Lorenzo Monfregola provides us with a detailed reportage on the stories that lie behind the most significant locations of the Berlin Wall. With the upcoming 30th anniversary of its fall, the Wall keeps talking about itself in the words of the locals and the chats of tourists full of curiosity and enthusiasm.
This essay was published by our Italian magazine Reset n.97, Sept.-Oct. 2006
The historical events that marked the years 1989-1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the Communist bloc, paved the way for radically new perspectives in schools of thought and the collective imagination. The famous statement made by former American President George Bush Sr. announcing the “end of the Cold War” and the birth of a “new world order” provided this perspective with an official seal of approval. The entire world expected a radical change in international relations. Hopes were expressed, optimistic forecasts were made; the “end of history” was even announced with the definitive triumph of liberalism and democracy. In Third World countries there was hope that the West would renounce the “logic of war” that had characterised its relations with the rest of the world, applying more inspired policies now motivated by the values of Enlightenment, those of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Many members of the modern elites of these countries believed that the West, having won the Cold War, would encourage democratic change in the Third World. Some even stated that the West would certainly demand, as a starting point for all forms of cooperation with Third World governments, a real democratisation of political and social life as well as honest and real respect for human rights etc. Therefore, as far as people in the Third World were concerned, the West’s future relations with their countries would essentially have depended on making “new foreign policy” choices, continuing to manoeuvre within the framework of the same logic of war, or proceeding instead towards a real “reconstruction” of their own policies and strategies in order to allow relations with the South to be set within what was called the “post-Cold War” period.What has happened to those aspirations? In what way did the West perceive its future relations with the Third World in general and the Arab-Islamic world in particular? As far as politics are concerned, one must add that in the West, aspirations have now been replaced by scenarios created by professors of “strategic studies.” The observer preferring not to fall prey to the uncontrolled prejudices and reactions of fanatic and xenophobic right-wing environments, European and American, can satisfy all his curiosities by drawing on the self-proclaimed authoritative ideas of these professors.
The twenty-first century marks a crossroads. The ending of the confrontation between East and West ushered in the possibility of a ‘new international order’ based on the extension of democracy across the globe, and a new spirit of peace. However, the enthusiasm which accompanied the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War seems now far away. The crises and cruelties in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Afghanistan and Iraq have brought many to the conclusion that the new world order is a new world disorder.
Without tacit approval from the Soviet Union, 1989 would never have happened. There would have been no peaceful and democratic mass revolts that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is thus to Moscow, at the centre of the communist empire, that one must look, if wishing to examine the now two-decade-old epoch-making changes. An unexpected, sudden and phenomenal change that led the Eastern regimes to collapse one after the other. Two years later the Soviet Union also imploded and Mikhail Gorbachev lost his battle. We discuss these events with Andrea Graziosi, Professor of Contemporary History at the Federico II University in Naples, President of the Italian Society for the Study of Contemporary History and author of two scholarly books on Soviet history published by Il Mulino; Lenin and Stalin’s USSR and The USSR from triumph to collapse.
An interview by Matteo Tacconi.