Year
1989

Anti-censorship law approved by Soviet legislature

In one of the most heartening indications that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s promise of political openness in Russia was becoming a reality, committees in the Soviet legislature pass a bill allowing the publication of books, newspapers, and magazines without government approval. The law was a break with the Soviet past, in which government censorship of the press was a fact of life.

Throughout the post-World War II period, censorship in the Soviet Union grew even stronger than during the pre-war years. Under the cloak of “protecting” the Russian citizenry from “decadent” Western ideas and “reactionary” ideologies, the Soviet government routinely censored the press. Newspapers were merely organs of the Soviet Communist Party. Books and magazine articles had to be approved prior to publication. Authors like Boris Pasternak, whose novel Dr. Zhivago was banned in 1956, found it impossible to publish in the Soviet Union. Censorship also extended to the arts and music.

In 1985, however, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Russia, promising what he called “glasnost”–a freer political atmosphere in the Soviet Union. In the following years, he freed political prisoners and even permitted Pasternak to be posthumously readmitted to the Soviet writers’ union. In September 1989, a particularly important step was taken to restrict the government’s power of censorship. Important committees in the Soviet legislature approved a new law to which Gorbachev soon gave his own approval. It permitted Soviet citizens to publish books, newspapers, and magazines without prior government approval. Some restrictions still existed–all publishers had to register with the government, and their publications could be suspended if they were judged to “promote war or racism, advocate ethnic or religious intolerance, or appeal for the violent overthrow or change of the existing state and public order.”

Despite the restrictions, the 1989 law was evidence that Gorbachev was intent on making good his promise to open up the Soviet political system. Soviet journalists and writers celebrated the act, but Gorbachev’s reforms to the Soviet system may have been too little, too late. In a little more than two years, economic and political turmoil in the Soviet Union destroyed his power base. In December 1991, he resigned as president and the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a nation.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Drake circumnavigates the globe

English seaman Francis Drake returns to Plymouth, England, in the Golden Hind, becoming the first British navigator to sail the earth. On December 13, 1577, Drake set out from England with five ships on a mission to raid Spanish holdings on the Pacific coast of the New World. ...read more

Shannon Lucid returns to Earth

U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid returns to Earth in the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis following six months in orbit aboard the Russian space station Mir. On March 23, 1996, Lucid transferred to Mir from the same space shuttle for a planned five-month stay. A biochemist, Lucid shared ...read more

Bernstein’s West Side Story opens

On September 26, 1957, West Side Story, composed by Leonard Bernstein, opens at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. For the groundbreaking musical, Bernstein provided a propulsive and rhapsodic score that many celebrate as his greatest achievement as a composer. However, even ...read more

First Kennedy-Nixon debate

For the first time in U.S. history, a debate between major party presidential candidates is shown on television. The presidential hopefuls, John F. Kennedy, a Democratic senator of Massachusetts, and Richard M. Nixon, the vice president of the United States, met in a Chicago ...read more

Meuse-Argonne offensive opens

At 5:30 on the morning of September 26, 1918, after a six-hour-long bombardment over the previous night, more than 700 Allied tanks, followed closely by infantry troops, advance against German positions in the Argonne Forest and along the Meuse River. Building on the success of ...read more

Nixon responds to critics

President Nixon, speaking at a news conference, cites “some progress” in the effort to end the Vietnam War and says, “We’re on the right course in Vietnam.” Urging the American people to give him the support and time he needed to end the war honorably, Nixon said, “If we have a ...read more

First American soldier killed in Vietnam

Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, a U.S. Army officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Vietnam, is shot and killed in Saigon. Dewey was the head of a seven-man team sent to Vietnam to search for missing American pilots and to gather information on the situation in the country ...read more

Four 20-game winners

On September 26, 1971, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer wins his 20th game of the year, becoming the fourth Orioles pitcher to win 20 games in the 1971 season. This made the 1971 Orioles pitching staff the first since that of the 1920 Chicago White Sox to field four 20-game ...read more

T.S. Eliot is born

On this day, poet T.S. Eliot is born in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot’s distinguished family tree included an ancestor who arrived in Boston in 1670 and another who founded Washington University in St. Louis. Eliot’s father was a businessman, and his mother was involved in local ...read more

Ferry sinks off Gambian coast

A ferry from Senegal capsizes off the coast of Gambia on this day in 2002. Only 64 out of more than 1,000 passengers were rescued, making it one of the worst maritime disasters in history. The ferry, the Joola, was traveling from Ziguinchor, in the province of Casamance on the ...read more

Mistrial declared in Phil Spector murder case

Music producer Phil Spector’s trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson ends in a mistrial when the jury cannot come to a unanimous verdict. On February 3, 2003, police responded to a 911 call and found the 40-year-old Clarkson dead of a gunshot wound to the mouth in the ...read more