Tag Archives | 20th Anniversary of the Fall of Communism

Reflections on the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. In several ways, the Wall and its collapse are fitting symbols of communism. They demonstrate several truths about that system that we would be wise not to lose sight of.

First and foremost, Cold War-era Berlin was the most visible demonstration of the superiority of capitalism and democracy over communism and dictatorship. Despite the fact that East Germany had one of the highest standards of living in the Soviet bloc, it had to build a wall to keep its people from fleeing to the capitalist West. By contrast, West Germans and other westerners were free to move to the communist world anytime they wanted. Yet only a tiny handful ever did so. Decisions to “vote with your feet” are often even better indicators of peoples’ true preferences than ballot box voting, since foot voters have better incentives to become well-informed about the alternatives before them. Even more powerful evidence is the reality that many East Germans and others fled from communism even when doing so meant risking their lives.

Second, the Berlin Wall was an important symbol of the way in which communist governments violated the human right to freedom of movement, one of the most important attributes of a free society. If people are forcibly trapped under the rule of the government in whose territory they happen to be born, they are not truly free; rather, they are hostages of their rulers.

Finally, the sudden collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 vividly demonstrated the extent to which communist totalitarianism relied on coercion to maintain its rule. Some Western scholars and leftists contended that most Russians and Eastern Europeans actually supported communism or at least preferred it to the available alternatives. The events of 1989 gave the [...]

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Why the Neglect of Communist Crimes Matters

In my last post, I discussed the neglect of communist atrocities. Although communist governments murdered and repressed even more people than the Nazis, their crimes have gotten only a tiny fraction of the public awareness and recognition extend to the latter. But does that neglect matter? After all, the major communist regimes have either collapsed (the USSR and its Eastern European satellites) or evolved into much less oppressive forms (China and Vietnam). But there are several reasons why increasing recognition of communist crimes should be an important priority: providing justice for victims and perpetrators; alleviating the oppression of the unreformed communist governments that still exist today; and ensuring that comparable atrocities are never repeated. The twentieth anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe is as good a time as any to reflect on these points.

I. Justice for Victims and Perpetrators.

Millions of victims of communism are still alive today. They include former Gulag inmates, forced laborers, dissidents subjected to political repression, ethnic minorities such as the Crimean Tatars who were forcibly deported, and many others. With a few exceptions (principally in Eastern Europe), little has been done to recognize the suffering of these victims or to compensate them for the wrongs they suffered. Obviously, the scale of communist crimes was so vast that complete compensation is impossible. However, the impossibility of perfect compensation is no excuse for doing nothing. After all, the same can be said for the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes. Yet extensive efforts have been made to compensate Holocaust survivors and return property confiscated from Jewish and other Nazi victims. The German government has paid reparations to Holocaust survivors and former forced laborers, among others. These efforts at reparations for Nazi crimes surely have many shortcomings. But they far outstrip anything that [...]

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Paul Hollander on the Fall of Communism

This fall is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and other events associated with the collapse of communism. Paul Hollander, a sociologist who has written numerous works on communism and Western attitudes towards it, has an op ed in the Washington Post, noting some of the lessons of the communist experience, and the failure of most Westerners to fully appreciate them:

The Berlin Wall that came down 20 years ago this month was an apt symbol of communism. It represented a historically unprecedented effort to prevent people from “voting with their feet” and leaving a society they rejected. The wall was only the most visible segment of a vast system of obstacles and fortifications: the Iron Curtain, which stretched for thousands of miles along the border of the “Socialist Commonwealth….”

While greatly concerned with communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans — hostile or sympathetic — actually knew little about communism, and little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire. The media’s fleeting attention to the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s matched their earlier indifference to communist systems. There is little public awareness of the large-scale atrocities, killings and human rights violations that occurred in communist states, especially compared with awareness of the Holocaust and Nazism (which led to to far fewer deaths). The number of documentaries, feature films or television programs about communist societies is minuscule compared with those on Nazi Germany and/or the Holocaust, and few universities offer courses on the remaining or former communist states….

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh

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