Nineteen eighty-nine was a dream in a dream
We straddled the thin line between what it means or it seems
To be sure enough we left the world behind
--Grey Eye Glances, "The Lost Coast"
Though nobody expected it to be that way at the start, 1989 was a momentous year, one in which much of what seemed a permanent part of the world was left behind by December 31.
It was certainly that way in Eastern Europe. The "Iron Curtain" looked like it would be there forever on January 1, but that would soon change. In February, the Polish Communist government and representatives of the Solidarity independent trade union entered into the "Round Table Agreement" for the liberalization of the political system; the country held free elections that summer and the new government abolished state socialism and withdrew from the Soviet-dominated "Warsaw Pact" by year's end. In East Germany, a series of mass demonstrations inspired by Solidarity's success led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November.
There were other peaceful transitions to democracy in Chezchoslovakia ("the Velvet Revolution"), Bulgaria, and Hungary. The not-so-peaceful Romanian Revolution in December overthrew the brutal Caucescu regime, and the tyrant met his fate before a firing squad. Even in the Soviet Union, the seemingly-mighty empire which would go out of business completely in anticlimactic fashion just two years later, the government had begun yielding to the tide.
The tides of liberty weren't confined to Eastern Europe. Down in South Africa, P.W. Botha met face to face with Nelson Mandela, one of a series of negotiations which led to the end of the apartheid system of racial segregation. The thuggish Noriega dictatorship in Panama was put out of business by U.S. military intervention. Brazil and Chile held their first free elections in decades. In China, the Tiananmen Square protests captured the world's attention before the democracy movement was brutally suppressed.
On a much smaller scale of importance, 1989 was a year of great changes for me personally: I graduated from law school, moved, passed the bar, got married, and embarked on my present career. With my law school class holding its 25-year reunion in August (photo at right), and me being all nostalgic and such because of that, it seemed an appropriate occasion to look back on the automotive world of 1989.