Falling Like It’s 1989

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The End of History: 1989 is a year of iconic images, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Tiananmen Square crackdown. A Soviet observer at the time noted an impression of general collapse, while other countries saw the year's events as part of the struggle for democracy. In hindsight, the wall seems to have fallen in a day, but a dizzyingly paced year shows that many symbolic moments led up to the wall's fall. Above, East Berliners perch on the wall, with the Brandenburg Gate in the background, on Nov. 11, 1989.


Opening up: The month before his inauguration as U.S. president in January 1989, Bush joined then President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for a meeting at which the Americans expressed their support of perestroika, the political and economic reforms fostered by Gorbachev. This openness from the Soviet leadership would prove critical in the events that developed in Eastern Europe over the year. Above, Bush's mouth is checked with a flashlight by his granddaughter Ellie LeBlond at his inauguration on Jan. 18.


The 49ers as 89ers: Far from the ferment in the communist world, the San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl on Jan. 22, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals. In the pop-culture world, Madonna caused a stir with the music video for "Like a Prayer." The video's images of burning crosses, stigmata, and risqué outfits in a church scandalized religious groups. Pepsi, which had featured the song in a major advertising campaign, faced boycott threats and hastily pulled the ad.


"Unfunny Valentine": Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie received what Christopher Hitchens called the "single worst review any novelist has ever had," and on Valentine's Day, too. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Muslims to kill Rushdie, author of the award-winning book, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie immediately went into hiding, saying, "It's very hard to be offended by The Satanic Verses -- it requires a long period of intense reading. It's a quarter of a million words." Above, a sign at Teheran University reads, "The execution verdict of Salman Rushdie will be carried out."


Empty tank: On Feb. 15, Soviet troops finished leaving Afghanistan, nine years after invading. Armored vehicles traveled 260 miles to the Soviet border, leaving Kabul under siege and with severe food shortages. An estimated 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in that decade, facing fierce opposition by U.S.-backed mujahideen forces. The mujahideen eventually overthrew the Afghan government, and in 1996 the Taliban took power, creating a hard-line Islamist state. Above, an Afghan soldier sits on a Soviet tank near the Salang Pass on Aug. 17, six months after the withdrawal.


The Exxon Valdez, grounded upon Bligh Reef on March 24, spilled about 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound. About 1,300 miles of shoreline were damaged and hundreds of thousands of animals were killed, including an estimated 250,000 seabirds and 2,800 sea otters. Despite the massive cleanup operation -- costing more than $2 billion -- researchers estimated in 2006 that 100 tons of oil remained. The ship itself was repaired and renamed, though it is barred from the area. Above, the oil slick shines on the southwest part of the sound on April 1.


Hungry for change: Reformist leader Hu Yaobang's April 15 death sparked seven weeks of protests in China. For many students he had represented change, and during the protests more than a million people took to the streets criticizing corruption and demanding more democracy. The government, surprisingly, did not initially retaliate with repression. Protesters thus occupied Tiananmen Square and intensified their demonstration. Students began a hunger strike in the square (seen above on May 19, with students resting atop buses), joined by sympathizers who flooded the area around a 10-meter-high replica of the Statue of Liberty, named the Goddess of Democracy.


Calling for change: The tide turned against protesters when angry party leaders declared martial law on May 20. Hundreds of thousands of protesters attempted to block the troop advance into Beijing, supporting the still-fasting students. But by June 3 less than 10,000 protesters remained in the square. An accident in which a police van killed three bicyclists reignited popular anger against the Army, and people poured back into the streets. The resulting crackdown on June 4 left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded. Above, a student yells at soldiers on June 3, the day before the massacre.


Supreme death: More than 2 million people came out for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's funeral, which was held a week after his June 3 death (contrary to custom) due to the complexities of the event. A fire brigade hosed down mourners to prevent fainting, and the corpse had to be helicoptered into the cemetery because the crowd could not be penetrated. There, mourners broke through the cordon surrounding the coffin and fought for pieces of the shroud. More than 10,000 people were injured and a dozen died. Above, a million mourners in Tehran on June 5 surround the glass box containing Khomeini.


Masters of their domain: The "show about nothing" -- Seinfeld -- debuted in mid-1989. In many ways the show, which continued for nine seasons, really was about nothing. Phrases and quirks from the show, such as "yada, yada, yada," remain to this day. The main cast, from left, Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jason Alexander, are pictured above after receiving an Emmy in 1993. "Nothingness" continued its invasion when the Nintendo Game Boy came to the market. For those who don't remember it, the screen was primitive and green, but it was still an amazing way to spend a day.


Burmese days: Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Noble Peace Prize, was first placed under house arrest in July 1989 after the military dictatorship violently cracked down on a democracy movement. The daughter of Burma's independence hero, Aung San Suu Kyi has been a leader in the country's democracy movement and has modeled her campaign on the nonviolent movements of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. She has spent more than half of the last 20 years under some form of arrest.


Curtain call: The Berlin Wall fell quickly, but it was preceded by various breaks in the Iron Curtain earlier that year. The barrier's first breech came at the Austrian-Hungarian border, where reformist leaders began removing stretches of the fence in May. The decision owed much to economics: The Soviet Union cut maintenance funds for the border system, and Hungary was broke. East German refugees flocked to the area, trickling through during the summer. By September the government legitimized the exodus, saying it would recognize refugees' right to flee. Nearly 7,000 East Germans were camped out in Hungary awaiting exit by then. Above, East Germans run through a gate near Sopron, Hungary, on Aug. 19.


Passing through: Eastern European countries began to move away from the Soviet Union in other ways as well. Poles punished the Communist Party in the June elections when the trade union Solidarity took the entire Senate and all the contested parliament seats. Change happened quickly. Polish dissident Adam Michnik later said it was "a year of miracles.... What was not yet possible in January became reality in February, and by March it was possible to demand even more. None of us had a sense of what was happening." Above, an East German waves his new West German passport while crossing over the Austrian-Hungarian border on Sept 10.


Falling stars: The momentum of dissatisfaction that had gathered in Eastern Europe over the summer continued. On Oct. 23, the People's Republic of Hungary quietly became the Republic of Hungary. Above, Oct. 26, the red stars of communism are removed from the Chinoin Pharmaceutical and Chemical Factory in Budapest. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakians celebrated their 71st independence day anniversary in October by rallying for democracy. The subsequent month of protests consolidated the democracy movement into the Civic Forum. On Nov. 24, a week of mass demonstrations forced the politburo to resign, and in December the Federal Assembly, still dominated by communists, elected dissident playwright Vaclav Havel as president.


On track: East German officials, angered by the exodus via Hungary, cut off travel there. Many East Germans wound up in Czechoslovakia, a transit stop on the way to Hungary. Furious negotiations between East and West German officials ended in an agreement to pack all the refugees into sealed trains and allow them to go through East Germany into the West. Four- to six-thousand people went from Czechoslovakia, including those in the train above leaving Prague on Nov. 4. As the trains passed from the East to the West, passengers threw out their suddenly useless cash, keys, and ID cards.


The wall falls: Massive protests swept across East Germany in October. By this point thousands of people were leaving via the tears in the Iron Curtain, and a million-person march in the capital forced most of the politburo to resign. On Nov. 9 officials gave into popular demand for travel permissions and announced tourism to West Berlin would be permitted. That same night, hordes of people poured through checkpoints. In the next few days, the Berlin Wall began to be dismantled from both sides. Above, East German guards demolish the wall near Potsdamer Square on Nov. 11 as West Berliners rally around.


The smoke clears: The fall of bloody dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was more violent than the crumbling of neighboring countries. Thousands of protesters, who gathered in the town of Timisoara to protect a human-rights-defending priest, rampaged through the streets. Ceausescu ordered army repression, which backfired as the unrest then spread to the capital, Bucharest. Three days later, on Dec. 20, the country was in chaos. When Ceausescu attempted to calm the crowds he was jeered and booed. Ceausescu and his wife were detained by the army after an attempted helicopter escape and on Christmas were executed by a firing squad. Above, soldiers guard the Central Committee headquarters on Dec. 26.


Kissing communism goodbye: Above, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev embraces East German President Erich Honecker at a celebration of East Germany's 40th anniversary a mere month before the Berlin Wall fell. At that meeting he warned the hard-liner Honecker not to delay reform. When the wall fell, Gorbachev was reportedly unsurprised. His foreign-policy aide, Anatoly Chernyaev, wrote in his diary on Nov. 10: "The Berlin Wall has fallen. An entire era in the history of the 'socialist system' has come to an end.... This is no longer a matter of socialism, but of a change in the world balance of powers.... This is what Gorbachev has done!... [H]e sensed the footsteps of history and helped it to follow its natural course." That "natural course" went on to bring the end of the Soviet Union two years later.

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