The revolutions of 1989
You lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, and then you win.
— Rosa Luxemburg
In retrospect, historical outcomes always seem inevitable. The revolutions of 1989, viewed from the secure knowledge of the present, had to have happened. Gorbachev was steering the Soviet Union in a new direction, protests were building throughout Eastern Europe, the communist governments in the region were looking shakier and more isolated each day. This bloc was about to burst apart. It was just a question of when.
But on June 4, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was still an implacable presence, with Nicolae Ceausescu still comfortably ensconsed in his Romanian personality cult, and the revolutions of the fall a hot summer away, nothing seemed inevitable. True, from the Polish point of view, a new era was beginning. Voters throughout the country were turning out for their first (partially) free national elections in four decades, and the newly legalized Solidarity was heading for a resounding victory. But that same day, on the opposite side of the world, another historical path was Being followed. The Chinese government had decided to put down the Beijing Spring with force, sending troops and tanks into Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, and extinguishing for the time being not only revolution but democratic reform as well.
Even the Poles, in their post-election elation, eyed the Chinese "solution" warily. As they-celebrated their own electoral victory that June, Poles remembered their experience with martial law eight years earlier: the defiance, the repressions, the move underground, the ineffectual foreign response. It had happened once. Why not again? The opposition in Poland had been repressed so many times that its pessimism, bordering on paranoia, seemed reasonable when measured against this historical background.
If the Poles still harbored lingering fears, so much greater were the worries of their neighbors. The words "Tiananmen Square" would be