After the Euphoria

Darryl Pinckney, a black author who writes regularly for The New York Review of Books, says that the scenes after the resounding electoral victory of Barack Obama, reminded him of the falling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. On the evening of the 4th of November, an exuberant crowd in front of the famous Apollo Theater in New York’s traditionally black Harlem district called out the name of President-elect Obama to the sounds of a steel band.

Although President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the Republican party can’t be compared to Erich Honecker and the Communist party in former East Germany, the events of November 1989 and November 2008 had in common that they ushered in the end of an era, that an essential event had caused sudden change to take place, and even that something was overthrown.

But let us hope that the similarity between those historic events will end there and that the West will not make the same mistakes this time as they did after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In three years’ time superpower Russia became a weak and powerless country. With the help of the West, the Russian planned economy was transformed into a market economy as fast as possible. In the wave of triumph that flooded the West after the fall of the Wall all politicians lost their vigilance.

According Edward Lucas, correspondent of the authoritative British weekly magazine The Economist and the writer of The New Cold War (2008), it was a disastrous mistake on the part of the West to assume that Russia would gradually become a Western country. Two decades after Russian President Michail Gorbatsjov began to demolish Soviet communism, the Russia of Vladimir Putin shows nothing but contempt for the Western society model that is based on right and law.

On Putin’s birthday in 2006 (as a birthday gift?) the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaja was shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building. Three weeks after the murder, a former agent of the Russian secret service, Aleksandr Litvinenko, was poisoned with polonium in the center of London. This radioactive isotope is so hard to get and has a such short shelf life that, in fact, the assault could only be the work of the FSB (the domestic branch of the former security service of the Soviet era, the KGB).

The contradistinction of ideology between Russia and the West is no longer a matter of communism versus capitalism (currently, companies in the West are also nationalized in a Soviet-like manner), but the xenophobic nationalism in Russia versus the liberal and the right to state multi-nationalism.

The Russian President Dmitri Medvedev welcomed the electoral victory of Barack Obama with the treat that Russia will station bombers along the Polish border if the United States will place missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. It seems important to the Kremlin to continue the “new Cold War.” It’s an enigma to me with whom Europe should form a new style security organization, as J. H. Sampiemon and Karel van Wolferen suggested (Opinion & Debate, 22 November).

The attitude of China against the United States can be best described as passive-aggressive. The movie Dark Matter (2007) is about Lu Gang, a Chinese physicist, who walks into the University of Iowa and kills his professor and five others before he puts the gun against his temple and shoots himself.

The shooting on the Iowa campus that actually took place in the winter of 1991 is used by the Chinese director to research the psychological dynamics between China and the West. According sinologist Orville Schell, who discussed the movie Dark Matter in the August issue of the New York Review of Books, is China has historically been wounded by foreign powers, a situation that is even more aggravated by the way the West opposes the efforts of China to be accepted as a world power.

The main character in Dark Matter, whose name in the movie is Liu Xing, represents in extreme form the complex relationship that the present China has with the outsiders, according the director Shi-Zeng. Liu Xing feels superior because of the great Chinese civilization he grew up in, but he stills feels doubtful because China still lags behind the United States.

In the beginning Liu Xing worships the Americans but finally he sees them as oppressors. There is no good reason that the rise of China will not be seen as positive thing to the West, like the Singapore diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani, who is presently traveling around the Netherlands with his book The century of Asia (2008), wants us to believe. Also it is not obvious that democratic reforms will take place in the near future. The middle class tries to stop them because it is scared of a mass of mutinous workers.

Since the election Barack Obama has proven that he is less naive than a lot of his supporters. Fortunately. Besides the top team of economists that he presented this week, it is expected that Hillary Clinton, James Jones, and Robert Gates, together with Joseph Biden, will form the team of foreign affairs. All four of them are known for their healthy dose of realism. Although naivety translated as “hope” maybe hip in these days, like the American writer Joan Didion sighed recently during a symposium in the New York Times Library, it is and will stay a bad guideline for foreign policy.

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