Legacy of ‘89: Revolutions for Whom?

This is the latest in a series of articles on the legacy of the fall of the Iron Curtain 30 years ago. See more.

His words helped fuel rapid political and economic changes throughout post-communist Europe. Thirty years later, it is worth asking how well Kohl and other Western leaders kept this promise.

Travel to Prague, Kiev or Bucharest today and you will find glittering shopping malls filled with imported consumer goods: perfumes from France, fashion from Italy and wristwatches from Switzerland.

At the local Cineplex, urbane young citizens queue for the latest Marvel blockbuster movie. They stare at sleek iPhones, perhaps planning their next holiday to Paris, Goa or Buenos Aires.

The city center hums with cafés and bars catering to foreigners and local elites who buy gourmet groceries at massive hypermarkets.

Compared to the scarcity and insularity of the communist past, Central and Eastern Europe today is brimming with new opportunities.

In these same cities, however, pensioners and the poor struggle to afford the most basic amenities. Older citizens choose between heat, medicine and food.

In rural areas, some families have returned to subsistence agriculture. Young people flee in droves, seeking better opportunities abroad. Economic suffering and political nihilism fuel social distrust as nostalgia for the security and stability of the authoritarian past grows.

Populist leaders seize on public discontent to dismantle democratic institutions and steer the economy to the benefit of their friends, family members and supporters.

These two worlds exist side by side, both born after the revolutions of 1989.

These two worlds exist side by side, both born after the revolutions of 1989.


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