the rise of nationalism after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Georges Soros and Roger Cohen


The Rise of Nationalism After the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Nov 8, 2019 George Soros

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, open societies were triumphant and international cooperation became the dominant creed. Thirty years later, however, nationalism has turned out to be much more powerful and disruptive than internationalism.

BERLIN – The fall of the Berlin Wall on the night of November 8, 1989 dramatically and suddenly accelerated the collapse of communism in Europe. The end of travel restrictions between East and West Germany dealt a death blow to the closed society of the Soviet Union. By the same token, it marked a high point for the rise of open societies.

I had become involved in what I call my political philanthropy a decade earlier. I became an advocate of the concept of open society that had been imbued in me by Karl Popper, my mentor at the London School of Economics. Popper had taught me that perfect knowledge was not attainable, and that totalitarian ideologies, which claimed to be in possession of the ultimate truth, could prevail only by repressive means.

In the 1980s, I supported dissidents throughout the Soviet empire, and in 1984 I was able to set up a foundation in my native Hungary. It provided financial support to any activity that was not initiated by the one-party state. The idea was that by encouraging non-party activities, people would become aware of the falsehood of the official dogma – and it worked like a charm. With an annual budget of $3 million, the foundation became stronger than the Ministry of Culture.

I became hooked on political philanthropy, and, as the Soviet empire collapsed, I established foundations in one country after another. My annual budget jumped from $3 million to $300 million in just a few years. Those were heady days. Open societies were in the ascendant and international cooperation was the dominant creed.
Thirty years later, the situation is very different. International cooperation has hit serious roadblocks, and nationalism became the dominant creed. So far, nationalism has turned out to be much more powerful and disruptive than internationalism.

This was not an inevitable outcome. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States emerged as the sole surviving superpower, but it failed to live up to the responsibilities that its position conferred. The US was more interested in enjoying the fruits of its Cold War victory. It failed to extend a helping hand to former Soviet bloc countries, which were in dire straits. Thereby, it adhered to the prescriptions of the neoliberal Washington Consensus.

That is when China embarked on its amazing journey of economic growth, enabled by its accession – with US support – to the World Trade Organization and the international financial institutions. Eventually, China replaced the Soviet Union as a potential rival to the US.
The Washington Consensus assumed that financial markets are capable of correcting their own excesses, and if they did not, central banks would take care of failing institutions by merging them into bigger ones. That was a false belief, as the global financial crisis of 2007-08 demonstrated.

The crash of 2008 ended the unquestioned global dominance of the US and greatly boosted the rise of nationalism. It also turned the tide against open societies. The protection they received from the US was always indirect and sometimes insufficient, but its absence left them vulnerable to the threat of nationalism. It took me some time to realize this, but the evidence was incontrovertible. Open societies were forced onto the defensive worldwide.

I should like to think that the nadir was reached in 2016, with the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and the election of US President Donald Trump, but the jury is out. The outlook for open societies is aggravated by the exceptionally rapid development of artificial intelligence. It can produce instruments of social control that can help repressive regimes but pose a mortal danger for open societies.

For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping has embarked on creating a so-called social credit system. If he succeeded in completing it, the state would gain total control over its citizens. Disturbingly, the Chinese public finds the social credit system attractive, because it provides them with services they previously lacked, promises to persecute criminals, and offers citizens a guide on how to stay out of trouble.
Even more disturbingly, China could sell the social credit system worldwide to would-be dictators, who would then become politically dependent on China.

Fortunately, Xi’s China has an Achilles heel: it depends on the US to supply it with microprocessors that 5G companies, like Huawei and ZTE, need. Unfortunately, however, Trump has shown that he puts his personal interests ahead of the national interests, and 5G is no exception.
Both he and Xi are in political trouble at home, and in the trade negotiations with Xi, he has put Huawei on the table: he has converted microchips into bargaining chips.
The outcome is unpredictable, because it depends on a number of decisions that have not yet been taken. We live in revolutionary times, when the range of possibilities is much wider than usual and the outcome is even more uncertain than in normal times. All we can depend on is our convictions.

I am committed to the goals pursued by open societies, win or lose. That is the difference between working for a foundation and trying to make money in the stock market.

 

George Soros
In Project Syndicate
George Soros is Chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Foundations. A pioneer of the hedge-fund industry, he is the author of many books, including The Alchemy of Finance, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means, and The Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival? His most recent book is In Defense of Open Society (Public Affairs, 2019).

The Spirit That Brought Down the Berlin Wall Lives On
By Roger Cohen New York Times

Bloodless revolutions from Armenia to Lebanon are about ending the fatalism corrupt rule engenders.

Weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism brought down the old Armenian political class in 2018.Credit…Sergei Grits/Associated Press

YEREVAN, 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 genocide that began in 1915 and involved the Ottoman Empire’s killing of more than one million Armenians.
The House of Representatives, defying familiar Turkish warnings, this week passed a resolution recognizing that genocide. President Barack Obama never recognized it publicly, despite a promise to do so as a presidential candidate in 2008. Realpolitik won out over his principles.

Turkey, which insists there was no organized campaign to slaughter Armenians, is not Armenia’s only problem. Comrade Stalin loved to tinker with nationalities and borders. Decades later, this caused friction between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed. The disputes culminated in war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region a quarter-century ago. Today, Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan is closed. Its border with Turkey is closed. Only the borders with Georgia and Iran are open.

Yet I found Armenians in upbeat mood! What do physical borders matter these days? The nearly three million citizens of Armenia are in constant touch with the many more millions of Armenians in the diaspora, who are sending money home. With a strong tech sector, Armenia sees itself as a start-up country. It’s looking forward more than back.
The country’s bloodless revolution in 2018 has not delivered paradise, but it has eliminated fatalism. People feel they have the freedom to try what they want.

Weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism brought down the old Armenian political class, much as massive demonstrations in Beirut, Baghdad and Santiago in recent weeks have brought down or shaken the governments of Lebanon, Iraq and Chile.

The spirit of 1989 has not been trampled underfoot by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, after all. People prefer agency to the dead hand of unaccountable rule. They prefer the rule of law to arbitrary arrest. That’s why they are in the streets of Hong Kong.

Liberal democracy is not, as Putin has insisted, “obsolete.” It just needed a jolt.

Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian president, told me in an interview that old systems would not work. “We are living in a quantum world because more than half of life is virtual,” he said. The notion of democracies functioning through elections every few years is outdated. He called Armenia “one of the first labs” to find new “rules or behavior” for a world where every individual has a voice that “is exercised and expressed daily.”
On the Armenian genocide, and Turkey’s denial, Sarkissian said this: “Recognition of something that you have done wrong in ordinary life, in your family, with your friends, recognition is a strength. It’s not a weakness. If you take Turkey recognizing the Armenian genocide, that will also be recognition of the fact Turkey is on its way to become a tolerant state.”

One enduring lesson of 1989 is that the truth will out. Even the Trump White House will one day discover this.

Roger Cohen
New York Times
Nov. 1, 2019

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