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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before