Teacher's Guide: People Power

Citizens throughout Eastern Europe begin to lose faith in the communist system and ideology. As Western ideals begins to seep through Soviet security, resistance gains momentum and ordinary people become revolutionary leaders.

Unit Themes and Topics:
fall of communism in Eastern Europe
social movements and the struggle for justice

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
birth of communism in Russia 1917-1940 Russia "Red Flag"
the Cold War 1945-1961 Soviet Union, United States "Brave New World"

Bärbel Reinke
(citizen, East Germany)

"I thought, never again will someone say, you can't go through here, you're not allowed to go there, you're not allowed to do that. No more. I'm going through."
photographic portrait of Barbel Reinke


Before Watching

1. Review with students the principles of communism. Compare the role of the individual in a democratic system vs. a communist system. How does each system give people power?

2. As students watch the program, have them write down how the following people express their discontent with communism: Natasha Kuznetsova, Mihai Radu, Mike Fröhnel, Henryka Kryzwonos, Petr Miller, and Ioan Savu.

After Watching

1. Why did people become disillusioned with communism? How did they express their discontent? How did their actions contribute to the fall of communism? What if they had not taken action, or if politicains had tried to reform rather than dismantle their communist governments? Explain.

2. Based on the program, which do you think was a more important factor in the fall of communism: the quest for political liberties or the quest for a higher standard of living? Explain. Why were some people, like worker Nina Motova, worried about losing communism?


Divide the class into small groups and assign each group to research living conditions and political changes in one Eastern European country in the twentieth century before communism, under communism, and today. Then have them create a timeline highlighting the events leading up to the rise and fall of communism in that country and a map illustrating consequent geographic changes.

Have students explore a dissident perspective on communist Eastern Europe by reading Václav Havel's short play "Protest," or scenes one and four from act 1 of his play "The Memorandum" (The Garden Party and Other Plays, Grove/Atlantic, 1993). Discuss what the plays tell about the society; what aspects of society Havel is satirizing; what moral or personal dilemmas the characters confront, and how they cope with them; and why Havel's plays were considered subversive. Then ask students to write a paragraph from the point of view of a fellow dissident or a government censor, explaining why Havel's writing is either inspiring or dangerous.

FOCUS: The Collapse of Communism

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about the mood of revolution and the political and economic changes that led to the collapse of communism. Workers, artists, and officials in Poland, the Soviet Union, and East Germany describe their experiences.

Program Segment
approximately 19 minutes

The pope visits Poland in 1979.

A Czech cartoon shows the collapse of communism.


Before Watching

1. Why is the right to assemble considered an important element of democracy? How is it related to the right of free speech?

2. As students watch the program segment, have them write their responses to the following questions: What motivated people to protest? What risks did they face when they engaged in protests?

After Watching

1. What frustrations led workers like Henryka Kryzwonos to demand an independent union? What tactics did they use to protest? Why do you think their success was threatening to communist leaders?

2. How did the Soviet authorities respond to the Solidarity movement? How effective was their response? Explain. How did Gorbachev's philosophy differ from the philosophies of other communist leaders? What impact did his reforms have on the Soviet Union? On other countries?

3. Based on the quotation from Bärbel Reinke, what do you think made an ordinary person like her finally decide to take action? What do you think caused protest and revolution to spread through Eastern Europe?

4. What did the Berlin Wall represent? What structures or places in the United States symbolize American history or values? How do they symbolize our history or values? What would their destruction or replacement mean to the American public?


Ask students to trace the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of communism. First, have some students research media coverage of the construction of the Wall and the U.S. response, and have other students research coverage of the fall of the Wall. Then have students draw political cartoons or write journal entries or letters that illustrate the answer to one of the following questions: Why did Berlin become the focus of tensions between East and West? What events led to the construction of the Wall? What aspects of communism and anti-democracy did the Wall symbolize? Why was the fall of the Wall such a symbolic event?

Using magazine and newspaper articles, have students imagine they are living in a former communist country today. Have them write a letter to a relative describing how daily life has changed. What has changed the most? What has changed the least? How do you feel about the changes? What do you think the future holds? What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Program Summary

Use the following information to assist in finding specific segments within the program. The times listed on the left indicate minutes into the program.

03:00 Anniversary of October Revolution in Soviet Union. Brief history from the 70's of Soviet lifestyle, propaganda, and attitudes. Desire grows for western-style consumer goods.

09:00 Everything is controlled by the Communist Party. Food is sparse, everyone stands in line. Censorship, fear, secret police and informants used to control people.

13:00 Black market provides goods and ideas from the west. Communist governments struggle to fulfill desires of people; produce their own versions of popular western music.

14:40 Secret police files in East Germany. Everyone watched for "decadent" western behavior.

18:00 In Poland, increasing opposition to Soviet ideal. Polish Pope visits in 1979.

19:40 1980 -- Highest discontent in Gdansk with strikers, leads to communist party caving in; workers start first non-communist trade union. Lech Walesa comes to power in growing Solidarity movement. Solidarity challenges Polish government and Communist party.

22:00 Other Communist countries vigilant in keeping out ideas from Solidarity movement. Ideas discredited. Soviet Union holds military maneuvers near Poland.

24:00 December, 1981 -- Polish government Solidarity. Polish security forces and police crack down on Solidarity supporters.

26:00 Soviet Union, 1982 -- Brezhnev dies, and Gorbachev comes to power with "Glasnost" theme of economic freedom. But people also want political freedom. Freedom of expression in media grows.

30:00 State control of economy lessens. Low-level capitalism encouraged. Fear of Soviet crack-down lessens -- no more threat of Soviet tanks invading Eastern Europe. Other countries, including Hungary and Poland, begin to lessen control.

34:00 East Germany removes travel restrictions.

36:40 End of the G.D.R. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia has still not seen any reforms.

37:00 Movement in Czechoslovakia grows. Communist government resigns in the "Velvet Revolution."

39:00 Romania has ignored events elsewhere. Ceausescu maintains tight control of country. Initial uprisings are put down violently.

42:00 Uprisings grow in Bucharest and eventuall overtake government. Ceausescu and his wife are executed.

46:00 Russia/Soviet Union still under communist control. Communist conservatives imprison Gorbachev, attempt coup. Popular demonstration with Boris Yeltsin ends coup when army refuses to attack Parliament.

50:00 Communist symbols have fallen, replaced by capitalism.

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