The 200th anniversary of the French Revolution on July 14 1989, proved to be just one key date in a year of revolution, and of world-events that still impact on us to this day.
As 1989 began, January 14 saw 1000 Muslims in Bradford burning Salman Rushdies’ Satanic Verses. Iran’s Grand Ayattolah Khomeni, who had issued a fatwa against Rushdie, later died on June 3. On January 20, US President George H W Bush, later of ‘Gulf War’ fame, was inaugurated into office.
On the other side of the world, April saw the beginning of student protests in China, which culminated in Beijing students taking over Tiananmen Square on April 27. On June 4, the tanks moved in and thousands were killed in what became known as the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre.’
In Africa, there were also massive changes going on in 1989 that would resonate down the years. On April 18, Zimbabwe gained independence. Next: the beginning of the transformation of apartheid South Africa. On July 5, President Pieter Botha visited then ANC leader Nelson Mandela. On August 14, Botha resigned, and on September 20, FW De Klerk was sworn in as the new president. He worked quickly. On October 15, De Klerk freed Walter Sisulu and four other political prisoners. On November 16, he announced the abolition of the Separate Amenities Act.
And then there was Eastern Europe and beyond ‘the iron curtain’. On May 25, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the Presidency of the Soviet Union, and June 2 saw the victory of ‘Soldarity’ in the Polish elections. In the last three months of the year, the pace of change quickened. On October 18, the East German leader, Erich Honecker, resigned, and on November 9, East Berlin opened its borders, and the Berlin Wall began to fall. The next day, as Germans were demolishing the Wall, Bulgarian Party President, Todor Zjikov resigned. Meanwhile, on October 23, Hungary proclaimed a republic and declared the end of communist rule. Czechoslovakia was to follow: on November 24 the Communist Party resigned, with President Gustav Husak going on December 10. On December 3, Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush, Snr, declared the Cold War over. Finally, on December 22 Romania ousted Nicolae Ceausescu after 23 years of tyranny.
1989 was also marked by more sobering events. On July 20 the Burma government put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Closer to home, none of us will forget that on April 15 96 football supporters were crushed to death at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield.
I have my own reasons for remembering 1989: I was ordained as a Rabbi on July 9. And so, with the inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life, the last 25 years has also witnessed another kind of revolution.