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The Partial Triumph of 1989

The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 marked the end not of a historical chapter, but of a paragraph. Although capitalism currently has no rival, it has proven its compatibility with illiberal forces.

MADRID – November 9, 1989, is a date my generation will never forget, and one that will forever be inscribed in human history. On that day nearly 30 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. The break-up of the Soviet bloc showed that communism was to become the second great ideological failure of the twentieth century, following the demise of fascism a few decades earlier. Liberal capitalism and its main exponent, the United States, reigned supreme, seemingly destined to enjoy a long, unchallenged hegemony.

Many countries flourished in the new environment. Poland, for example, installed a non-communist-led government shortly before the Berlin Wall fell, and, after overcoming some early transition problems, moved smoothly toward NATO and the European Union. The Polish economy last experienced a full-year contraction in 1991. And in 2009, when every other EU member state’s GDP shrank, Poland’s grew by almost 3%.

Today, however, we know that 1989 marked the end not of history as such, but of a specific chapter in history. Western liberal democracy, which Francis Fukuyama predicted would enjoy eternal supremacy after 1989, now faces an increasingly serious challenge from illiberal forces.

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