The Heroes of 1989

tags: Communism, 1989



Padraic Kenney is a history professor at Indiana University.

On Jan. 15, 1989, demonstrations broke out in both Prague and Leipzig. The wire stories the next day told of riot police and water cannons deployed and of mass detentions. Twenty-five years ago, the communists of Eastern Europe certainly seemed to have a strong if nervous hold on power.

Of course, that year turned out a little differently. There never was a dull moment in 1989 for fans of democracy and popular protest. From January, when the communist leaders in Poland agreed to sit down to round table talks with Solidarity, the opposition they had once reviled, through Vaclav Havel’s election as president of Czechoslovakia as the year closed, every week brought images of peaceful rebellion and of powerful leaders agreeing to cede at least some of their power. More than once that summer and fall, as I walked through Warsaw with a newspaper under my arm, a passerby would stop me: At which kiosk had I bought it, and were there any left? The world seemed charmed, and in a great hurry toward something better.

The year brought horrific moments, too, in Romania in particular. But after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia a few years later, it was obvious that things could have been much worse in Eastern Europe. More than anything, that golden year gave us a feeling of limitless possibility....



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