Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas 1989, part II - Under The Sound Of Flutes

That samewinter I wrote a song, inspired by the feeling that something momentous had happened and how it had shaped my generation (although in hindsight it somehow seems to claim that we youngsters had made it happen). 

These are the words:

This is our time
Our place is here and now
We have all the names
To write in the history books

We break away the walls of our time
Just like 2393 years ago
And we sing under the sound of flutes
That this will be the beginning
Of freedom for the world

It was a reference to Xenophon’s Hellenica, an attempt to finish the history of the Peloponnesian War started by Thucydides. The war between Sparta and Athens ended after almost 30 years in 404 BC with the defeat of the latter and the destruction of the great wall that connected the city with the harbour of Piraeus, thus ensuring that as long as Athens’ naval power remained, the city could never be starved by a land army. In the end, the Spartans did just that. This is how Xenophon described the occasion:
“After this Lysander [the Spartan admiral] sailed into Piraeus, the exiles returned, and the walls were pulled down among scenes of great enthusiasm and to the music of flute girls. It was thought that this day was the beginning of freedom for Greece.” *

There was such a sense too in 1990. A great sense of optimism and hope. George Bush later talked of a new world order, Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history. And how I felt, you can find here.

As I studied in the 1990s, that hope was quickly turned to dust. The new world lacked order and saw humanitarian intervention turn to disaster in Somalia, genocide in Ruanda and ethnic cleansing in an imploded Yugoslavia. And that was before the War on Terror. But by that time I had already become a cynic. When I heard the news of the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995 I couldn’t believe it. “They can’t have been this stupid! It would change everything. They’d lose the war.” But it had happened, and they lost.

By 2003, when discussing whether the US were right to attack Iraq, I didn’t believe there really were weapons of mass destruction, while my promotor couldn’t believe the Americans would lie about it.

For some people the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of communism in Europe will not have much significance, but for those whose heart was lifted by that occasion, and who spent the end of that year looking on the future with hope, only to lose it in the face of disaster and genocide, I ask you to reach back to that feeling of 25 years ago. Even if the world seems as dangerous a place as ever, in Eastern Europe the people are mostly free and mostly much better off than 25 years ago. Some things have changed for the better. There is, in fact, reason for hope.


ps I never said the lyrics were particularly good

pps The long walls of Athens were rebuilt a decade later. Just saying...

ppps I'm not equating Athens with the Soviet Union. But it is an interesting change of perspective from the usual assumption in Cold War parallels with the Pelopponesian War that Athens = democracy = The West and Sparta = dictatorship = Soviet Union. There is certainly a case to be made that the Delian League was an evil empire and Sparta was a restrained leader of a 'coalition of the willing'. 

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