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New World, Less Order

Looking back to the revolutions that shook Europe and the world 15 years ago this month, we should rejoice in what has been gained - freedom, democracy, and transcendence of Europe's 40-year division. But we should also take stock of missed opportunities in the wake of the Cold War's peaceful end.

Ultimately, the end of the Cold War came because of the revolution underway in the Soviet Union. But the pro-democratic policies of glasnost and perestroika that I unveiled in the mid-1980's did not appear out of thin air. They arose from Nikita Khrushchev's reforms of the 1950's and 1960's, and from Alexei Kosygin's reforms later on.

Many people now view such efforts to "renew" the socialist system - to make it actually work for the people - as having been doomed from the start. But these earlier reforms were in fact more difficult to undertake than the ones that I launched in the 1980's and 1990's. During my presidency, we had to nurture a democratic atmosphere, but this was possible only because fear was no longer overpowering.

We also tried to curtail the arms race and address other areas of conflict between East and West. But the Berlin Wall remained, standing in the heart of Europe as a symbol of division. When Chancellor Helmut Kohl and I talked about this in July 1989, we thought that the time had not come to end the division of Germany. Dismantling the Wall, we agreed, would likely be an issue for the twenty-first century.