The Spirit That Brought Down the Berlin Wall Lives On
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The Spirit That Brought Down the Berlin Wall Lives On

Bloodless revolutions from Armenia to Lebanon are about ending the fatalism corrupt rule engenders.Nov. 1, 2019Weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism brought down the old Armenian political class in 2018.Credit…Sergei Grits/Associated PressYEREVAN, Armenia — It has been 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A guard threw open a gate, the Soviet imperium folded, more than 100 million people in Central and Eastern Europe were freed, a divided continent was made whole, and the end of history was announced.What to make of the three decades after Nov. 9, 1989? Poverty receded. Lives got longer. Human exchange became borderless. Artificial intelligence started making things smart. China rose, as did sea levels. The United States, attacked and wounded, tried managed decline, and at last, in wild frustration, elected a loudmouthed con man to its highest office. History, not terminated after all, ushered in a new wave of nationalism, nativism and xenophobia.Water is the new oil. Data is the new plutonium. Climate is the new Armageddon. The talk in 1990 of the inevitability of a world of liberal democracy turned to predictions of a world of autocrats buttressed by the surveillance states that technology has enabled. It has proved impossible for technology companies to do no evil.The best of all possible worlds was deferred yet again. Joachim Gauck, the Lutheran pastor and anti-Communist East German activist who later became president of a united Germany, captured the illusions and shattered hopes of 1989 best: “We dreamed of paradise and woke up in North Rhine-Westphalia.”Of course, North Rhine-Westphalia is not bad, but in our polarized all-or-nothing political age not bad is generally not good enough. In the forgotten-words stakes, compromise rivals statesmanship.Big things changed, and small. My lackluster soccer club, Chelsea, got a Russian oligarch as owner and, with his billions, started winning trophies. I’d never thought the fall of Communism could so directly affect my mood. The Russians arrived — on the Côte d’Azur, on the beaches of Vietnam and, of course, in Syria. And here in Armenia, the great Armenian saga of tragedy, migration, reinvention and survival took another twist.The Soviet Union fell apart. The Republic of Armenia became an independent state in 1991. It got a tiny piece of the worst possible real estate Armenia had occupied over the millenniums of its history, but still it was something.In every office there are images of Mount Ararat, which rises in Turkey, a symbol for Armenians of longing, pride, the hope of return and the suffering of the Armenian ge
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