Thursday, Jun. 18, 2009

1989: A Fateful Year

To Our Readers

Peter Gumbel remembers living in Moscow in 1989 as like riding a roller-coaster that never ended. "Every morning," he says, "you'd wake up wondering what earth-shattering things would happen that day — and the extraordinary thing was that every day something earth-shattering would actually happen." The Soviet Union and China, for example, would agree to bury the hatchet ahead of a landmark visit to Beijing by Mikhail Gorbachev. That led Peter, then the Wall Street Journal's Moscow bureau chief, to write a joint story from the Sino-Soviet border with his opposite number in Beijing, Adi Ignatius. Adi remembers the story as a bit of a sideshow — he was covering the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square at the time — which just goes to show that, in 1989, history was being made so often in so many places that it seemed almost routine.

Peter's based in Paris for TIME and FORTUNE now, and Adi, after a distinguished career with us, is now editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review. When we set out to put together our annual Journey double issue, they were among the writers we asked to share memories of those amazing 12 months — a year when the end of communism came into view, and millions of Eastern Europeans began to enjoy the freedom they had long been denied, even as Chinese were seeing their own demands for political liberties crushed in Beijing.

Our eyewitness accounts range far and wide. Photographer Philip Blenkinsop retraced with Southeast Asia bureau chief Hannah Beech the journey he had taken when Vietnamese troops finally left Cambodia. "I started smoking on that trip," says Philip. "Hammock slung under a Soviet truck, my Vietnamese traveling companions would wake me each morning by placing a lit Liberation cigarette in my mouth." The London Evening Standard's Anne McElvoy, who was based in East Berlin in 1989, remembers the muddled yet deeply emotional nights when the Berlin Wall finally fell, a piece of it hitting her in the eye and dislodging a contact lens. Around that time, Bill Powell, now based in Shanghai for TIME and FORTUNE, was dealing with shocks of a different kind in Tokyo — the sort that came when he had to pay for dinner in a restaurant during the bubble years. But 1989 wasn't only about politics and business, which is why we were sure to include pieces on Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial pictures, Salman Rushdie's no less controversial book, the birth of a little thing called the World Wide Web and the promise of cheap, limitless energy from a beaker of water.

An issue like this is always a team effort. Assembling and editing the stories fell to Zoher Abdoolcarim in Hong Kong and Simon Robinson in London. The photographs — old and contemporary — were put together by Maria Wood and Mike Bealing and their teams, and the design by our art staff, led by International Art Director Cecelia Wong. I'm enormously grateful to all of them, and indeed to every member of the staff of TIME International in London, Hong Kong, New York City and our bureaus around the world.

Our journey doesn't end with the magazine. Go, too, to for photo-essays, videos and Top 10 lists about a year that keeps transforming our world. And I trust that you will enjoy reading and viewing them as much as we enjoyed putting it all together.