One of my favorite blogs, Business Monitor International’s Risk Watchdog, had a post yesterday discussing the wider historical context of the Berlin Wall’s fall. The discussion of the persistence of Communism and the comparison between 1979 and 1989 I personally found to be the most thought-provoking observations but the entire posting is worth reading, accessible here.
Observation 6: Communism did not entirely die.
China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, and Laos all retain Communist leaderships, although in the former two countries the free market has largely prevailed. Many of the ‘Communists’ in Eastern Europe merely changed their names to ‘social democrats’ and returned to power, albeit in reconstructed form. Overall, the phenomenon of significant state interventionism in economies lives on long after 1989, and may have increased with the global credit crunch.
Observation 7: Much of today’s world was shaped more by 1979 than 1989.
Although 1989 was important, I would argue that 1979 arguably set the scene for 1989 by creating the desire for a stronger US president and dragging the USSR into a losing war in Afghanistan. Consider the following events:
– The fall of the Shah of Iran in January, and the emergence of a vigorously anti-Western regime.
– The election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 and the rise of neoliberal economics. (At the same time, China’s Deng Xiaoping was setting his country on the path of free-market reforms.)
– The official transfer of power to Saddam Hussein in Iraq in July 1979, and all the subsequent events that this led to.
– The siege at the US Embassy in Tehran from November 1979 until January 1981 that sealed Jimmy Carter’s fate, helping Reagan to be elected president.
– The seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by radical Muslims and their swift elimination by the Saudi authorities.
– The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, five months after the US set in motion a plan to destabilise the country, and the Afghan war we still have today.