Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell – the decisive blow to the Iron Curtain that marked the end of the Cold War.
While for many in the Eastern Bloc this meant liberation from oppressive regimes – even if momentarily – remembering November 9, 1989, as the day the forces of justice triumphed over communism deflects attention from the present. This narrative distracts us from the violence America, as an imperial superpower, and its allies (including Canada) have perpetrated and perpetuated and the economic, military, and political hold they continue to have on countries around the world today.
The way we remember the past is political. Angela Merkel recently addressed the U.S. Congress to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. She credited the American troops stationed in Germany for enabling Europe to overcome its divisions. Her narrative of America as liberator and saviour is clearly advantageous for the U.S.
The Cold War divided the world into two camps in a grossly simplistic way – one that set up communism and capitalism as polar opposites. It covered up the potential similarities between the states that claimed those names – particularly their imperial ambitions. It trammelled over the nuanced thought about the forms these ideologies can take, reducing politics to a face-off between two monolithic blocks and for the most part ignoring the role of the Global South.
Particularly in the light of the current financial crisis – which might be interpreted as the implosion of the post-1989 dreams of the triumph of liberal democracy – let’s take off our Cold War blinders.