Foreign Policy Blogs

Looking back to see ahead

Tomorrow marks the 20thanniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is typically seen as the end of the Cold War. I expect that the blogospherewill be filled with far more in-depth commentary on the subject tomorrow, but for today I would just like to point out one of the articles that is already out there and what it tells us about the future. The Christian Science Monitor carried an interesting editorial yesterday on what lessons can be learned from that struggle as we take on violent Islamic jihad. Though the two situations are different in many ways, there are definitely things that we can take away from the past and apply today. Namely, the fact that such struggles are rarely won on a single battlefield and require pressure from all sides, including human rights. As the editorial notes:

Felling communism in Europe required the moral courage of these individuals and countless others – including brave East German demonstrators in the city of Leipzig who marched despite warnings that they would be killed. Not everyone who stood up for human or political rights in the Soviet zone lived to see the fruits of their labor, but their very stand inspired others to do so.


Violent Islamic jihad differs significantly from communism. But like communism, it is based on the falsehood of control without consent. Such a society cannot flourish.

Of course, the Western battle against Communism was not innocent of committing of human rights abuses itself or standing by while allies did, and those abuses often hurt the cause rather than aided it. There are lessons that should be learned from that too. But it is important to note that while World War II gave birth to the modern human rights movement, it was the Cold War that gave us many of the tools, mechanisms, and human rights organizations that we rely on today. When they work properly, they apply pressure to both sides of the equation and give people a voice that they can use to decide their own fate and the fate of their governments. As such, it is likely that human rights activists will need to adapt to these new threats on liberty to meet the needs of the voiceless today. 

Though the final victory in that battle may not be as symbolic as the fall of the Berlin Wall, it will have been won on the same principles.  As the celebrations, commemerations, concerts, and memorials go on around the world tomorrow, it is those principles that we should take with us for the future.



Kimberly J. Curtis
Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa

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