NINETEEN-EIGHTY-NINE WAS a year of historic revolution and possibility. Popular and often nonviolent uprisings overturned communist rule in much of Eastern and Central Europe; and pro-democracy movements began to challenge its legitimacy in the Soviet Union and China. “Nothing in our past thinking, or in anyone else’s, prepared us for the remarkable turn of events,” wrote Irving Howe in 1990. “So much the worse for theory, so much the better for life!”
But has life changed dramatically for the better? While many economies have begun to liberalize, political illiberalism still lurks. And while many on the left hoped that social democracy might replace communism, many post-Soviet nations have adopted the policies of neoliberalism and the language of nationalism. “Any great social change unleashes great expectations,” Adam Michnik observed in 1999. “And therefore, of course, it leads to great disappointments.”
Shlomo Avineri, Paul Berman, Keith Gessen, Norman Geras, Charles S. Maier, Anna Seleny, Vladimir Tismaneanu, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, and Guobin Yang contemplate the political transformation of Eastern Europe, Russia, and China in the two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Shlomo Avineri: Between Utopian Hopes and the Burdens of History
Paul Berman: Optimism of the Intellect
Photo: Potsdamer Platz (Jorge Lascar / Creative Commons 3.0)