1991: Review, Adieu

TO call 1991 a "news rich" year is an understatement. History-making change has taken place at every level. Yet unlike 1989 or 1990 - with their singularly bold tones heralding the liberation of Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany - the tone of 1991 has been more complicated and hesitant. If 1989 could be played to Dvorak's majestic "New World Symphony," 1991 may pick up the mingled ebullience and plaintiveness of Beethoven's Seventh.Among the year's images: ex-hostage Terry Anderson lighting the White House Christmas tree; barefoot Kurds huddled on freezing mountainsides; Boris Yeltin atop a tank, rallying Muscovites; Rajiv Ghandi's funeral. Most powerfully in America - the faces of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in October's Senate hearings. Instant history can be simplistic. Still, year-end reviews are useful waymarks, so we've assembled our "top 10" list of events and trends of 1991. Many important subjects - hunger in Sudan and elsewhere, the challenge of diseases, environmental problems - have been left out since they are ongoing, not specifically "1991," stories. 1. End of the Soviet empire. Mikhail Gorbachev sends troops to the Baltics in January to assert "empire" and please hard-liners. His popularity bottoms. Boris Yelstin is elected Russian president in June. The failed August coup shifts power irrevocably to the republics. In December, the Ukraine votes independence; the new commonwealth is formed, Gorbachev resigns, and the hammer and sickle flag is lowered from over the Kremlin. 2. Gulf war. January's debate in Congress is followed by a decisive US-led victory. Iraq is defanged, Kuwait liberated, and the US is recognized as the world's sole superpower. Yet the aftermath is unclear as Saddam rebuilds and blusters anew; his nuclear program is still shrouded. 3. The Middle East visits Madrid. A historic meeting of Arabs and Jews take place in November. Subsequent meetings in Washington confirm this is only a start down a long, twisting road. President Bush and Secretary of State Baker get credit, nonetheless, for initiating the process. 4. US domestic issues rise. President Bush is attacked for globe-trotting and a lack of interest in the US economy. His approval rating drops below 50 percent. IBM and GM announce huge layoffs. Defining moment: Harris Wofford's Senate victory in Pennsylvania over former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. 5. Nationalism redux. Sans cold war, ethnic solidarity returns, often with a vengeance. Yugoslavia's tragic war lurches on; German skinheads rampage; strife boils over in Moldavia and Georgia. This is an ugly, divisive trend requiring a policy of containment by Europe lest it spread to Russia and the Ukraine. In the US, Republican contender Pat Buchanan voices a new kind of American "nationalism." 6. Dirty dollars. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal takes this year's "boa in the corncrib" award. Robert Maxwell allegedly raids pension funds. The Atlantic Monthly's December "Cooked Books" piece on fraud in all eight major auditing firms adds to concerns over dollars and ethics. 7. "PC," multiculturalism. President Bush gives a speech in Ann Arbor, Mich., against "political correctness." Pluralism and diversity are crucial, but "PC" appears to operate as an illiberal orthodoxy. Oakland, Calif., schools reject all history texts as "racist." Ethnic debate is heightened as the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery nears. A clear need: Fresh insights into the meaning of e pluribus unum. 8. The UN and regional hope. The United Nations continues to emerge as an effective mediating force in the Gulf war, in Cambodia, and in the release of Middle East hostages. The UN's inspection of weapons facilities in Iraq suggests that the taboo against infringing on national sovereignty may be breaking down. Important steps to reduce tensions are taken in Angola, in North and South Korea, and in South Africa, where the last legal pillars of apartheid crumble. 9. European unity. EC-members tie the knot in Maastricht, further defining Europe as a global economic unit that could soon be joined by a North American free-trade region and an Asian trading bloc led by Japan. 10. "A spirit in man Matters of the spirit didn't get many headlines in 1991. But it's well to remember that this year's key stories may be "invisible the spiritual breakthroughs experienced by seekers of truth everywhere.

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