Events of the year 1989 astonished the whole world. The usually sober 200-year-old political yearbook Annual Register began its 1989 edition with these breathless words:
If 1988 saw peace breaking out in various parts of the world, 1989 was even more remarkable as the year in which the Iron Curtain was lifted in Europe, with a rapidity which left most pundits gasping. Not only was the infamous Berlin Wall thrown open to divided German people; also, one by one, the East European communist regimes which had sustained the post-1945 continental divide succumbed to the irresistible forces of awakened democracy. That this historic transformation occurred in the bicentenary year of the French Revolution has a symbolism which appealed to many.
Early in 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its last official armed forces from Afghanistan, where it had been battling American-backed military forces for nine years. In other events of that vibrant, violent year, Chinese troops suppressed pro-democracy uprisings in Beijing and many other cities, a South African president who pledged to end white racial domination took office, his government ended years of South African opposition to the independence of neighboring Namibia, and Iran’s religious leader pronounced a death sentence in absentia against author Salman Rushdie for his book Satanic Verses.