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I’m sure you’ve all been reading Titus’s dispatches from Romania with the same fascination I have; if not, I commend them to your attention. But you may have overlooked an especially interesting comment from Percival on Titus’s final dispatch:
Even in a year full of surprises, the events in Romania in 1989 still stick out. It all seemed to happen so fast, even to those of us over here who were paying attention.
The DDR was less a surprise, at least to me, because I had a friend in Berlin at the time. She was living close to the Wall and told me that the protesters had stopped chanting “Wir wollen aus” (dissident emigrants) and switched to “Wir bleiben hier” (revolutionaries). The penny had dropped, the worm had turned, and nothing could ever be as it had been again. But one minute Romania seemed like it was going to hang on, and the next Ceaușescu was giving that disaster of a speech on the balcony when he realized that it was only a matter of time before it all came down.
It has always amazed me that there has never been a motion picture covering the events of that most amazing year.
I think he’s right, isn’t he? That there’s never been a major motion picture treating the events of 1989?
And if so, isn’t that extraordinary? That year shook the world more than any in our lifetimes, and certainly formed the way I view the world now — too much, perhaps; I know the imprint it left on me has led to my making analytic mistakes about the way politics and the world are apt to work. I was (without being aware of it) deeply taken in by the Whiggish notion that we really had, in some sense, reached the end of history. (Even though this is not, by the way, what Fukuyama wrote. His essay was much more subtle and indeed predicted some of what we’re now seeing. For example:
The post-historical consciousness represented by “new thinking” is only one possible future for the Soviet Union, however. There has always been a very strong current of great Russian chauvinism in the Soviet Union, which has found freer expression since the advent of glasnost. It may be possible to return to traditional Marxism-Leninism for a while as a simple rallying point for those who want to restore the authority that Gorbachev has dissipated. But as in Poland, Marxism-Leninism is dead as a mobilizing ideology: under its banner people cannot be made to work harder, and its adherents have lost confidence in themselves. Unlike the propagators of traditional Marxism-Leninism, however, ultranationalists in the USSR believe in their Slavophile cause passionately, and one gets the sense that the fascist alternative is not one that has played itself out entirely there.
The Soviet Union, then, is at a fork in the road: it can start down the path that was staked out by Western Europe forty-five years ago, a path that most of Asia has followed, or it can realize its own uniqueness and remain stuck in history. The choice it makes will be highly important for us, given the Soviet Union’s size and military strength, for that power will continue to preoccupy us and slow our realization that we have already emerged on the other side of history.)
Fukuyama’s reaction to 1989 was wiser and more complex than people generally recognize, and certainly wiser and more complex than mine. But that’s not my point; my point is that whether I or anyone else properly understood what had happened that year — and I’m still not sure that any of us fully understand it — obviously something massive did happen. One would expect it to be not merely the focus of academic study in the West, but the impetus to an enormous creative explosion. But it seems there hasn’t even been a major motion picture about the events of that year. Or none aimed at an American audience, anyway. Or at least, none that either Percival or I can remember.
Why? I can think of at least a dozen movies about the end of the Second World War right off the top of my head. 1989 was, in addition to everything else, extraordinarily cinematic — the characters write themselves, the scenes write themselves — and it’s critical to our history and to the way we see ourselves.
Why has it received so little attention, compared to its earth-shaking significance, in our popular culture?Published in