Gustel was one of our student presenters at the London symposium in November 2014. He joined us for the Brussels symposium earlier this year, along with 8 other young adults. Here’s his views on the symposium.
It was suggested during the final roundtable discussion that perhaps the real date to keep in mind is 1979, as opposed to 1989, as the historian Niall Ferguson has proposed. The idea met some opposition, as it presents an arbitrary date, which might fit Professor Ferguson’s own views.
The claim is valid, but as most historians are aware, all dates are in a sense arbitrary. We use them to make sense of the past, and 1979 may very well be a relevant date. The same can, however, be said about 1968, or going back further to the 1830s, 1848 or even 1789. These are all cases of revolutions and historically important events. The real question is, what is the meaning we are looking for? Is it merely the fall of communism? What does 1989 actually represent? Has the Wall, so to speak, actually fallen or are we always building walls?
The keynote speaker, Professor Harald Wydra, mentioned Hobbes and Hobbes’s view of the state, in his talk. Is this, perhaps, what we are discussing? The meaning of a state and its legitimacy? The revolutions I mentioned and the topic of our symposium “1989” is interesting not only for their significance for the countries affected, but also as a wider phenomenon of conscience and dissent. Our question must also be able to extend to why some countries were not affected. Are countries that have previously experienced revolutions more likely to face new revolutions? Another interesting question to pose would be if the dissenting voices may be seen as sceptics, and those who push for a new alternative order termed, for example, “progressives”, the interplay between the two thus producing a conflict if the right institutions are lacking? All in all it was an interesting and well-organized conference with many good inputs on the years around 1989. What I missed was a clear understanding of why exactly 1989 is the year of importance.