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Chapter 1

 Worldwide Unity Movements

 

IN 1956, our in-depth study on the history of Europe in the nineteenth century was a portion of the second year of our history major at the University of Sydney. We were especially interested in the year 1848 because this was the year of revolutions, according to historians. As we reflect upon the history of that era, we recognize that the turmoil and change of that period pales into insignificance when compared with the events of the second half of 1989 and the early months of 1990. Within a period of six months, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Romania had thrown off the shackles of communism. The Soviet Union provided a multiparty political system. The republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had also made significant progress toward the attainment of independence from the U.S.S.R. The southern republics of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan had become unruly.

If we had predicted on January 1 1989 that before the year closed, Poland would install a democratically elected non-Communist prime minister; that the hard-line Communist Party in Hungary would be transformed; that East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary would have new presidents; that the Berlin Wall would come down; that East and West Berliners would jointly celebrate the commencement of the new decade; that free passage between the two German republics would be permitted; that Hungary would remove the barbed-wire entanglements and the lookout posts along its common border with Austria; that Czechoslovakia would open its doors for the free exit of its citizens to other countries; that virtually all Eastern European nations would commit themselves to have their own multiparty political systems; that the Lithuanian Communist Party would dissociate itself from the Moscow Communist Party as a first step to independence; that the Estonian Labor Union Organization would separate from its parent organization; that Alexander Dubcek would be restored to a position of leadership in Czechoslovakia; that the U.S.S.R. would officially request papal assistance in the Ukraine; and that Poland and East Germany would officially apologize to the Czechoslovak nation for joining the U.S.S.R. in 1968 during the suppression of the liberalization movement; then we would have been justifiably regarded as wild-eyed speculators. If we had predicted that such changes would be made before the turn of the millennium, we would have been regarded with only a little more credibility; yet all these dramatic events took place in four fateful months.

While the year 1989 saw the unprecedented dismantling of communism in Eastern Europe, the events of that year had an earlier beginning. From the successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia during 1917, communism was in the vanguard of political change. The defeat of Nazism and Fascism in the Second World War and the ruthless negotiation of Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference paved the way for the Soviet Union to assume total control of the destiny of Eastern Europe. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were annexed to the Soviet Union in August 1940, under an agreement with Hitler. Parts of eastern Poland and eastern Romania were absorbed into the Soviet Union. Poland (which included much of what was formerly eastern Germany), Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany became little more than vassal states of the iron-fisted Soviet Union. Only Yugoslavia (more liberal) and Albania (more ruthless) adopted a communism that was not directly under Soviet domination. The power and intent of the Soviet Union was demonstrated by its relentless suppression of the liberation efforts which had arisen in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, it became the ultimate symbol of the cold war and the separation of Eastern Europe from the West. The massive arms race was the inevitable result. The Soviets (superpower of the East) and the Americans (superpower of the West) eyed each other with absolute distrust.

Ever since, the Soviets and the Americans have tenaciously fought each other all over the world from Korea to Vietnam, Cuba to Nicaragua, Iran to Afghanistan, Angola to Ethiopia, and in other countries. Providentially, none of these wars developed into a direct conflict between the superpowers. The advance of communism in Asia added to the alarm in the West. When by 1951 the communists had subjugated China, the most populous nation of the world, one fifth of the people on this planet had joined the blood-red banner of communism. North Korea, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Afghanistan formed communist governments. The Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia also fought wars against communist terrorists. The tentacles of communism were reaching across the planet.

The Americas were not left untouched. Not only Cuba but also much of Central and South America either had communist rule or serious challenges from leftist organizations. Several African nations, such as Tanzania, Angola, and Ethiopia, opted for communist-type governments. It was not surprising that a high level of neurosis developed in the Western world, peaking (but not ending) with the McCarthy years in the United States.

It would be wrong to assume that communism is dead; yet it is mind-boggling to note the rapid decline of communist powers at the end of the 1980s. Not even the most optimistic Westerner could have predicted the events of 1989. From Lenin through Konstantin Chernenko, the Soviet Union had maintained anti-West and antireligion stances. When Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the leadership of the U.S.S.R. in 1985, the early efforts of perestroika and glasnost were viewed with extreme skepticism by most Western politicians and observers; however, as hard-line Old-Guard leaders lost their leadership roles one after the other, the new revolution became more believable. This change of political leadership had not come easily. The gradual increase of freedom came with the resurfacing of old grievances being expressed in demonstrations and riots. The annexed mini-nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania began demanding greater independence. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were each in various stages of social and political upheaval. It was a far cry from the cruel days of Stalin.

The reforms in the Soviet Union encouraged freedom movements in other Eastern European nations. Poland was the first to experience the winds of change. Long before Gorbachevís reforms, the Polish political revolution was taking shape. With the unheard-of establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union, the winds of change were evident. Lech Walesa streaked across the headlines of the newspapers of the world as a meteorite, and assumed the role of a larger-than-life modern hero. Surprisingly, the Soviets of the late 1980s did not follow a policy of military intervention as the Soviets in Hungary and Czechoslovakia had during 1956 and 1968. Not meeting such outside interference, with growing boldness this movement gained overwhelming popular support.

Following a moderately different course from that of the Polish, the Hungarians began a no-less-determined bloodless coup against their hard-line communist leaders. This time, there were no Soviet tanks or battalions sent to suppress the popular sentiments of the nation. The stage was set for the dramatic events of 1989. These events were fueled by the holding of free elections in Poland where, for the first time in more than four decades, candidates other than the red-card-carrying communists were permitted to campaign for election. As a result, the Solidarity Party swept into power.

Even before this coup, hard-line communist leaders in Hungary were rapidly losing their influence. A more liberal group of leaders was openly calling for the nation to adopt a Western-style democratic form of socialism. By the middle of 1989, a freedom of expression unknown for decades emerged in Hungary. One correspondent testily demanded the return of forty years of life that he claimed the communists had taken from him, while others called for a withdrawal of the Soviet troops.

In the last few months of 1989, the existing European scene changed with dramatic rapidity. First, thousands of East Germans demonstrated, forcing their hard-line leader, Erich Honecker, to retire. Thousands of East German citizens found their way to the West via Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In November of 1989, the government began to demolish the Berlin Wall that had been a symbol of hostility and separation since its erection in 1961. Some East Germans even dared to talk of a reunification of Germany, a prospect not all Western or Eastern nations relished. This movement soon became so overwhelmingly popular that, by February of 1990, the communist leaders of East Germany accepted it as inevitable. The first free elections of East Germany, held on March 18 1990, swept the Conservative Coalition into power, and ensured the reunification of Germany within a very brief period.

Tentative efforts to put down riots and demonstrations proved fruitless; as a result, the authorities were left with the basic option to permit the doors of the nation to open, and grant the right of free exit and entry of its citizens. The mass public demonstrations of East Germany were followed by similar demonstrations in Czechoslovakia. As in East Germany, attempts were made to quell the demonstrations, but the people would not be silenced. Eventually, the nationís long-serving leader, Milos Jakes, was forced to resign. Hasty efforts were made to reform the system, but the populace considered these to be inadequate, as evidenced by the massive demonstrations in their demand for free elections. Alexander Dubcek, the deposed reformer of 1968, became the popular hero of 1989 and the presiding officer of the legislature. The new president was Vaclav Havel, also a long-time hero of reform.

Even more surprising were the changes in hard-core communist Bulgaria. With much less fanfare, the elderly Tudor Zhivkov stepped down after 35 years of leadership. There was clear evidence that, behind these rapid changes, Mikhail Gorbachev was encouraging, even insisting, that the reforms of Eastern Europe occur.

But the most tragic events in Romania happened after Nicolae Ceausescu had ruled for 24 years. Ceausescu was a pitiless dictator. In June 1989, when the Chinese had brutally suppressed a student uprising in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Ceausescu apparently believed that a similar response against a popular uprising against his rule would succeed. This supposition led to thousands of Romanians losing their lives. The revolution could not be stopped, and Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas day, 1989, after a hasty trial.

The dramatic announcement from the Soviet Union (February 7, 1990) that opened the nation to multiparty elections was another evidence of the collapse of European communism.

We can only speculate concerning the influence that these changes will have upon communism in other areas of the world. Despite the fact that the student freedom movement of China was ruthlessly suppressed in June 1989, the question may still be properly posed, How much longer will this mammoth nation be able to stand against the forces of change? There can be no disputing the evidence that, in spite of the student suppression, which represented a serious hindrance to these freedom initiatives, China is still in the midst of change. Precedents set in China will undoubtedly affect the policies of other nations such as North Korea and Tanzania, which historically have been greatly influenced by Chinese communism. Tanzania is already showing signs of change after its first leader, President Nyerere, admitted that he may have been wrong in choosing a socialist form of government for his developing nation. North Korea is gradually opening its doors to foreigners. The overtures of Vietnam for aid from the West expresses a worldwide trend.

In the Western hemisphere, national leaders are pondering what these changes in Eastern Europe will mean to Cuba. Even now, communist nations that are not associated with the Warsaw Pact, such as Yugoslavia and Albania, are experiencing growing pressures to establish more liberal policies. One fact is certain: Worldwide communism certainly is declining.

Many Christians have failed to perceive the significant influence that the rise of atheistic communism has had upon the thinking of Protestants as they sought to identify the antichrist power of biblical prophecy. With the rise of Communism and its attendant evils, many Bible scholars had their attention drawn away from the Roman Catholic Church, which up to the early twentieth century, had been identified by Protestants as the antichrist. This fact partly accounts for the rapid increase in books supporting the futurist interpretation of the antichrist. Futurists teach that the antichrist is a single individual reigning at the end of the age. Increasingly, the Papacy has adopted the role of the peacemaker and the champion of social justice. When a worldwide survey was conducted in the early 1980s, an overwhelming majority of respondents saw Pope John Paul II as the man who is most likely to bring peace to our planet. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov, second and third, respectively, were thought to be the next most likely to bring peace to our world.

In February 1984, in meetings between Reagan and John Paul II, the issue of global peace headed the popeís agenda. This fact is greatly significant. It surely was a remarkable about-face by a power known to be the most ruthless suppressor of religious freedom in Europe for more than a thousand years. The ravening wolf now appeared in the garb of a lamb.

This collapse of communism was foreseen and initiated by the Papacy.

In the 1960s . . . one senior Vatican diplomat said, "Weíll win out against the communists in the next generation." (Our Sunday Visitor, Nov. 26 1989)

For the last forty years, it has taken courage and unwavering loyalty to the Word of God for Protestants to identify the Papacy as the antichrist. This power will play the greatest role in the end-time suppression of Godís people. The euphoria resulting from the changes in Europe will be short-lived. To many, the events in Europe represent considerations of little importance to the average person in other parts of the world, but how wrong is such an evaluation! In the Washington Post of December 2 1989, a front-page article reviewed a survey of young Americans. This survey concluded that these youths viewed the events in Europe as either confusing or irrelevant to them. It was clear that parents, teachers, pastors, and politicians are failing to communicate the future impact of these changes in Europe upon Americans and citizens of other non-European nations.

The events which have been happening in Eastern Europe are only part of a worldwide mosaic readying the world for the final climactic fulfillment of Revelation, chapters 13Ė18. The Word of God pinpoints this remarkable movement that is sweeping both the religious and the political worlds as the final effort marshals the combined forces of the world against Christ and His faithful remnant people.

On both the religious and the political fronts, there are dramatic moves toward unity. Unfortunately, neither movement is established upon the biblical principles of unity, which are built upon a truth that sanctifies the soul of man.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:19)

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:11Ė15).

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:22, 23)

The unity movements fueled by peace initiatives, such as the globalfest held in Moscow in January 1990, provide a climate wherein all dissenters are ultimately considered enemies of peace and unity. This view creates the conditions that are necessary for the great tribulation which Godís faithful people will endure. No doubt, these religious and political leaders who, under the guidance of Satan, are orchestrating these final climactic events of earthís history have no thoughts concerning sanctifying truth. Both politically and spiritually, the Papacy will be acknowledged as the unifying power in the world. At that time, this prophecy will be fulfilled:

All the world wondered after the beast. (Revelation 13:3)


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