Leading article: A revolution that reshaped our world

The broad hopes of 1989 have been amply fulfilled

Share
Related Topics

Twenty years ago, great hopes and great fears swept over the continent of Europe and indeed the wider world. Optimism at the possibility of liberation leapt in the hearts of tens of millions living behind the Iron Curtain. But as Berliners tore down the barrier that had separated them for decades, there were also significant concerns about what would emerge from the rubble.

Would the Soviet Union respond by sending in the tanks? Would there be a tidal wave of refugees from east Germany? There were concerns too of a new German dominance of Europe. We have recently learned that Margaret Thatcher even went as far as to lobby Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, to prevent reunification.

The alarm of Mrs Thatcher and others fed into a larger sense of uncertainty over what might emerge from this bloodless revolution. As this newspaper put in a leading article at the time, "euphoria and trepidation mingle ... nobody knows what reefs may lie concealed beneath the new ocean we are entering".

Two decades on, we might look back and wonder: which emotion was more justified, euphoria or trepidation? And how successfully did we navigate those hidden reefs? Russia, of course, let her European empire expire without a shot being fired. And we can say that the fears about the consequences of a united Germany for Europe have not been realised.

A unified Germany has entrenched its position as a dominant continental power, but it is hardly a malign one. This anti-militaristic democracy is a pillar of the single market and the European Union.

The broad hopes of 1989, on the other hand, have been amply fulfilled. The fall of the Berlin Wall led not only to freedom for eastern and central Europeans, but the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. The end of the Cold War meant that the threat of nuclear annihilation considerably receded. Economic and social progress has flowed from liberation. Eight former Soviet Bloc nations have even joined the European Union. Others aspire to.

The revolution of 1989 helped to kick off a new era of economic advance around the globe. Lately we have suffered a significant setback on that front with the banking crisis and global economic downturn. But that cannot overshadow just how far we have come in setting free the economic potential of the world's population.

But, of course, history is never a bloodless process. Even great advances for humankind such as the end of the Soviet Union tend to have terrible side effects. Brutal ethnic wars broke out in the Balkans as the former communist state of Yugoslavia fragmented. Russia sank into a chaos of free-market gangsterism, a brutal experience which sowed the seeds for its present retreat into authoritarianism.

Further afield, China embraced the market economy, but not democracy. The defining moment for the Chinese people in 1989 was not the fall of the Berlin wall, but the slaughter in Tiananmen Square.

The euphoria of that moment twenty years ago has been vindicated. Few would seek to rebuild that wall. But we cannot afford more than a brief moment of satisfaction. Challenges crowd the scene: climate change, Islamist terrorism, economic dislocation, nuclear proliferation. The world managed to pull one wall down. But many remain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable