Padraic Kenney: What were your experiences of 1989?
Well, in 1989, I was a graduate student. I was working on my dissertation which was actually on a completely different time period, on the coming of Communism to Poland in 1945.
I was beginning my dissertation research just as things were starting to change in Poland. I was sitting in the archives working on this project, but also sort of looking out the window, figuratively speaking, and saying, boy, what’s happening out there is at least as interesting as what’s going on in these archives. Maybe I shouldn’t continue my work. But I’m a diligent person so I stayed working in the archives, but all the time thinking, okay, this is revolution. I’m interested in revolution. I need to be aware of it. But at some point, I need to come back and I need to understand this in my way as a historian.
I arrived in Poland, I think the beginning of September of 1989 and I was there for the next nine, ten months. I had also been in Poland the summer of 1988, which for me is also a very important moment. And I think it’s also a central moment in that trajectory of 1989. There’s no question it’s a year, it’s an emblematic year the same way 1968 is and also like 1968, you can map out interesting things going across the entire 12 months. But really, if we want to think about what 1989 is, it’s a slightly longer trajectory. There are so many interesting things going on over at least a two-year period, so I would say I was there at different points in the trajectory of the revolution of 1989.