The Berlin Wall: 30 years on, what has changed?
So much for “the End of History,” said Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post. When the Berlin Wall came down 30 years ago this past weekend, the free world reacted with giddy euphoria. That revolutionary moment didn’t just mean the reunification of Germany, we were told, or even the defeat of communism and the end of the Cold War. The peaceful fall of the Wall was hailed as history’s joyous finish line, after which the global triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism was no longer in serious question. But history, it turns out, “never ‘ended.’” Thirty years later, Communist China is the world’s “looming hegemon”; Hungary and Poland are embracing authoritarian, one-party rule; the forces of tribalism and “demagogic populism” are ripping Europe apart; after a fleeting “Arab Spring,” the Middle East has backslid into sectarian bloodshed and tyranny; and in Russia, de facto one-party rule has been re-established by a former KGB officer with all-too-familiar territorial ambitions. Then there’s the elephant in the room, said John Avlon in CNN.com. The United States of America, whose leadership, strength, and example was the decisive factor in the Wall’s collapse, is now led by a NATO-skeptical nationalist who admires Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and welcomed his interference in a presidential election. Thirty years after the jubilation of 1989, “we’ve gone from tearing down walls to building them, and democracy itself seems in retreat.”
The real elephant in the room is socialism, said Helen Raleigh in TheFederalist.com. The centrally planned, communist economy of East Germany failed miserably, leaving those living under Soviet control in drab near-poverty, while capitalist West Germany boomed. Yet, “like a zombie, socialism refuses to die” and has even taken root here in the U.S. Far-left candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are riding high in the polls, buoyed by young, self-styled “Democratic Socialists” who never knew the horrors of the Soviet Union. Nearly half of Millennials describe themselves as “socialist,” said John Hartley in USAToday.com. The plans they support—most notably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal”—would bring much of the economy under government control and drag the U.S. toward the collectivist oppression that was so dramatically proved a failure in 1989.
It isn’t just the Left that’s sliding backward, said Brian Klaas in The Washington Post. Behind the “would-be strongman” Donald Trump, the Republican Party has shown some troubling, anti-majoritarian tendencies. In 2014, fully 1 in 6 Americans said that military rule would be “good” or “very good,” whereas back in 1995 that figure was only 1 in 16. Let’s face it, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. The lesson of 1989 is that history isn’t a simple, linear narrative with a happy ending. “History is an unending whirlwind, and we’re caught in it.”
I was there when the Wall came down, said Serge Schmemann in The New York Times, and while the hope we all felt seems “quaintly utopian” with the benefit of hindsight, “I refuse to accept that nothing changed.” That exhilarating moment proved that peaceful protest can bring down an empire—and it is still inspiring people from Hong Kong to Chile to rise up and demand their freedom. If freedom does prevail, said Max Boot in The Washington Post, it won’t be because “historical forces” were always pushing in that direction, as it seemed back in 1989. The fight against oppression will be won only by “historical actors”—“in other words, us.” ■