Observation of an ex pat: Wake UP!

One of my favourite films is Goodbye Lenin. For those of you haven’t seen the German language post-Cold War movie, it is about a loyal East German Communist party functionary who suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma just as the Berlin Wall is about to come crashing down. When she awakes her political life is completely changed. The world has moved on without her.

American, Britain and the rest of Europe are in danger of suffering the same fate.  They have become so obsessed with their internal difficulties and fighting for domestic political survival that they are failing to realise that the rest of the world is moving on without them and creating a new set of rules and realities contrary to their democratic systems.

There are only so many hours in the day and Donald Trump seems to spend most of them tweeting about the Wall and the Democrats.  One of which is the answer to all problems and the other is the cause.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is taken up entirely with the dangers of Brexit happening. That is when she is not obsessing about the corollary threat of a far-left Labour government coming to power.

The European Union has finally woken up to the very real possibility that the nightmare scenario of a no deal Brexit is likely, as well as tackling with immigration, far-right extremism, populist governments in Italy and Eastern Europe, stagnating economies and deteriorating relations with the US.  

Meanwhile, the authoritarian governments to whom the West should be instinctively opposed, move on without the influence and input of the power centres which have directed the world order since well before the Second World War.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is particularly active. He is busy rebuilding his country’s arsenal of intermediate range nuclear weapons while a question mark hangs over America’s willingness to defend its NATO European allies. He is also busily driving a wedge between NATO Turkey and the West. In the Middle East, Russia’s unconditional backing for Syria has allowed it to emerge as the major non-regional power, and enabled Iran to position its forces on the borders of Israel. Trump’s response? Withdraw.

In Eastern Europe the Russians continue to consolidate their hold on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and recently made noises about absorbing Belarus which would allow Putin to move his military forces right up to the borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. At the same time, economic problems at home have resulted in Putin’s lowest ever approval ratings—35 percent. The temptation to boost them with another foreign adventure must be growing.

China, meanwhile, is forging ahead with its one belt one road initiative. Its investments in Africa alone are $60 billion over the next three years. This is eight times the American investment.   It has recently completed a naval base in Djibouti and is making increasingly shrill noises about Taiwan. At the same time, President Xi Jin Ping is projecting his country as the protector of rules-based world trade in contrast to freebooting President Trump. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s massive natural resources  include cobalt, an essential part of every rechargeable smartphone in the world.

North Korea is a bit player in this drama, but it still has an important supporting role. Kim Jong-un is using his summit meetings with President as a PR exercise to boost his image at home and abroad. To a large degree, Trump is doing the same. On the substantive front, Kim is making virtually no effort to reduce his country’s nuclear arsenal and there are recent reports that he is developing biological weapons as well.

In Goodbye Lenin, the family of the Communist party functionary attempt to protect their mother from the shock of political reality by constructing an alternative East German universe. She eventually learns the truth, gives a metaphorical shrug and dies two days later.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Richard Underhill 25th Jan '19 - 9:36am

    and in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela the Donald seems to support the Monroe doctrine while Putin devils in America’s near abroad.

  • nigel hunter 25th Jan '19 - 10:33am

    Belarus,Latvia read Hitler and Chzekoslovakia of Tory Chamberlains appeasement era.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '19 - 10:36am

    I remember the film ‘Goodbye Lenin’.

    Maybe it could soon be time for remake? Maybe Retitled “Goodbye Jean Claude Juncker”? The script would be along the following lines:

    A loyal EU Lib Dem party functionary suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma just as the 2016 referendum is about to see the UK’s EU membership come crashing to an end. When she awakes, in late 2019, her political life is completely changed. The world has moved on without her.

    The family of the pro EU Lib Dem functionary attempt to protect their mother from the shock of political reality by constructing an alternative EU universe. She eventually learns the truth, gives a metaphorical shrug and but hopefully doesn’t die two days later.

  • What if the real parallels with USSR are failed domestic economics based on the belief in the “inevitable” idealised nobility of working towards a global future, an oppressive atmosphere of surveillance, constant messaging, a vision of society few actively want, fear of voters, depicting any argument about alternatives as an equivalent to the work of dissidents and an ideological “truth” about the nature of “progress” that a lot of people do not really see as that great. In short it doesn’t suit the often awkward views of the electorates expected to support it or the stubborn persistence of the drive to maintain nation states because global citizenship is no more concrete than the idea of “the workers of the world uniting”.

  • Do not forget the authoritarian Erdogan in Turkey.

  • ‘Goodbye Lenin” was very popular, I am told in Germany. It was a human story though as well as a political one. While the lady was devoting herself to work for the Communist Party in East Berlin, her husband had managed to get across to the West. As far as their children were concerned he had just disappeared. They discovered the many letters which he had written and she had never answered during the film. When the son found out his father’s address he visited him, and he was living a prosperous life in the West Berlin with his new wife and children.
    The reason I found the film memorable is that the actual human stories are important. In fact to me there is nothing else except for human stories. I am interested in political theory, but theories are theories, not facts.
    I joined the Liberal Party because I thought that the importance of the individual was in some way the basis of Liberal thought. I was probably mistaken, but there we are.
    We are now at the position that we as humanity have refused to analyse how we should manage our planet. We have failed to take forward a move towards a world in which the decisions are taken by all the people, not just by the people who have power and want to keep it.

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