the 1989 thing


We make fun of Nostradamus and numerologists, but give editors an anniversary and the floodgates open. We’re anniversary-ologists, as USA Today might say. Unfortunately, trying to take the pulse of what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 is more complex than counting back the years. Just as 1865 or 1945 can’t be explained without 1787 or 1933, so 1989 — the year communism either imploded or didn’t, the world either changed or didn’t and history either ended or kept going — poses challenges. One can take the “I was there” approach of Michael Meyer, Newsweek’s bureau chief for Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans between 1988 and 1992, in his book “The Year That Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Meyer places the spotlight on what happened — Hungary’s opening of its borders, the Nov. 9 fall of the Berlin Wall, the domino decline of other Eastern European states — while lacing in accessibly deep, if not Hegelian, historical explanation. Another tack is the “if you knew what I know” analysis offered in Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin’s “Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment,” which frames the story as badly told rather than untold: a fantasy of people power sweeping Europe that’s better dissected nation-by-nation, with insight into doomed governments and failed systems.

more from Carlin Romano at the LA Times here.