No food & wine post again this week. If you want to read something about wine, you can check out my latest over at The Huffington Post.
My senior year in college I took a history class called “Germany in the 20th Century.” It was a fascinating class from a very engaging and experienced professor. He’d lived in Berlin doing research in the early 1960s, was solicited to be a spy by the Stasi and basically had to flee West Berlin when he refused. He’d been teaching that class at Berkeley since 1965 or so. What I’m saying is, the man knew his German history.
He related a story that, back in 1989, he ended the Spring semester (so around May or so) by saying that “most historians, myself included, agree that we don’t foresee a unified Germany in our lifetimes.”
Cut to November of that very year and, well….
All of the pro-democracy and/or anti-autocracy protests in the Arab world over the past weeks reminded me again of that class and what my professor said. In the wake of the Iraq War there had been many rather condescending discussions as to whether Arab countries are even able to be democratic. That perhaps they thrive under (U.S.-backed) dictators.
Clearly that’s not the case.
And despite what Sean Hannity says, there are many successful examples in the not-to-distant past where authoritarianism was overturned (relatively) peacefully and democracies formed. Take, for instance, all the former Eastern Bloc nations. While some are still struggling, many are thriving. Most of those countries also lacked any real infrastructure–unlike most Arab States–as they were used primarily as chemical dumps for the Soviet Union.
Of course there are dangers. The revolution in Imperial Germany at the end of World War I was remarkably similar to the revolution in Egypt: the military refused to stop the protests and in some cases joined the protesters. The progressive Weimar Republic was then established, but economic strains, global isolation and infighting within democratic factions led to the return of nationalism under the Nazis.
I hope that the global community supports and nurtures whatever form of indigenous democracy these nations eventually establish and does what it can to facilitate its growth so that they don’t slip back into autocracy or, even worse, anarchy.