Monday, November 2, 2009

20 Years Ago

Next week, Germany and the rest of the world will observe the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Many events took place earlier that year, that led up to the opening between East and West Berlin on November 9, 1989. In that sense, it was not a total shock to see the sledgehammers applied to the graffiti-marked concrete.

But, as we went through the 1980s, who would have foreseen those events coming to pass in such a near future? Not too many people other than Ronald Reagan.

Addressing the British Parliament in 1982, Reagan declared that "the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."

Meanwhile, those who saw Reagan as a crazy warmonger were certain that the Soviet bloc was here to stay. According to that point of view, the priority should have been on learning to live in peaceful coexistence, rather than making weird statements about ash heaps.

Marxism-Leninism now survives only in such sorry countries as Cuba and North Korea, and in name only in China and Vietnam.

During 1989, it was clear that a lot was happening, mostly for the good, but it was not totally clear what kind of forest those trees constituted. From our current perspective, we can see a fairly orderly march toward the situation that existed at the end of that year, when the Soviet Union was still around, but without its bloc, and with a precarious hold on its constituent republics.

In an upcoming series of posts, I will attempt to connect events in such places as Beijing, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and, of course, Berlin, into a narrative of how those great changes came about.

No comments: