The Pope's Hand in the Fall of Communism

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF ENGLAND: The pope was obviously somebody who led a remarkable life: going through the Nazi occupation of Poland and then the Communist occupation of Poland, and surviving, indeed triumphing over both. And he played a great part in the fall of Communism.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Pope John Paul II (search) helped spark the democratic revolution in Eastern Europe, and ultimately the demise of Communism. He inspired Poland with his solidarity message, supporting world leaders like President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in bringing down the Berlin Wall.

I'm joined now by John O'Sullivan, editor-at-large for The National Review and a former advisor to Lady Thatcher. So, the big question, Mr. O'Sullivan, how did the pope help bring down Communism?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, he first gave the people of Poland, and then the entire communist world, hope that they could, in fact, resist and overcome the communist regimes that were stationed there.

Communism, after all, hadn't murdered millions and millions of people for about 20 years and consequently, its rule no longer rested upon absolute brute force, but upon an element of consent based on fear in the population. He told the people not to be afraid.

And when he went there, in his first visit in 1979, effectively the communist regime more or less melted away. He governed the country for the days he was there. And that, of course, led to the rise of solidarity and gave them confidence. The Western powers, particularly President Reagan, but also Lady Thatcher and people like Helmut Kohl, supported the movement of the people against the regime and fundamentally it was all over.

GIBSON: Margaret Thatcher is famous for telling George Bush the Elder, "Don't go wobbly on us, George." Did she have to offer any of that sort of advice to Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev (search), or the pope himself here?

O'SULLIVAN: I wouldn't say that she had to offer that kind of advice. Of course, I do think she gave good advice most of the time, and I think she gave it in the direction of urging President Reagan to pay careful attention to Gorbachev because he was, as she famously said, "A man we can do business with."

Reagan took that advice and Gorbachev responded and, of course, that was another major step. With the pope, it's slightly different.

He's not operating as a politician, although he did some political things, he's operating as a great spiritual leader. I think she respected that distinction and looked to him for that kind of leadership which she wouldn't dream of trying to give herself.

GIBSON: A lot of people thought the assassination attempt was the remnants of the old Soviets trying to get him out of the way. Do you buy into that?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think that undoubtedly that was the case. I think we'll learn more about it this week when some of the Bulgarian files are opened because the KGB and the Stasi used the Bulgarian Secret Service to do it.

You say remnants. They weren't yet remnants, you know. In 1982, the Soviet Union was not only a growing concern, but was actually probably stronger and more powerful than it had been at any point since the end of the World War II. The end was dramatic of the Soviet Union, partly because it was still so powerful in the early 1980s.

And it was at that point, at the moment of its greatest power, of greatest apparent power, that the pope took it on and began the unraveling of what was then, a very powerful country.

GIBSON: There's a temptation to sort of, think of this pope as a diplomat and, in some cases, a secret agent operating behind the scenes, doing things we normally think of some, well, skullduggery, if you will. What was he doing behind the scenes that we did not see that made the Soviet Union so afraid and feel like they had to take this dramatic step to try to assassinate him?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, you see, I don't think it was what he was doing behind the scenes that was so important. I think he was acting like a diplomat very often: putting people in touch with one another, urging peaceable solutions, that kind of thing.

It was what he did in public. It was his urging ordinary people not to be afraid, to realize that there was hope that they could overcome this evil, which was dominating their lives. That and the fact that the people responded to it was what made the Russians, the Soviets, I should say, afraid and rightly afraid because it was undermining their power.

Their power was not based solely on guns, though it was based partly on that and the willingness to use them, it was based also on the fact that people were afraid of them. Once he told people not to be afraid and they listened to him, really the writing was on the wall.

GIBSON: John O'Sullivan, editor-at-large for the National Review and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Mr. O'Sullivan, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.

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