Monday, February 21, 2011

1848, 1968, 1989, 2011?

All views in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of the State Department or the U.S. government.

I majored in history in college and one of the concepts I remember vividly is that in many years, very little happens.  Sure, they write things in the history book for every year, but if I were to ask you what major events occurred in 1983, you'd probably have to look to Google to find out.  (My quick search shows the most significant world event in 1983 to be the bombing of the Embassy in Lebanon).

But some years are chock so full of events that important events are given no historical coverage.  I'm not talking about years like 2001.  9/11 remains the single most important event of the 21st Century.  Moreover, the US invaded Afghanistan following the attacks, but not much else happened of huge historical import.  I'm talking about years with so much going on that the years become linked with the events.

In the past 200 years, there have been quite a few of these years.  Any of the years for WWI and WWI would qualify.  But outside the war, there are three years - 1848, 1968, and 1989 -  that most historians agree are defined by the revolutions that spread across the globe during these years.  After what has happened during the first two months of 2011, I would not be surprised to see the current year join these historically significant years.

1848 - The year was characterized by a series of revolutions throughout Europe.  Often called the Springtime revolutions, popular uprisings occurred in Italy, France, Denmark, Habsburg Empire (Austria), Hungary, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Wallachia, and even Brazil.  Though there was very little immediate change from these revolutions, the unification of both Germany and Italy can be directly attributed to these revolutions.

1968 - The year of the student protests and socialist revolutions were in a large part a response to the US war against Vietnam.  Millions of students around the world protested against the war and for civil rights for women and minorities.  Protests in Czecheslovakia and Poland were ended by violent responses from the Soviet Union.  Assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, along with the violent protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago were just some of the major events that occurred in 1968.

1989 - This was the year of the anti-communist revolutions.  Protests in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czecheslovakia, and Romania led to the fall of their Communist regimes.  In Berlin, the divisive wall came down in November.  The Tiananmen Square massacre occurred in April of that year.  Over the following years, the USSR fell apart and democracy took over Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

2011? - I will be the first to admit that 2011 is not quite there yet.  But the events of the first 50 days this year have sown the seeds of revolution in the Middle East.  We have already seen mass protests lead to the fall of long-time dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.  Protests in the Sudan (as well as the Southern Sudan independence vote), Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, and Iran (and Wisconsin?) all have the potential to add 2011 to the short list of monumental years.

1 comment:

  1. The Tiananmen Square massacre occurred in June, not April of 1989

    In May 1968, the revolt of French students is just as significant