to German unity.
Bush: When the Berlin Wall came down, we didn't know whether there were elements inside the Soviet Union that would say "enough is enough, we are not going to lose this crown jewel, and we already have troops stationed there."