In November of this year, more than 8,000 helium balloons were released into the night sky of Germany’s capital city as the culmination of a series of events marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the celebrations, the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, said that "nothing and no-one can stand in the way of freedom." But anyone paying attention to world news during 2014 should be at least suspicious of such a bold assertion.
The year began with familiar personages from the Cold War years revisiting centuries-old disputes. Russia decided to invade Crimea and the Ukraine felt as hopeless as ever. The West, lead by the United States and the European Union, condemned Moscow’s actions, but despite the disapproving rhetoric and the imposition of economic and political sanctions, Vladimir Putin still got his way. The Russian president continues to determine power in his region and regardless of economic troubles—including the low value of theRussian ruble and the falling prices of oil—Russia continues to seem as impenetrable to the West as it had once been to Napoleon’s troops over two centuries ago.
Commenting on the current state of world affairs and having Russia particularly in mind, Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet regime responsible for the rapprochement with the West in the 1980s, said that“the world is on the brink of a new Cold War.” But is this the case? 2014 shows that things may not be as clear-cut as Mr. Gorbachev might think. It is true that Russia has put itself in a position of clear opposition to those values and principles advocated by its opponent during the Cold War—the United States. However, the new world order with a single superpower is dictated by multiple simultaneous interests and threats, which makes it for a more complex chess game than that of the Cold War.
Among the major weightier issues of 2014 for the US, for example, was once again the threat of Islamic-inspired terrorism, which had been associated with traditional groups such as Al Qaeda up to this year. However, it resurfaced with a new face through the shocking attacks performed by the Islamic State (ISIS). But to show that old disputes are not all bound to be recreated, the US closes 2014 by reopening relations with Cuba. This is particularly emblematic since the US embargo on Cuba is one of the last remaining symbols of a clearly bipolar world. It also provides some support for the optimism showed by the Mayor of Berlin—freedom may indeed be in Cuba’s horizon.
One thing is certain; the Germans do have a reason to celebrate in 2014 even if the deeper meanings of the Berlin Wall are still standing in any shape or form. Germany won the 2014 World Cup, where a very different kind of old disputes are regularly replayed every four years under the direction of a very powerful international organization—FIFA. The Germans beat Brazil by a historic 7 x 1 scoreboard during the World Cup semifinals this summer and took the Cup home with a victory over Argentina in the final. But to show how old disputes are hard to eliminate, despite Brazil’s epic loss to Germany, Brazilians almost unanimously regard the German national soccer team as national heroes. That happens because despite Brazilians’ easygoing nature, when it comes to soccer, Argentina will forever be its biggest enemy. Let’s just hope we are in better hands than FIFA when it comes to security issues.