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The Rise of Nationalism After the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, open societies were triumphant and international cooperation became the dominant creed. Thirty years later, however, nationalism has turned out to be much more powerful and disruptive than internationalism.

BERLIN – The fall of the Berlin Wall on the night of November 8, 1989 dramatically and suddenly accelerated the collapse of communism in Europe. The end of travel restrictions between East and West Germany dealt a death blow to the closed society of the Soviet Union. By the same token, it marked a high point for the rise of open societies.

I had become involved in what I call my political philanthropy a decade earlier. I became an advocate of the concept of open society that had been imbued in me by Karl Popper, my mentor at the London School of Economics. Popper had taught me that perfect knowledge was not attainable, and that totalitarian ideologies, which claimed to be in possession of the ultimate truth, could prevail only by repressive means.

In the 1980s, I supported dissidents throughout the Soviet empire, and in 1984 I was able to set up a foundation in my native Hungary. It provided financial support to any activity that was not initiated by the one-party state. The idea was that by encouraging non-party activities, people would become aware of the falsehood of the official dogma – and it worked like a charm. With an annual budget of $3 million, the foundation became stronger than the Ministry of Culture.

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