It was hailed as the definitive triumph of liberal democracy. Thirty years on, the lessons of 1989 look rather different
“The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk,” wrote Hegel in the Philosophy of Right. This was a poetic way of saying that wisdom and understanding only come with hindsight, and history never ceases to play itself out in unanticipated ways. As Germany marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this weekend, a flapping of wings is audible.
After the extraordinary events of 9 November 1989, when east Berliners poured through the Wall’s checkpoints, calling time on the cold war and the communist era in Europe, many assumed that a definitive victory had been won for liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyama famously suggested the triumph of western values could signal “the end of history”.