Volume 44, No.2 - Summer 1998
Editor of this issue: Robertas Vitas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1998 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Michael Dobbs, Down with Big Brother. The Fall of the Soviet Empire. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997. Hard cover, Dust jacket. XVII + 502 pp. $30.00.

Since the fall of the Soviet Empire (officially on Christmas Day, 1991), many books have been written on this historical event. In many languages and in memoirs, analyses, and reminiscences. Some are monumental, some sketchy, but all of them try to describe these unusual, unexpected events of 1985-1991.

In the "Note about the Author" (unnumbered last pages, and on the dust jacket), we read:

Michael Dobbs was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has spent much of his journalistic career reporting from Communist countries; from 1977 to 1980 as a special correspondent based in Yugoslavia for the Washington Post, The London Guardian, and the BBC; and from 1981 to 1995 as the Washington Post's bureau chief in Warsaw and Moscow (with an intervening stint in Paris). He is currently a diplomatic reporter for the Post.

The book Michael Dobbs wrote is, primarily, his own eyewitness report and interesting to read.

He begins with the Brezhnev decision to invade Afghanistan (December, 1979) and ends his book with the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev as the President of the U.S.S.R. on December 25, 1991.

The author's conclusion, expressed in one (and the last) sentence, on p. 451: "By seeking to reinvigorate the Communist system, Gorbachev succeeded in destroying it. 'This reminds me of a letter I received in 1989 from a very old friend who had travelled extensively in the former Soviet Empire. In his letter he wrote:

Apparently, Gorbachev does not understand that freedom is like being pregnant: you're either pregnant, or not; there is nothing in between.

Once Gorbachev's glasnost opened up the gates of the press, it never stopped until it destroyed the citadel of communism itself - the Kremlin.

For the readers of Lituanus, of course, the most interesting references are to Lithuania, Vilnius, and the Baltic States.

Dobbs devotes an entire chapter to the most important events in Lithuania (Vilnius, January 13, 1991, pp. 336-348). And there are many other references to Lithuania and the Baltic States throughout the book.

Dobbs was in Vilnius on January 13, 1991, when the Soviet KGB and Soviet paratroopers stormed the television tower, killed thirteen people, and wounded several hundred:

Jankauskas and Asanavičiūtė were among the first Lithuanian victims of the attack on the television tower. He fell to the ground as the troops began advancing toward the tower, throwing stun grenades and firing shots into the air. Seconds later he was crushed under the wheels of an armored personnel carrier. Asanavičiūtė was one of several Lithuanians hit by a tank clearing a path for the advancing troops. The right side of her body bore the marks of caterpillar tracks (p. 338).

There are several pages (341-343) on the leader of Lithuania's independence, Vytautas Landsbergis:

What Landsbergis lacked in charisma, he made up for in stubbornness. In the ten months since the declaration of independence, Soviet leaders had done everything in their power to persuade the little nation of 3.7 million people to back down. They had sent columns of tanks and armored cars past the parliament building. They had shut down the gas pipelines. They had barred travel by foreign citizens to and from Lithuania, erecting a kind of cordon sanitaire around the country. The political and economic pressure failed to make much impression on the diminutive music professor ... (p. 342).

Gorbachev was infuriated by Landsbergis, but there was not much he could do, unless he wanted a blood bath. Indeed, in the last presidential election, Gorbachev barely received 1% of the votes. On the other hand, Landsbergis, in 1996, won his parliamentary seat by a landslide. Today he is the president of Lithuania's Parliament.