"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Year that really changed things

Not 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down ...
Was the Russian Empire a phantom ?

The Year the World Really Changed

Forget the fall of the iron curtain: the events of '79 matter more.

It may seem perverse to question the historical significance of the collapse of the Soviet empire in Mitteleuropa, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. I suspect most Americans today share the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis's view that 1989 saw the triumphant end of the Cold War, a victory achieved above all by President Ronald Reagan, though nobly assisted by Margaret Thatcher—despite her deep reservations about the unintended consequences of German reunification—and the Polish Pope John Paul II.

Yet for Princeton revisionist -Stephen Kotkin, the real story of 1989 is that of a cynical pseudo-revolution from above. Only high oil prices had kept the bankrupt Soviet empire alive during the 1970s, Kotkin argued in his 2001 book,
Armageddon Averted. Now, in his iconoclastic follow-up, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment, Kotkin dismisses the role of Eastern European dissidents, much less Western leaders, in the Soviet collapse. No, Mikhail Gorbachev and other communist reformers wrecked their own system, partly out of naiveté, partly out of a cynical desire to grab the system's few valuable assets in what became the scam of the century: the privatization of the Russian energy industry. For the wilier members of the nomenklatura, the road from KGB apparatchiki to Gazprom biznesmen was a remarkably short, though crooked one.

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