Garton Ash om 1989

Timothy Garton Ash i The New York Review of Books:

Every writer on 1989 wrestles with an almost unavoidable human proclivity that psychologists have christened ”hindsight bias”—the tendency, that is, to regard actual historical outcomes as more probable than alternatives that seemed real at the time (for example, a Tiananmen-style crackdown in Central Europe). What actually happened looks as if it somehow had to happen. Henri Bergson talked of ”the illusions of retrospective determinism.” Explanations are then offered for what happened. As one scholar commented a few years after 1989: no one foresaw this, but everyone could explain it afterward.

A great virtue of Mary Elise Sarotte’s 1989 is that she makes the problem of hindsight bias explicit, and systematically explores the roads not taken. She reminds us, for example, how close East Germany may have come to bloodshed in Leipzig on October 9, 1989: the authorities mobilized a force of eight thousand men, including police, soldiers, and Stasi; hospitals were told to prepare beds for possible victims.

[. . .]

The year 1989 was one of the best in European history. Indeed, I am hard pushed to think of a better one. It was also a year in which the world looked to Europe—specifically to Central Europe, and, at the pivotal moment, to Berlin. World history—using the term in a quasi-Hegelian sense—was made in the heart of the old continent, just down the road from Hegel’s old university, now called the Humboldt University. Twenty years later, I am tempted to speculate (while continuing to work with other Europeans in an endeavor to prove this hunch wrong) that this may also have been the last occasion—at least for a very long time—when world history was made in Europe. Today, world history is being made elsewhere. There is now a Café Weltgeist at the Humboldt University, but the Weltgeist itself has moved on. Of Europe’s long, starring role on the world stage, future generations may yet say: nothing became her like the leaving of it.


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