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Guardian: 1989 changed the world. But where now for Europe?

Author: Timothy Garton Ash
November 4, 2009

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Timothy Garton Ash examines global politics twenty years since 1989 and questions whether today's Europe, ""mired in the narcissism of minor difference," can recapture the strategic boldness and historical imagination of 1989.

Nineteen eighty-nine was the biggest year in world history since 1945. In international politics, 1989 changed everything. It led to the end of communism in Europe, of the Soviet Union, the cold war and the short 20th century. It opened the door to German unification, a historically unprecedented European Union stretching from Lisbon to Tallinn, the enlargement of Nato, two decades of American supremacy, globalisation, and the rise of Asia. The one thing it did not change was human nature.

In 1989, Europeans proposed a new model of non-violent, velvet revolution, challenging the violent example of 1789, which for two centuries had been what most people thought of as "revolution". Instead of Jacobins and the guillotine, they offered people power and negotiations at a round table.

With Mikhail Gorbachev's breathtaking renunciation of the use of force (a luminous example of the importance of the individual in history), a nuclear-armed empire that had seemed to many Europeans as enduring and impregnable as the Alps, not least because it possessed those weapons of total annihilation, just softly and suddenly vanished. But then, as if this were all somehow too good to be true, 1989 also brought us Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa on Salman Rushdie - firing the starting gun for another long struggle in Europe, even before the last one was really over.

 

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