Many of us believed that 1989 would be the start of a “new world.” After the Berlin Wall fell, we expected an era of democracy, rights and peace; the nuclear nightmare would disappear, and a unified Europe was closer in sight. Instead, little by little more than 20 years later, we’re asking ourselves if 1989 was more like an end: the end of a certain interpretation of politics.
In only a few years, politics gave way to markets, especially in the west. The demolition of social democracy continued with Clinton and Blair, and politics transformed into a market, becoming continually more of a competition between the presumed leaders built by the media, obliging to the “masses.” And so, from performance to performance, “third ways,” leaders in shirtsleeves, Obamian “hope” and more, we have arrived at the greatest crisis in the western hemisphere since 1945. The real economy has caved in to finance, and entire nations have become slaves to the market. An economic crisis accompanied the financial one, and now we’re at the social phase. Unemployment rates have reached 7.5 and 8.5% in unsuspecting countries like Sweden and Holland, respectively. Holland, usually associated with Germany as representatives of the pure and virtuous “North,” has been in recession for two years. And where is Germany going supported by coalition governments for years now? In 2013, it grew a meager 0.4% and has a continually aging population. And if capital markets started to notice? Among other things, the EU continues to lose face, most recently in Ukraine where it earned a Fuck! From Victoria Nuland, the US State Department’s EU representative, not exactly a diplomatic neophyte.
The US benefits from a huge market and much more geographic mobility, but it will have to take note that the world’s center of gravity has shifted from west to east since 1989; facts are also needed after the words, “pivot to Asia.” In fact, politics has resisted in the “orient” (and the ex-soviet sphere), has brought economic growth and guaranteed strength in international relations. China is an authoritarian party-state, and has planted roots pretty much the world over, growing at a rate unparalleled in human history. A leap of 7.7% (the rate for 2013) means that in one year, China added the entire economy of Turkey: an entire country and among those still emerging. Therefore, it’s legitimate to talk about the “Yuan’s area,” the Asian super-stock exchange, or the Chinese “Monroe Doctrine.” Along with China and Russia, even India and Brazil have made off; who would have thought that one-day Brasilia would have treated France and the UK at par (in terms of GDP)? The markets may scare Argentina, but Brazil is much less afraid, being well connected with other BRICS for the time being. Other smaller and weaker countries (frequently called “developing”) have made their way with models in which politics played key roles, or used it to attract investments (Chile, Kazakhstan, Malaysia), or to provide the impulse for quality-based industries (i.e. electronics in Taiwan or South Korea). We are almost always discussing states bordering the Pacific Ocean. Except for the Bush era, the US didn’t do foreign politics, but unlike Europe, it also borders the “right” ocean and has enormous resources available.
And so, from 1989 onward, the Europeans have “paid” more than anyone. Now we ask ourselves: did we really win the Cold War? Did the liberal and democratic west really make it? A little more than two decades later, China and Russia’s economies total more than 60% of the United States’ (in 1991, the number didn’t reach 10%). Above all, while the USSR and Mao’s China held an ideological appeal that captured the attention of many westerners, today their correspondents practice pure Realpolitik, and are very pragmatic regimes. Russia has regained diplomatic and geopolitical clout, and is now very close to China. At the Sochi games—which received a nod from Pope Francesco but not from a group of “indignant” western leaders—the Chinese athletes presented themselves with Beijing and Moscow’s flags. 1989 began with much hope for democracy and global integration… but today we’re witnessing a different scene.
The Cold War’s last flotsam lives on in North Korea, a farcical regime that a good global initiative could perhaps end in a peaceful manner. In the end, even China has economic interests in South Korea, much more important that ties to the young dictator, Kim. And yet, Kim is likely to last. His presence is convenient for arms producers in many countries, and has a certain media resonance that allows China (or other countries) to have him say things they couldn’t. How much longer will we have to endure this wreck? Will the democratic world at least be able to put him aside and start over from where we got lost in 1989? Or will we have to wait for other wars to put a world that can’t govern itself back in order?