Perhaps the closest contemporary analogy to the fall of Communism is the democratic movement that is challenging the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has deep social and intellectual roots, a growing mass following, and an enemy state with a hollowed-out ideology. But, unlike the East German soldiers and the Stasi agents, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia are ready to kill. Behind President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, there is no restraining
figure like Gorbachev. Iranians will have to find their own way to the fulfillment of their democratic desires. And yet the fact that the nearest counterparts to the thinkers and activists of 1989 are to be found in a non-Western, Muslim country exposes another false lesson of that year: that such things are for Westerners only, that “they” don’t want what “we” want.
A recent Pew poll shows that Germans, Czechs, and Poles remain relatively enthusiastic about democracy and capitalism; Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Lithuanians less so. Former East Germans’ hopes of achieving the living standards of their Western countrymen have not been fulfilled, and the inevitable disappointments have muted anniversary celebrations. Last month in Dresden, a retired
schoolteacher acknowledged the pining of some East Germans for their simpler, cozier former lives under state socialism. There’s even a neologism for it: Ostalgie. But, the teacher said, “What matters is that I can … >>>