[Crossposted from New Books in History] There are certain dates that every European historian knows. Among them are 1348 (The Black Death), 1517 (The Reformation), 1648 (The Peace of Westphalia), 1789 (The French Revolution), 1848 (The Revolutions of 1848), 1914 (The beginning of World War I), 1933 (Hitler comes to power), and 1945 (The end of World War II). Two decades ago we added another date to the roster of “historical” years–1989. In ’89 the world really did change: the hallmark of an entire historical epoch–the struggle between the Capitalist West and the Communist East–came to a sudden end. The Berlin Wall came down, the Soviets withdrew from Eastern Europe, the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe relinquished power, new democratic states emerged, and people danced in the streets. At least for a while. To say that nobody saw ’89 coming would be a bit of an exaggeration: people had been predicting the decline of Soviet power in Eastern Europe for decades. Like all regularly made predictions (“Prices will fall…”), this one eventually came true. Still, the events of ’89 were unexpected. What the heck happened? If anyone knows, it’s Padraic Kenney. Not only has he spent his entire (prodigious) scholarly career studying modern Eastern European history, but he was there when it all happened. He published the classic account of ’89 in ’93 (A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989 (Princeton UP, 2003)) and since then two other books about it as well (The Burdens of Freedom. Eastern Europe Since 1989 (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2006); 1989: Democratic Revolutions at the Cold War’s End (Bedford-St. Martin’s, 2009). In this interview, he tells us how it all went down (or up, depending on your perspective).
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