Thursday, June 4, 2009
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the killing by the People's Liberation Army of hundreds, probably thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators in China's Tiananmen Square.
The anniversary has been the occasion for a flurry of articles, interviews, op-eds, rallies and at least one memoir. It has also been an occasion for major censorship in China.
But today is also the twentieth anniversary of another event, on the opposite side of the globe. On 4 June 1989 - a decade, almost to the day, after John Paul II's first visit as pontiff to his homeland - the people of Poland voted in a truly multiparty election for the first time since World War II. The Communists had hoped to take the wind out of Solidarity's sails by allowing elections: while all 100 seats of the upper house were up for grabs, only 35% of the lower house's seats were open to elections; the Communists retained 65% of the seats for themselves which were not subject to voting. This would be enough, they reasoned, to tip the balance and ensure that they retained power. They were woefully wrong. Solidarity received 99% of the votes cast, capturing all but one seat open to them (which was taken by an independent candidate). It was the beginning of the end for Communism in Eastern Europe.