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Only a bright moment in an age of war, genocide and terror?

Nur ein lichter Moment in einem Zeitalter von Krieg, Genozid und Terror?
[working paper]

Armbruster, Chris

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Abstract 1989 was described as 'annus mirabilis', and its peaceful revolutions hailed as one of the great moments in human history. In subsequent years, the re-emergence of war, genocide and terror led to re-interpretation: Europe became a dark continent, the 20th century its darkest hour. Was 1989 merely a bright moment in a sea of violence? This contribution acknowledges European war, genocide and terror and examines in some detail the contribution of this history to the peaceful revolutions of 1989. It is argued that horrific violence – Stalinist terror, World War II, the Cold War as well as genocide, ethnic cleansing and deportation – resulted in a legacy that contributed to the revolutions of 1989 in the following ways: Stalinist terror resulted in the persistent illegitimacy of relations of domination, which ultimately resulted in a structural stasis leading to the breakdown of the Soviet empire; the global Cold War integrated the Soviet project in the world order and provided its raison d'etre but its winding down provided the opportunity to peacefully overcome the Soviet legacy; Yalta, ethnic cleansing and Soviet 'nationality policies' resulted in diligent determination to build independent states - beyond 1989. In view of this legacy the revolutions of 1989 are re-assessed for their significance. It is argued that the negotiated revolutions were more than a utopian moment as they provide a model of large-scale and rapid transition that is not marred by violence. To be sure, only a select number of countries underwent a negotiated revolution, but this was not limited to Central Europe. The true and lasting global significance of 1989 is that it provides clear-cut alternatives of organising synchronised political and social change in the 21st century. Contrary to received historical wisdom, revolutions may in future be the non-violent means of organising large-scale and rapid change, if negotiated.
Keywords stalinism; terrorism; World War II; First World War; cold war; twentieth century; political change; transformation; revolution; violence; Europe; political development; future; world order; transition
Classification Peace and Conflict Research, International Conflicts, Security Policy
Method descriptive study
Free Keywords 1989; war; genocide; terror; Soviet empire; Yalta; Cold War; negotiated revolution; state building; large-scale change
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
City Berlin
Page/Pages 23 p.
Series Working Paper Series of the Research Network 1989, 9
Status Published Version; not reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works