2011: The new 1989?

The 1980s

 The 1980s revival continues. First it was the music, then the fashion and in Britain, arguably, the government. Now global politics seems to be joining the game. 1989, for those of you too young to remember, was the year when the Iron Curtain crumbled, when one Communist regime after the other collapsed, when the streets of one central European country after the other were full of demonstrators demanding change.

Demonstrate like it’s 1989

North Africa in 2011 from the outside seems to have a similar feel to it. Present and correct are autocratic governments which seem to be in complete control, growing economic problems, rising unemployment, falling standards of living, systemic corruption and a sense of hopelessness. Suddenly, people find their voices. A man sets fire to himself in Tunisia and this sparks a forest fire of demonstrations and marches, a domino effect of public anger. As the quantity of protests rockets, the leaders of first Tunisia and then Egypt resign. Increasing numbers of people have recently taken to the streets in countries across North Africa and the Middle East – Yemen, Algeria, Libya, Iran. The question is which government, if any, will be toppled next?

The West is the Best?

As we see these pseudo-democratic regimes plummet in the face of real democratic power, it is tempting to see it as evidence of the strength of the western model. I would be cautious. Firstly, there are plenty of historical, and also recent, examples of the new being as undemocratic as the old. Secondly, each country is different and should have individual solutions. Finally, we also have to ask why these regimes have lasted for so long. One reason is that they have had the support of the West, which has preferred international stability over individual human rights. So, a big thank you to the brave demonstrators of North Africa for reminding me of what democracy really means.

Language Focus

Have you noticed that there are a lot of words in the text which give the idea of ‘going up’ and ‘going down’? Words for ‘going up’

  • a revival (was up, then down and now up again)
  • to grow / growing (adjective)
  • to rise / rising (adjective)
  • to rocket (go up a lot and very quickly)
  • to increase / increasing (adjective)

Words for ‘going down’

  • to crumble (indicates ‘slowly into pieces’ like bread)
  • to collapse (suddenly and completely)
  • to fall / falling (adjective)
  • to plummet (fall a lot and very quickly)

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