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Empire Falls: The Revolutions of 1989

October 30, 2009

by Ronald Grigor Suny
from The Nation

leninThe end of the story was gruesome–a spray of bullets and a splattering of blood on a wall in central Romania. On Christmas Day 1989, after a hastily arranged trial before a kangaroo court, the deposed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed by a firing squad. The assembled soldiers, eager to eliminate the despised dictator, were ordered not to aim higher than his chest. The faces of the condemned had to be recognizable after the fact. The country had to see that the communist era was over.

The fall of communism was as decisive a turning point in modern history as the French or Russian revolutions. In 1989 the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe collapsed; the division of Europe symbolized by the Berlin Wall crumbled; the cold war began to recede into historical memory; and more pluralistic, sometimes democratic, states emerged where one-party dictatorships had dominated for four decades. (It was also the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille.) Statist, ostensibly planned economies yielded to freewheeling capitalist markets; and hopes were raised, momentarily as it turned out, for a “new world order” without debilitating ideological conflicts. more

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