One Bright Moment in an Age of War, Genocide and Terror? On the Revolutions of 1989
August 30, 2008
1989 was described as ‘annus mirabilis’, and its revolutions hailed as one of the great moments in human history. In subsequent years, the re-emergence of war, genocide and terror led to re-interpretation: Europe became a dark continent, the 20th century its darkest hour. Was 1989 merely a bright moment in a dark age?
This contribution acknowledges European war, genocide and terror and examines in some detail the contribution of this history to the self-limiting or negotiated revolutions of 1989. It is argued that horrific violence – Stalinist terror, World War II, the Cold War as well as genocide, ethnic cleansing and deportation – resulted processes that contributed to the revolutions of 1989 in the following ways:
• The legacy of Stalinist terror resulted in a structural stasis that prefigured the breakdown of the Soviet empire;
• Integration into global warfare enabled the perpetuation of Soviet rule but also provided the window of opportunity for overturning the Soviet legacy:
• State building was constrained by the Soviet imperial cage but ultimately resulted in independent states and societies able to purposefully organise change after 1989.
The argument is that the self-limiting or negotiated revolution of 1989 (Staniszkis 1984, Lawson 2005) was more than just a utopian moment in that it contains a new idea for organizing large-scale, rapid social and political change, which is relevant the twenty-first century. Contrary to received historical wisdom, revolutions may in future be the non-violent means of organising large-scale and rapid change, if negotiated.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18
Keywords: 1989, war, genocide, terror, Soviet empire, Cold War, self-limiting revolution, negotiated revolution, state building, large-scale change, transition, transformation
JEL Classification: N14, N44, P21, P31, P33
Date posted: August 31, 2008 ; Last revised: March 5, 2014