World in ‘colossal danger’ says Nobel winner

Cold War II: The Berlin Wall falls in 1989 (left), and Michael Gorbachev (right). © Alamy

Where did it all go wrong? Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Michael Gorbachev, one of the great leaders of the 20th century, warns that we are facing Armageddon once again.

Today, he is 88 and moves with difficulty.

But there’s little doubt as we watch the former president of the Soviet Union speaking on camera yesterday, that the man with the trademark map-of-the-world birthmark on his domed forehead, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War, is a giant of geopolitics.

Asked how serious the current confrontation between Russia and the West is, the words are slow, deliberate and chilling. “As long as weapons of mass destruction exist — primarily, nuclear weapons — the world is in colossal danger,” he says.

“All nations should declare that nuclear weapons must be destroyed. This is to save ourselves and our planet.”

Germany marks three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall this week, but a hint of a return of the Cold War and the rise of nationalism is dampening the mood.

When the Wall fell in 1989, there were 16 militarised border fences in the world. Now there are 65 fortified perimeters either completed or under construction.

Where did it all go wrong?

The imitation game

Triumphalism,” say Krastev and Holmes. After 1989, Hungarians, Poles and others who survived decades of communism were desperate to imitate the West. They wanted to join western institutions, but were made to feel second-class. They were told that liberal capitalism was the greatest system in history. But when the benefits they were expecting failed to materialise, it caused huge “resentment of the imitators towards the imitated”.

Emigration” goes another argument. There is a dread of demographic collapse in eastern Europe as populations fall alarmingly due to low birth rates and high emigration, particularly among the better educated. Around half of Hungarian graduates, for example, have left the country in the past six years.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel that we live in dangerous times?

Activities

  1. Use the Expert Links to research the fall of the Berlin Wall. Make a list of 10 interesting facts about the wall.

Some People Say...

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history.”

Francis Fukuyama, American economist and historian, writing in 1992

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Berlin Wall, which had divided the Communist East from the Liberal West for 28 years, was torn down peacefully 30 years ago this week. It was celebrated as a turning point in global history and the beginning of a new era of freedom and wealth for all.
What do we not know?
Whether Gorbachev’s grim warning is too pessimistic. We take it seriously of course. But does it really feel like we are the brink of nuclear war? Or that free societies are about to collapse?

Word Watch

Soviet Union
In 1922, Russia along with countries under its control formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) — better known as the Soviet Union. It was a communist group and did not agree with western, capitalist countries or their way of ruling.
Cold War
A division between Russia and western countries (the US and its allies, like Britain), which started in the 1940s and lasted until 1991.
Geopolitics
Studying the geographic influences on power relationships in international relations.
Berlin Wall
A guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
Triumphalism
The attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others.
Emigration
The act of leaving a country with a plan to settle elsewhere.
Demographic
The statistical study of populations, especially human beings.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.