When the day dawned, the future of the Warsaw Pact was very much in question. The root causes of the unrest spreading across many Eastern European satellites were centered on Moscow’s control of these nation’s political organs and influence over their societies. The majority of East Germans, Czechoslovakians and Poles had been dissatisfied for decades going back to the early Post-World War II years. As time went on and resistance efforts proved to be futile, they became progressively more indifferent. On the surface, at least.
The coming of the Third World War created the spark that many anti-Soviet elements in Eastern Europe had been waiting for. Opposition sprang up, in some instances spontaneously, while in others in accordance with long-dormant plans. Although most contemporary historians point to the start of hostilities as the catalyst for the resistance and strife, another theory has advanced in recent years concerning the origins. A growing number of World War III historians suggest the tipping point occurred days after the fighting began. Specifically, when the tide of the war started to turn against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. The war was brought home to Poles, East Germans, and Czechs through intense nightly air attacks by NATO warplanes. Yet it was the heavy casualties being absorbed by non-Soviet Pact units, as well as Moscow’s wanton disregard for them that was responsible for unleashing torrents of repressed frustration across Eastern Europe.
As midnight grew closer on 26 July, 1987, four Warsaw Pact nations faced growing internal strife that threatened to unravel the respective national wartime governments and plunge these member-states into revolution. The effect these situations were already having on the Soviet war effort was profoundly negative. To make matters worse, the Soviet Union’s efforts to end the unrest or at least stabilize it, only fanned the flames of nationalist passion even more. This was due to Moscow’s incomplete picture of the situation in the Eastern European satellites. Whether owing to lack of information or a reluctance on the part of some government officials to reveal the alarming truth until more positive news could also be presented as a counterweight, the Kremlin’s take on events in Eastern Europe was a cross between obsolescence and fantasy.
In Czechoslovakia, the government’s hold on power was tenuous. Large scale protests had broken out in Prague and other major cities during the afternoon, applying more pressure to the central government, which was already contending with the resignations of many senior officials. It was becoming clear the direction these events were destined to move the country in eventually. But it was the growing unrest in the military that proved to be the most serious challenge. Many officers and commanders were no longer accepting orders from the Prague government. Those who did, soon found themselves ordered into action against their countrymen. These orders motivated more officers to switch sides and join the growing, but still leaderless, opposition. The remaining senior officers then adopted a position of compromise, that satisfied neither the government nor its opponents. The Czech armed forces would defend the borders from external aggression but adopt no position on internal and political matters for the time being.
In Romania, the government faced a unique challenge in comparison to those its Pact allies were contending with. Here, the Soviet Union was responsible for engineering the opposition to Ceausescu’s rule. The initial coup attempt was stillborn when the Securitate discovered a possible assassination attempt was in the works. Ceausescu and the coup leaders then executed a series of moves and countermoves through the rest of the day. The regime remained unaware that its opponents had been recruited by the KGB and were receiving material and financial support directly from Lubyanka. Despite the support, the power struggle in Bucharest appeared to be heading for a stalemate by evening. Not that it mattered much by that point. Romania was no longer the valuable commodity it had been three days earlier. The current situation facing the Southwestern TVD had deteriorated so much that the contribution of Romanian military units and installations to the fighting would be fruitless. Therefore, whatever happened to Romania in the near-term was of no consequence. The mess in Bucharest could be cleaned up and addressed properly once the war concluded….on terms favorable to the Soviet Union.
Author’s Note: Part II on Wednesday. East Germany and Poland at the end of the day will be reviewed.