The collapse of the communist bloc in 1989 is regarded in the west as the definitive triumph of democracy, a ‘Democratic Revolution’ to rank alongside the other great revolutions of western history, the French (1789), the Russian (1917) and the Chinese (1949). Dating revolutions is never easy, but for historic purposes the Democratic Revolution of 1989 is usually dated by the fall of the Berlin wall, on November 9, 1989. So it was that the 10th anniversary of that event last month was marked not only in Germany but around the world.
At the time, of course, the Democratic Revolution was greeted as a massive triumph, inspiring such grandiose theories as Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’. It was also, inevitably, related to the coming millennium, with the third millennium of the Christian/western era being hailed by some commentators as a coming ‘age of democracy’. In the popular perspective, for the consumption of those who know no better, this triumphalist tone is maintained. Among more considered views, however, this triumphalism has been toned down somewhat, and it was the latter view which tended to prevail as the tenth anniversary of the Democratic Revolution was marked.
The reasons for this change of tone are many and varied. The main one, however, is the realization that the advent of democracy is hardly regarded as good news by most people in the former communist bloc, and that former communist parties, leaders and ideas are increasingly popular. Of course, this is not admitted in the west, where the former communist parties tend to be euphemistically dubbed ‘nationalist’ or ‘conservative’; however, the growth and popularity of these parties is a matter of grave concern to the west.
The reasons for this apparently paradoxical phenomenon are not difficult to find. The Democratic Revolution was based on a lie; the lie that life in the west was some sort of utopia where everyone could live in luxury. (Westerners were equally given a distorted picture of life under communism, focus on low ‘standards of living’ rather than facilities available to people from the state.) People in the communist bloc welcomed the fall of communism because they were promised a consumer revolution, with easy access to video recorders, satellite television, fancy cars, big houses and all the consumer items of modern life. Like any salesman, however, the west was careful to hide the downside of this rosy picture -- the costs and the risks. In the eastern bloc, housing, health care and jobs were guaranteed by the state. In the west, the good life is only available to the minority who can make their own way in a dog-eat-dog environment, and the losers have no safety net to fall back on.
Valdas Anelauskas’s book Discovering America as it is (reviewed in the last issue of Crescent) exposes the bitter realities of American society, where huge numbers of children go hungry, millions of people have no easy access to healthcare, and crime and other social disorders are tolerated as long as they affect only the ‘underclass’ - which underclass is rapidly growing to dominate society. Millions of people in the former communist world are making the same discovery themselves, not by seeing the realities state of western societies, but by experiencing them.
Anelauskas, a former anti-Soviet dissident who emigrated from his native Lithuania to the US shortly before the collapse of communism, now regards himself as a anti-American dissident; which begs the question: what happened to all the other heroes of anti-communism? Where are they now that their people are in so much strife as a result of the Democratic Revolution that they called for and welcomed? Some, like Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, are still struggling for their people’s welfare; but far more, like Slovakian president Vaclav Havel, are living the good life as part of the former communist bloc’s new Elite, enjoying the fruits of their good relations with the west while ignoring the ideals and principles which they once claimed to hold so dear.
Small wonder, then, that most of those celebrating the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall last month were those who have benefited from the Democratic Revolution; while the former east German masses, supposedly liberated, were too busy trying to feed themselves and their children to celebrate.
Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1999