35 years ago, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was about to commence its XXVIIth party congress. Party congresses were rare events, held regularly only every five years. They thus marked an important occasion for the Soviet leadership to talk about past successes and lay out future plans. The XXVIIth party congress was the first one headed by the new general secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. He set out an ambitious reform agenda. For the next years, the Soviet Union – and the world – would talk about glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). This post is going to cover three questions: What did those terms mean? Which consequences did the policies that Gorbachev set in motion have? And, a question that is especially important to board gamers, who are used to assess events and policies by their strategic value: Were those policies beneficial?Continue reading
How time flies – it is already the sixth installment of my series on board games about the Cold War (here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Today, we go to the very end of the Cold War – the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989: Dawn of Freedom (Ted Torgerson/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). As usual, we’ll look at it in both game and academic terms.
We instinctively turn towards the spatial dimension in our understanding of history. We write the histories of places, cities, countries, and sometimes even bigger regions like the Mediterranean Sea. Often, this acknowledgement of the spatial is a mere sorting mechanism – what belongs in my history, and what must go out? History can be understood more comprehensively, however, if the spatial dimension is fully embraced, understood in context, and applied to all sorts of historical inquiry. We know that Russia is vast, but what does that mean for Russian history?
1989 is spatial without remaining in the mere geographical. It offers a rich blend of the topological and social qualities of the space in its rules, map and gameplay. We’ll have a look at the mechanisms that allow for that as well as at some specifics on the map and how they influence the game.
The first article in this series dealt with the peoples of Eastern Europe as the agents of change in 1989. Not all explanations for the collapse of Communism center on them, though. Especially in Western Europe and North America, the role of Western governments in the end of the Cold War has been surveyed thoroughly. Paradoxically, there are two diametrically opposed explanations how Western governments might have enacted the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe – by confrontation or by cooperation with the East. We’ll look at both in this article. Continue reading
The ancient history professor Alexander Demandt has enumerated 210 theories why the Western Roman Empire had fallen that had been proposed in the 1500 years since the Empire’s collapse. They ranged from the abolition of the gods to vulgarization and everything in between – fighting multi-front wars, excesses, lead poisoning, decline of the “Nordic character” of the Romans, female empowerment, you name it. While the Roman Empire is gone for a bit longer than the Soviet Empire, the number of explanations for the sudden end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe are almost as manifold as those for the fall of Rome. That speaks of the surprise that the collapse of Communism was, and never was this process faster or more dramatic than in the year 1989. This article will look at the first group of explanations for the collapse of Communism and how they are represented in the board game 1989 (GMT Games, Ted Torgerson/Jason Matthews), kicking off a series on how history, politics and culture intertwine in 1989.