June 1991 – 25 years ago

3 June 1991 – Mount Unzen eruption

Mt Unzen
Fugendake-and-heiseishinzan – In the distance, Mt. Unzen’s Fugen-dake (left) and Heisei-Shinzan peaks

Mount Unzen in Japan had a violent early history. 1792  saw its deadliest eruption with a large dacitic lava flow coming from Fugen-dake. The east flank of the Mayu-yama dome collapsed unexpectedly following a post-eruption earthquake, creating a landslide into Ariake Bay. This caused a megatsunami that reached a height of 100 metres and killed an estimated 15,000 people.

The vocanic group remained dormant for nearly 200 years until an earthquake swarm began about 20 kilometres underneath and 10 kilometres west of Fugendake in November 1989. Over the following year, earthquakes continued, their hypocentres gradually migrating towards the summit. The first phreatic eruptions began in November 1990, and after inflation of the summit area, fresh lava began to emerge on May 20, 1991.

The threat of further disastrous events prompted authorities to evacuate 12,000 local residents from their homes. On 3 June 1991, the volcano erupted violently, possibly as a result of depressurisation of the magma column after a landslide in the crater. A pyroclastic flow triggered by the collapse of a lava dome reached 4.5 kilometres from the crater and claimed the lives of 43 scientists and journalists.


12 June 1991 – Boris Yeltsin becomes President of Russia

June 1991 - 25 years ago
Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin being awarded the Order for Service to the Fatherland, 1st Class. (CC BY 4.0)

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was the first President of the Russian Federation. He was elected by popular vote to the newly created post on 12 June 1991.

He vowed to transform Russia’s socialist economy into a capitalist market economy and implemented economic shock therapy, price liberalization and nationwide privatization. Due to the sudden total economic shift, a majority of the national property and wealth fell into the hands of a small number of oligarchs. The well-off millionaire and billionaire oligarchs likened themselves to 19th century robber barons. Rather than creating new enterprises, Yeltsin’s democratization led to international monopolies hijacking the former Soviet markets, arbitraging the huge difference between old domestic prices for Russian commodities and the prices prevailing on the world market.

Much of the Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption, and as a result of persistent low oil and commodity prices during the 1990s, Russia suffered inflation, economic collapse and enormous political and social problems that affected Russia and the other former states of the USSR. Within a few years of his presidency, many of Yeltsin’s initial supporters had started to criticize his leadership, and Vice President Alexander Rutskoy even denounced the reforms as “economic genocide”.

Ongoing confrontations with the Supreme Soviet climaxed in the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis in which Yeltsin illegally ordered the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet parliament, which as a result attempted to remove him from office. In October 1993, troops loyal to Yeltsin stopped an armed uprising outside of the parliament building, leading to a number of deaths. Yeltsin then scrapped the existing Russian constitution, banned political opposition and deepened his efforts to transform the economy.

On 31 December 1999, under enormous internal pressure, Yeltsin announced his resignation, leaving the presidency in the hands of his chosen successor, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin left office widely unpopular with the Russian population.

In his resignation speech he addressed the people with:

I want to ask for your forgiveness, that many of our dreams didn’t come true. That what seemed to us to be simple turned out painfully difficult. I ask forgiveness for the fact that I didn’t justify some of the hopes of those people who believed that with one stroke, one burst, one sign we could jump from the grey, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, rich, civilized future. I myself believed this. One burst was not enough… but I want you to know – I’ve never said this, today it’s important for me to tell you: the pain of every one of you, I feel in myself, in my heart… in saying farewell, I want to say to every one of you: be happy. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness, and peace.

Boris Yeltsin died of congestive heart failure on 23 April 2007, aged 76. He was the first Russian head of state in 113 years to be buried in a church ceremony, after Emperor Alexander III.

President Putin declared the day of his funeral a national day of mourning, with the nation’s flags flown at half mast and all entertainment programs suspended for the day. Putin said, upon declaring 25 April 2007 a day of national mourning, that:

[Yeltsin’s] presidency has inscribed him forever in Russian and in world history. … A new democratic Russia was born during his time: a free, open and peaceful country. A state in which the power truly does belong to the people. … the first President of Russia’s strength consisted in the mass support of Russian citizens for his ideas and aspirations. Thanks to the will and direct initiative of President Boris Yeltsin a new constitution, one which declared human rights a supreme value, was adopted. It gave people the opportunity to freely express their thoughts, to freely choose power in Russia, to realise their creative and entrepreneurial plans. This Constitution permitted us to begin building a truly effective Federation. … We knew him as a brave and a warm-hearted, spiritual person. He was an upstanding and courageous national leader. And he was always very honest and frank while defending his position. … [Yeltsin] assumed full responsibility for everything he called for, for everything he aspired to. For everything he tried to do and did do for the sake of Russia, for the sake of millions of Russians. And he invariably took upon himself; let it in his heart, all the trials and tribulations of Russia, peoples’ difficulties and problems.



15 June 1991 – Mount Pinatubo eruption

June 1991 - 25 years agoThe Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines on 15 June 1991 produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. Complicating the eruption was the arrival of Typhoon Yunya, bringing a lethal mix of ash and rain to areas surrounding the volcano. Successful predictions at the onset of the climactic eruption led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the surrounding areas, saving many lives.

The eruption produced high-speed avalanches of hot ash and gas, giant mudflows, and a cloud of volcanic ash hundreds of miles across. Large explosions lasting about half an hour generated an eruption column which quickly reached heights of over 19 kilometres, and which generated super-massive pyroclastic flows extending up to 4 km from the summit in some river valleys. Fourteen hours later, a 15-minute eruption hurled ash to heights of 24 km. Friction in the uprushing ash column generated abundant lightning.

A reported 847 people were killed by the eruption, mostly by roofs collapsing under the weight of accumulated wet ash, a hazard amplified by the simultaneous arrival of Typhoon Yunya.



June 1991 – Other Events

June 1991 saw the repeal of the last of the remaining apartheid laws is South Africa. Although this marked the “official” abolition of apartheid, nonwhites were not allowed to vote until 1993 and the end of apartheid is widely regarded as arising from the 1994 democratic general elections.

Kokkadichcholai massacre of minority Sri Lankan Tamil civilians in the village Kokkadichcholai happened on June 12, 1991 in which 152 civilians were killed. The Sri Lankan government instituted presidential commission to investigate the massacre. The commission found the commanding officer negligent in controlling his troops and recommended that he be removed from office. The commission also identified 19 members of the Sri Lankan military as responsible for mass murder. In a military tribunal that followed the presidential commission in the capital city of Colombo, all the 19 charged soldiers were later acquitted.

With the end of the Cold War and pressure from the East German population, the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989 and was subsequently mostly demolished. On 3 October 1990, the two parts of Germany were reunified as the Federal Republic of Germany and Berlin again became the official German capital. On 20 June 1991, the German Parliament, the Bundestag, voted to move the seat of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin, which was completed in 1999.

25 June 1991 saw the collapse of Yugoslavia with Croatia and Slovenia declaring their independence. They were followed by Macedonia in September, Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 1992, Sebia and Montenegro in 2003 (the two countries became completely independent in 2006) and Kosovo in 2008.

June 1991 - 25 years ago
Members of Colonel Hugo Martínez’s Search Bloc celebrate over Pablo Escobar’s body on 2 December 1993. His death ended a 15-month search effort that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Antofagasta flood of 18 June 1991 in Chile resulted in the deaths of 128. Heavy rains in the city saw mountains crumble and a mud flow that left an estimated $70 million US in damages.

Pablo Escobar handed himself over to the police on 19 June 1991 in return for a reduced sentenced and privilege imprisonment at La Catedral. He was a notorious Colombian drug lord whose cartel, at the height of his career, supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States. He was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of US $30 billion by the early 1990s. He was also one of the 10 richest men in the world at his prime. Accounts of Escobar’s continued criminal activities while in prison began to surface in the media. When the government found out that Escobar was still operating his drug business from within La Catedral, it attempted to move him to a more conventional jail on 22 July 1992. Escobar’s influence allowed him to discover the plan in advance and make a well-timed escape. He was finally gunned downed by Columbian Police on 2 December 1993.



June 1991 – Music, Movies, TV and Books

June 1991 - 25 years ago1 June 1991 saw the death David Ruffin, one of the lead singers from the Temptations. His was the lead vocals in songs like My Girl and Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. Known for his unique raspy and anguished baritone vocals, Ruffin was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 for his work with The Temptations. Fellow Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye once said admiringly of Ruffin that, “I heard [in his voice] a strength my own voice lacked”

June 1991 - 25 years agoJune 1991 was a mixed bag of music around the Globe. Big songs for the month included Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Colour Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up, Paula Abdul’s Rush, Rush, Extreme’s More Than Words, Rod Stewart’s Rhythm of My Heart and the Grease Megamix.

Backed up by Adams’ Everything I Do, the Box Office smash was Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Cotsner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Mary Elizabeth Mastratonio and the late Alan Rickman. The also late Jack Wild also appeared in the movie as Much the miller’s son.

Also on the big screen was the comedy, City Slickers which starred Billy Crystal and veteran Jack Palance.

On TV Postman Pat finally made to Australia. The children’s program debut on the ABC on 10 June 1991.

At the top of the Bestsellers List for June 1991 was Mary Higgins Clark’s Loves Music Loves to Dance but also there was the last of the Dr Seuss books to be published in his lifetime, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Theodore Seuss was to pass away later in the year, 24 September at the age of 87.



I was in the supermarket the other day, and I met a lady in the aisle where they keep the generic brands. Her name was "woman".”
Steven Wright