Making the history of 1989
December 24, 2015 12:57 PM   Subscribe

The night that the Berlin Wall collapsed was certainly one of the most dramatic moments in the cascading events of 1989, events that brought the era of Communist rule in Eastern Europe to a close. What follows is an examination of the intersecting developments that led to the collapse of the Communist regimes in 1989.

Throughout Eastern Europe, the decade of the 1980s was a time of significant change, including the everyday lives of average citizens. This case study looks at visual representations of consumer culture in Poland in an effort to examine the larger role that consumer goods played in the daily lives of those who lived in Eastern Europe.

Using oral histories, this case study explores various aspects of women’s daily lives in Communist Romania and women’s attitudes toward the changes wrought by the transformation to a pluralist system and to a market economy after the collapse of the regime in December 1989.

Surnames and Nationality

By analyzing jokes from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) we can see how people sought to create their own sense of freedom.

Although China is located quite far from Eastern Europe, dissidents in Eastern Europe identified with the struggles by opposition leaders in China and used images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising to reinforce memories of resistance in Eastern Europe.

These primary sources are drawn from the emergence of resistance movements in the 1980s, the events of 1989, and the immediate aftermath in Eastern Europe.
posted by infini (14 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome post, thanks.
posted by interrobang at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2015

> Schabowski had only recently received a copy of the new regulations and had not yet read them carefully. The reporter asked when, exactly, East German citizens could begin to take advantage of these new travel rules. Schabowski shrugged and responded, "from now.”

That evening Reuters reported (incorrectly) that East German citizens could cross into West Germany by any border crossing and West German television news programs reported that the Berlin Wall was opening. Within minutes, thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of Berliners, both East and West, began converging on the Berlin Wall. Without orders for how to handle the surging crowds, the East German border guards simply opened the gates. Crowds poured through in both directions and within minutes began tearing down the wall that had for so long symbolized the division of Europe into a Communist East and a non-Communist West.

This is how you change the world: you skim the instructions saying what people are supposed to do, and then you ignore those instructions and tell people to do the thing they want to do. It works so well that sometimes it works even when you do it by mistake.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:13 PM on December 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

There was the additional development a few years ago that the question may have been planted. I'm not sure if I'll find a good source in English.
posted by hoyland at 2:34 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is not a great article, but is referring to what I'm talking about.
posted by hoyland at 2:38 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to forget that this caused the so called special period in Cuba.
posted by adamvasco at 3:25 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my (middle school-age) kids came home last week and said something about how there was a wall that cut a city and a country in half. I said I KNOW and I HAVE SNAPSHOTS OF IT FROM THE SUMMER BFORE, AND ALSO A PIECE OF IT ON THE BASEMENT. (The boy heard: that's not "history" if my dad was there.)

He retreated, and now I am unsure whether he will be bringing up the Twentieth Century to me again. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:05 PM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I lost the few coins that I brought back from the DDR, and was amazed to buy a handful on EBay this summer for a dollar or two. We had been warned that we could not bring any of their money out...and now here it was for sale online!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:07 PM on December 24, 2015

I knew when Hungary removed their barbed wire fences on their western border (and the Soviets didn't pull another 1956) that something miraculous was happening.

I'm so glad I was alive to witness this period. Millions of people free!!!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:04 PM on December 24, 2015

People used to say that East and West Germany were never ever gonna get back together, but lucky for us they were able to set aside their bad blood, shake it off, and now they've found a place in this world.
posted by drezdn at 9:19 PM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

😑I wish there was a Blank Space instead of that comment 😖
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:19 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

If anyone's wondering what surnames have to do with anything, this is from the link:
The 1927 measures under which new surnames were assumed or assigned affected Slavs, primarily Croats and Slovenes, living in Italy's eastern borderland. The Fascists also changed the last names of ethnic Hungarians, Austro-Germans, and other former Habsburg subjects from all parts of the empire who had settled for commercial reasons in the Adriatic provinces ceded to Italy. [...] In the wake of the Second World War, with the burgeoning of the Cold War "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic" as Winston Churchill described, the aspirations, rights, and sympathies for ethnic groups asking for self-determination were lost in the din of superpower rivalry and the division of Europe into opposing blocs. On this southern fringe of the iron curtain, the [1991] law allowing for the reinstatement of surname[s] changed or "Italianized" as part of the Fascist nationalizing project shows how such issues as national identity were submerged during the Cold War to re-emerge in various guises as aspects of political revolution in Europe after 1989.
Nice post!
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's an FPP worth on surnames and politics. The Dutch have some stories from history explaining why of them have ridiculous surnames, as do the Finns.
posted by infini at 9:42 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Apologies in advance for the self-indulgence here.)

I'd been to East Berlin in the early 1980s, when it was still deadly serious. My sister & I visited Berlin again in early 1990, when the wall still stood but didn't do anything *except* stand. An enterprising young man (one of many) was renting hammers & chisels. For a few DMs, you could spend 15 minutes chipping off as much of the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall as you could manage, and there was no one to stop you taking it home with you. He was a master capitalist, exploiting his ownership of the means of destruction.

The photos we took of each other whaling away at something I'd grown up fearing and loathing are some of the most meaningful ones I have. Those chunks of literally concrete awfulness sit in a glass box on my desk, and remind me to be grateful for where I live and that I lived to see all that change. I know I was just a tourist, and the people who really brought down the wall took on a hell of a lot more risk and sacrifice, but I'm glad I got to be a tiny part of that.

To my daughter, DDR has only ever been a game in which she can beat the pants off me. She came home excited to tell me about the book she was reading in school - a story about a family split when the first barriers went up in 1961.

"Dad, did you know there was this huge wall that kept people from escaping?"

"Yes, I did. Want to see a cool picture I've got on my phone?"

For her, the most remarkable thing about the photo is that I'm dark-haired and skinny. And I'm very, very glad about that.
posted by NumberSix at 9:40 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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