Essay Archives

20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall

January 5th, 2010

Dissolution / Revolution: Uwe Tellkamp’s post-89 Novel Der Turm and the Peculiar Configuration of the Public Sphere in the Late GDR

Submitted by Julia Hell, University of Michigan

I. When asked to exhibit at the Musée du quai Branly in 2007, the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare chose the theme of Jardin de l’amour, creating installations that celebrate the French revolution and the revolutions to come. Recently named Member of the British Empire, Shonibare arranged his trademark wax figures in three scenes, inspired by [...]

December 18th, 2009

Why no Green Revolution in Iran? 1989 vs. 2009

Submitted by Jack A. Golstone, George Mason University

The protests in Iran in June 2009, following the announcement of a dubious election victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were in many ways similar to those that arose in Czechoslovakia following the shooting of protestors in Prague, or in the Philippines and the Ukraine following the election frauds in those countries in 1996 and 2002. [...]

November 4th, 2009

After 1989 and Beyond: Three Theses

Submitted by Hauke Brunkhorst, University of Flensburg

(1) The transformations of 1989 – symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall – were not primarily European but global events. They included not only the end of the Eastern European communist empire but also significant unrest in China, the end of the Apartheid regime of South Africa, the collapse of military dictatorships across [...]

November 2nd, 2009

From Revolution to Reunification: The East German Wende Two Decades Later

Submitted by Steven Pfaff, University of Washington

In 1989, protest erupted across the socialist world, shaking capitols from Beijing to Berlin. Yet what Daniel Chirot called the world-wide “crisis of Leninism” had remarkably different origins and trajectories. While a few Communist regimes survived, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), popularly known as East Germany, was one of states that collapsed. Uniquely, its collapse [...]

November 2nd, 2009

1989 and the Theater of Politics

Submitted by Elzbieta Matynia, New School for Social Research

No matter how miraculous the turning point of 1989 appeared to be, it was hardly a miracle; rather, it was a marvelous staging of freedom in several acts, a modern performance, as it did not have one author, or even one director: it was the collective creation of self-educated citizen-actors, with its most visible grand [...]

November 2nd, 2009

Public Spheres, Private Lives, and Roundtable Negotiations in 1989 and 2009

Submitted by Michael D. Kennedy, Brown University

Even for Poland, 1989 was a surprise, but not in the same way as for other parts of the region or of the world. And that was due to the existence of a profound opposition, a mutable communist authority, and an influential and diverse set of Catholic authorities. Poles knew that transformations were likely, for [...]

November 2nd, 2009

People Power? Explaining 1989

Submitted by Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina

As the most important European event since 1945, the overthrow of Communism during 1989-1991 poses a double challenge for retrospective understanding. Because the current wave of commemorations at the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall is largely promoting an anti-Communist agenda, the democratic awakening needs to be rescued from such instru­men­ta­liza­tion by contemporary [...]

November 2nd, 2009

The Not So Lost Treasure of the Revolutionary Tradition: 1989 and the Politics of Small Things

Submitted by Jeffrey Goldfarb, New School for Social Research

I think that the kind of activity that Hannah Arendt named “the lost treasure of the revolutionary tradition” was a visible part of the transformations of 1989, and has continued to play a significant role in the politics of transformation. I believe there is no way to better mark the 20 anniversary of the fall [...]

November 2nd, 2009

How the Impossible Becomes Inevitable: The Public Sphere and the Collapse of Soviet Communism

Submitted by Mark R. Beissinger, Princeton University

Viewed in retrospect, the collapse of Soviet communism appears over-determined for all the reasons often cited. A highly repressive political system that could broker no genuine pluralism; a sclerotic, ritualized ideology that had lost its meaning; the inflexibility of a planned economy and its inability to compete with a post-industrial, globalizing capitalism; Soviet overreach abroad; [...]

November 2nd, 2009

From Revolutionaries to External Vanguards

Submitted by Andrew Arato, New School for Social Research

This is a great occasion, a great 20th anniversary of events that had world historical importance. But so that we do not forget where we currently are in Central Europe, we should also recall what happened in 2001 when the macabre “coalition of the willing” was formed. I at least cannot forget that with the [...]

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