The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Organization of Peace Yesterday and Today

Lucio Levi
Member of UEF Federal Committee, Former President of UEF Italy

Thirty years ago on November 9, 1989, freedom celebrated one of the most splendid victories ever occurred in history. The fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the communist regimes and the dismantlement of the iron curtain paved the way to the end of the Cold War and the unification of East and West Germany, and Eastern and Western Europe.

The end of the Cold War was welcomed as the beginning of an era of peace. The enthusiasm generated by that event led, on the wake of a famous book by Fukuyama, to interpret it as the achievement of a stable social condition based on a universal consent on the principles of liberal democracy and capitalism, the final stationary stage of human history, “the end of history” (Hegel). It was indeed a dream with open eyes, but it is undeniable that a significant progress on the way of international cooperation and reduction of mass destruction weapons was accomplished. Reagan and Gorbachev agreed that peace is the first priority of our time and reached important results on the way of the elimination of mass destruction weapons, notably the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The purpose of the Russian and American governments was to act jointly as sponsors of a new global order in pursuit of peace. Like the Franco-German reconciliation after WWII, that paved the way to the construction of common institutions (starting from the European Coal and Steel Community), the preliminary condition of the Russo-American entente was mutual trust, which was the building bloc of Gorbachev’s visionary project of a European Common Home including Western and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States. Gorbachev’s project was based on two new strategic concepts – mutual security and non-offensive defense – and led to start in 1994 the Partnership for Peace, a program of bilateral cooperation between NATO and Russia.

But the process was interrupted by the United States, which, convinced to have won the Cold War, adopted an aggressive policy towards Russia and pursued the design of becoming a world empire. Since this plan rested on a mistaken perception of world power relations, it failed. Trump has chosen the way of nationalism, withdrawing the US from arms control, international trade and environmental treaties and agreements. Unexpectedly, after the fall of the Berlin wall, new walls have been erected, more policemen have been deployed at state borders, more refugees have been rejected. A new political cycle, inspired by the illusion that the return to nationalism can offer protection against the fears and dangers generated by globalization, has begun. It is worth reminding a concomitant phenomenon we can call “cultural degradation”, which characterizes the new era: the fact that the results of scientific research are questioned and rejected by right wing political leaders, first of all as regards the protection of the environment and combating climate change. It is an alarming symptom of the cultural regression of our time and, at the same time, of the weight of short-term economic interests. To sum up the growing international tensions, the return of power politics and international anarchy make us fear that war could return.

The only alternative to this reactionary ideology is adjusting political institutions to the global dimensions acquired by markets and civil society, so that it becomes possible to govern globalization. This shows that the clash between nationalism and federalism is the leitmotif of the post-Cold War era. This is the most significant message transmitted to us by the Ventotene Manifesto.

The stabilizing role played by the EU after the fall of the Berlin wall is underestimated. Actually, without the enlargement of the EU to the East, civil wars and ethnic conflicts would have torn apart the whole Eastern Europe. Only the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine have experienced what generally occurs when empires fall: a blood bath. The EU can potentially be the promoter of the construction of a common space of confidence and security with Russia to be extended in the future to the other protagonists of world politics. The need for a global plan for peace and security is vital as the old arms control treaties have become obsolete since they do not include the EU, China and India.

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While the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is approaching, the question of the protection of freedom and human rights is again at the centre of political debate. The challenge comes from the so-called “illiberal democracies”, which in the 21st century are expanding their influence. Several neo-liberal leaders have turned their back to the democratic principles and shifted their support towards authoritarian, nationalist and racist ideas. This is what Trump in the United States, Putin in Russia, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, and Duterte in the Philippines represent in different forms.

In an interview given to The Financial Times during the G20 summit meeting held in Japan last June, Vladimir Putin has asserted that “the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population”. Indeed, Putin’s claim describes only a part of the truth. In fact, as recorded in Freedom in the World 2019, the latest report of Freedom House, 2018 is the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. But the general retreat of democracy does not mean that the principles of freedom, rule of law and human rights have failed. To mention only one example, the mass demonstrations held in Hong Kong against Chinese rule show that the force of attraction of democratic values continues to be powerful. Actually, the real reason why liberal democracies are losing consent lies in the fact that they continue to apply their principles only at the national level and have failed to broaden the scope of their values and institutions at the international level.

What is obsolete is the nation state and its survival in the globalization era. The fact is that private centres of power such as global finance, multinational corporations, or criminal organisations have taken a global size and acquired an increasing freedom of action with regard to the regulating power of states. Here lies the root of the decline of the sovereign state, that will be overcome only through the establishment of new forms of statehood at regional and world level. This is the condition that will allow to restore the pre-eminence of politics toward global markets and global civil society.

According to federalist theory, the limit of the national model lies in the exclusive character of national solidarity, which does not tolerate any loyalty towards communities that are smaller or larger than the nation itself. The federal model is an institutional formula that allows for the coexistence of solidarity towards territorial communities of different size, that may range from small local communities to the entire world. The federal model has to be seen as the overcoming,  not as the destruction, of the national model. It is a reorganization of government in two directions: towards the top and towards the bottom. In fact, the federalist design improves on the limitations of national democracy which is in decline owing to its excessive concentration of power in the hands of national governments. This improvement is achieved by adding new levels of government, popular participation and citizenship, both above and within the nations.

CESI
Centro Studi sul Federalismo

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