How does the miraculous year 1989 look ten years later? We asked a number of friends to respond to some questions about the fall of communism and the standing, afterward, of the democratic left. The responses are a characteristically Dissentish mix of celebration and anxiety. I would certainly have been torn between the two. Celebration because the collapse of a tyrannical state and a repressive empire is always something to celebrate—though we don’t seem to remember how to do it: where are the songs that commemorate the fall? Has anyone written an ode (“a lyric poem marked by exaltation of feeling”) for the occasion? Do we have a script for ceremonial re-enactments of the glorious moment? In fact, anxiety has succeeded in undercutting our celebratory passion. n
The fall of communism led to an upsurge of nationalist emotion and a series of bitter conflicts over land and power. The conflicts are mostly local and limited; the power at stake isn’t the power to kill millions of people, only thousands; the great tyranny has been replaced by smaller, weaker, more dispersed tyrannies. But if this is a gain for humanity (it is), it isn’t the gain we hoped for. The ethnic killing and cleansing have cast a shadow over the memory of ’89.
Still, some surprisingly decent regimes have risen from the debris of empire. And the left is free at last of its Stalinist incubus. We will have new opportunities to defend equality and democratic participation. At...
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