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Reading some of the commentary published ahead of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9th 1989) you would be forgiven for thinking that this great liberation was problematic in some way or even a disappointment. One writer in the Financial Times mused recently in a long feature on how the high hopes of 1989 had been a letdown.
Really? Since Communism was vanquished, and Eastern Europe freed from far-left tyranny, growth has rocketed and the prospects of the citizenry have dramatically improved. Poland’s GDP per capita has increased by close to 150% since the early 1990s. As Marcin Piatkowski of the World Bank made clear in his recent book – Europe’s Growth Champion, Insights from the Economic Rise of Poland (Oxford University Press 2018) – economic freedom and social mobility has meant that a country that has little in the way of natural resources, but an abundance of ingenious human capital, is well on its way to catching up with the West.
Problems abound across Eastern Europe, of course, as they do in Western Europe. But when compared to where Eastern Europe sat in 1989 there has been a revolution in expectations and an exciting improvement in life chances. This cheering achievement stands as one of the greatest human developments in the history of Europe in several centuries. Markets are not without their problems but they work.
Ironically, just as the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall comes round, Britain is having an emergency general election in which the Labour party is led by someone who definitely wanted the other side – the Soviet Union, the Communists – to win in the 1980s. Corbyn in his youth cycled round East Germany on holiday and once he got into parliament he never missed an opportunity to express his hatred of the West and sympathy for collectivist ideas. Today, among the closest advisers to Jeremy Corbyn as he fights this election are figures who have written extensively on what they see as the tragedy of Russia’s defeat in the Cold War.