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The Fall After the Wall

Much has changed in Europe and the world since the Berlin Wall came down on the night of November 8, 1989. While the basic vision of European integration, transatlantic unity, and liberal democracy remains intact, it is facing its severest threats since the end of the Cold War.

In this Big Picture, philanthropist George Soros fears that the events of 1989 may have represented a high point for open societies, given the resurgence of nationalism and authoritarianism. Those trends, argues Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, are rooted in the failed economic ideology that prevailed in the ensuing years. As Kristin Ghodsee and Mitchell Orenstein show, even the most successful post-communist countries suffered a transitional economic downturn that was more severe than the Great Depression in the US.

But as former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana observes, economic forces have also mixed with older sources of national and cultural identity that are at odds with liberal-democratic values. And Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations points out that these deeper forces were on full display in recent feuds between EU member states. Nonetheless, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt reminds us that the peaceful denouement of the Cold War after 1989 was in many ways a historical miracle.

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