History Department
History Department

Jeremi Suri: "25 Years Since Tiananmen, What Might Have Been"

Tue, June 3, 2014
Jeremi Suri:
Prof. Suri; Image from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 - Pu Zhiqiang asks for the right of freedom of speech, May 10, 1989.

The 25th anniversary of the repression of Chinese democracy in Tiananmen Square is an important moment for reflecting on these terrible events, the opportunities lost, and the lessons for our present world. Professor Jeremi Suri sees historical reasons for hope. Read his article published today in Global Brief:

"The early summer of 1989 was the most optimistic season in recent memory. William Wordsworth, writing in a previous revolutionary moment, captured the sentiment: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” I remember that feeling, if not those words, as a high school student convinced that I was blessed to be born at such a time.

In the early months of 1989 the communist governments of Poland and Hungary, two traditional stalwarts of the Soviet bloc, opened political participation to long repressed trade unions and dissident groups. The leaders of these societies saw that the Soviet Union had entered a period of rapid political and economic reform, including unprecedented efforts to open to the capitalist West. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke explicitly of ending Cold War tensions and creating what he called a “common European home.” This meant a reversal of Soviet-enforced tyranny in Poland, Hungary, and soon all the other satellites in Eastern Europe. By June 1989 it was clear that Gorbachev and his political reforms were for real. No one knew precisely where events would lead, but all signs pointed to brighter sunshine in what had been the very dark world of postwar communism." 

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