Cold war spring: Brzezinski’s 1991 visit

A remarkable speech at an incredible time.

[ How this speech came to be is a story unto itself that will be added later. -M]

The following is a speech Zbigniew Brzezinski gave in Estonia in July 1991, before it became independent, and prior to the dissolution of the USSR. This is the original text from which the translation to Estonian was done, and which has not to my knowledge been previously published in English. It is notable both for its time and its content. Joyous in the recognition of the moment, an expression of wisdom in the need for reconciliation, and a reference to the evils of crude ideological passion and nationalistic hatred, themes which still ring true today.

It was a momentous time. The Berlin wall had fallen, but the USSR itself was still intact. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were not mere satellite states like East Germany, but rather had been annexed as Soviet Republics. Here are a few 1991 Baltic events to give this speech some context.

13 January 1991: 14 people killed in KGB assault on TV tower in Vilnius
3 March 1991: vote on independence held
5 July 1991: This speech in Estonia

All three events are listed today in Estonia’s own timeline of the restoration of independence.

The Soviet coup in August still lay in the future, as did official recognition of Baltic independence from the Russians in September and the dissolution of the USSR in December. This speech is delivered in the middle in which the great change is dramatically underway, the pace of events running at a rate hardly believable to anyone but not yet complete.

Brzezinski is deeply enmeshed in the cold war and European history from his own Polish ancestry, to his wife, the grand niece of Edvard Beneš, president of Czechoslovakia at the time of the 1938 Munich agreement. Beneš was forced into exile by the Nazis, and suffered a similar fate from the communists after the war. ( And in between managed to plan Operation Anthropoid, the only successful assassination of a senior Nazi official during the war.)

And Brzezinski was a cold warrior himself. If Afghanistan was the Soviet Vietnam, it was in part his strategy that made it so. CIA aid to Afghanistan preceded the Soviet invasion, as he admitted in later interviews once it was no longer classified.

Which is part of what makes these pages all the more striking. They are not triumphalist in the sense of an adversary defeated, but rather contain expressions of joy for the future of humanity, and a recognition of a true historical moment. It shows an awareness of the extent of the great suffering of the Russians in the twentieth century and a call for genuine reconciliation, pointing out the Polish example of asking of the Germans their desire to forgive, and be forgiven.

Warnings about the dangers of dogmatic ideologies and racial and national hatreds are as timely and current today as they ever were, as is the the failure of systems where a few can determine who is a good citizen and how all the rest are to live.

But here are his own words on that day that you may judge for yourself. Intelligent people may differ with him on policy, but let us all agree that these words are part of and belong to history now.