Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire

Published by Pantheon Books on 27th October 2009

The Iron Curtain divided Europe physically with 300 km of walls and barbed wire fences. Ideologically it separated communism and capitalism. Psychologically is identified people imprisoned under totalitarian dictatorships and their neighbours enjoying democratic freedoms. Militarily it was the difference between two mighty, distrustful power blocs, still fighting the Cold War.

For forty years, East-West rivalry and a cruelly divided continent seemed to be unalterable facts of life. Few statesmen, diplomats, soldiers or thinkers imagined these certainties would change in their lifetimes.

At the start of 1989, six European nations were still Soviet vassal states. By the end of the year, one after another, they had thrown off communism, declared national independence, and embarked on the road to democracy. One of history’s most brutal empires was on its knees. Poets who had been languishing in jails became national leaders. When the Berlin Wall fell on a chilly November night it seemed as though the open wounds of the cruel twentieth century would at last begin to heal.

The Year of Revolutions appeared as a beacon of hope for oppressed people elsewhere who dared to dream that they, too, could free themselves. In a dizzying few months of almost entirely peaceful revolutions, the people’s will triumphed over tyranny. An entire way of life was swept away along with a half dozen incompetent, corrupt and at times vicious dictatorships. It happened with little violence, apart from a few bloody days in Romania.

Now, twenty years on, Victor Sebestyen, who as a journalist witnessed much of the fall of the Soviet empire first hand, reassesses this decisive moment in modern history. Revolution 1989 is an enthralling account of how six oppressed states won their freedom.