A Tale of Two Revolutions

Timothy_garton_ash_140x140 Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian on the legacies of 1968 and 1989:

During the Velvet revolution of 1989 I spied an improvised poster in a Prague shop window. It showed “68” spun through 180 degrees to make “89”, with arrows indicating the rotation. Nineteen sixty-eight and 1989: a tale of two revolutions. Or at least, two waves of what many called revolution at the time. A 40th anniversary this year, a 20th next. Which of the two will be most memorialised? And which actually changed more?

Nineteen sixty-eight will be hard to beat in the commemoration stakes. Already, more ink has flowed recalling that year than did blood from the guillotines of Paris after 1789. Reportedly more than 100 books have been published in France alone about the revolutionary theatre of May 68. Germany has had its own beer-fest of the intellectuals; Warsaw and Prague have revisited the bitter-sweet ambiguities of their respective springs; even Britain has managed a retrospective issue of Prospect magazine.

The causes of this publicistic orgy are not hard to find. The 68ers are a uniquely well-defined generation all across Europe – probably the best defined since what one might call the 39ers, those shaped for life by their youthful experience of the second world war. Having been students in 1968, they now – at or around the age of 60 – occupy the commanding heights of cultural production in most European countries. Think they’re going to pass up a chance to talk about their youth? You must be joking. Not important, moi?