Berlin Wall: Dangerous nostalgia

Is it misguided to question whether Europe is better off 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Germany, Europe, and much of the rest of the West is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the parties in Berlin paper over a complicated legacy and competing narratives over who was responsible for the symbolic end to the Cold War, and the Soviet era. And while few people are openly sad about the Wall coming down, not everyone’s thrilled with the more complex Europe that has emerged. Is there any reason to miss the Berlin Wall?

Democratic capitalism was underwhelming: The Berlin Wall celebrations will focus on “the miraculous nature of events that day: a dream seemed to come true,” says Slavoj Zizek in The New York Times. But 20 years after the fall, the “sublime mist of the velvet revolutions” has given way to, among other things, “nostalgia for the ‘good old’ Communist times.” It may be an unserious nostalgia, but capitalism hasn’t ended the misery in Eastern Europe.

“20 years of collapse”

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Eastern Bloc nostalgia is ridiculous: The idea that “so many people, especially in former East German, are supposedly ‘nostalgic’ for the security of the old Stalinist regime” is “sentimental piffle,” says Christopher Hitchens in Slate. East Germany, for example, was days away from imploding financially—and “I doubt that there would have been much ‘nostalgia’ for that.”

“The lessons of 1989”

There’s nostalgia in the West, too: Forget the “ostaglgia—nostalgia for the Old East,” says Gregory Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times. It’s Westerners, and “particularly Americans,” who really miss the “sense of moral clarity and superiority” of the Cold War. Without West Germany’s “perfect evil twin” across the Berlin Wall, we’re left looking at our own failings—and after the “global financial meltdown, it’s gotten harder to rally around capitalism.”

“Cold War nostalgia”

Be glad the Cold War’s over—period: We’ve found proxies for the “gravity, drama, and urgency” of the Cold War—“unfortunately,” says Steve Chapman in Reason. For the Right, it’s “the war against terrorism,” peaking with the “tragic folly” of the Iraq War, and the silly comparisons of Obama to “Stalin and Mao.” For the Left, the “misplaced nostalgia” is the fight against McCarthyism, in the nonexistent “wave of domestic repression” under Bush. The Berlin Wall fell—can’t we just appreciate “the most dramatic, life-affirming, and miraculous event of our time”?

“Our dangerous Cold War nostalgia”



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