Scholar Interviews

Vladimir Tismaneanu: Is there a moment that stands out most about 1989?


I experienced 1989 very much as a personal story. I was actually in Europe in the summer of 1989, and I remember I was in Paris and we could watch on CNN, fragments, not the complete broadcast, but fragments of the reburial of the murdered former Hungarian legal Prime Minister, Imre Nagy. That must have been in June of 1989, and I remember very vividly a speech delivered by one of the leaders of the Democratic forces in Hungary, the leader of the party which was called the Alliance of Young Democrats.

When Viktor Orban took the floor and in front of I don’t know how many thousands of people, probably 100,000 people, invited very politely the Communist prime minister to courteously and nicely and kindly leave the ceremony. Let us bury our dead without your presence, Mr. Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister accepted this invitation to leave the stage. Okay? This was already clear that there was a new type of politics going on in East Central Europe. That would be one event that I remember very vividly.

But the real moment that is probably the most deeply imprinted in my memory is December. I saw the moment when Ceausescu was delivering his last speech. And the TV transmission got interrupted the moment that Ceausescu’s speech started to be booed by people from the population.

And Robin McNeil was interviewing me at that moment and said, “Professor, what you think? What’s going to happen?” And I said “That’s the end.” “How long is it going to take?” I said, “Probably no more than 48 hours. I would bet 24.” Guess what? The next day in the morning Ceaucescu had fled from Bucharest. And I remember all my friends in the political science department in western Pennsylvania telling me, “Vladimir, if you are right, it’s great. But political scientists and historians should stay away from saying ‘24 hours.’” It so happened it was 24 hours.

How to Cite

Vladimir Tismaneanu, interview, "Is there a moment that stands out most about 1989?." Making the History of 1989, Item #612 (accessed May 28 2021, 3:22 pm)