One week before the mass demonstrations that led to the collapse of the Czechoslovak Communist regime in November, 1989, a Charter 77 activist, Jan Urban, proposed that the group contest the national elections to be held in June of 1991. Urban's friends laughed at his proposals for being hopelessly Utopian. But a week later, thousands of students filled Wenceslas Square, a general strike was called, and the regime collapsed. The leaders of the future Civic Forum, who had been carefully watching events in Hungary, Poland and the GDR, had little idea that their own country was ripe for revolution.
Charter 77 would not have fared much better had it consulted Western social scientists, because our models for understanding the emergence of new social movements and their spread and outcomes are woefully inadequate. While prediction in social science is always hazardous, our lack of preparation for the recent wave of mobilization in Eastern Europe is particularly glaring, given the vast body of research and theorizing that has developed since the 1960s both in Western Europe and the United States.