Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What do Boris Johnson and Erich Honecker have in common?

By Ed West

In The End of History, Francis Fukuyama wrote about how the fall of East Germany was brought about by a curiously familiar emotion – anger towards the hypocritical lifestyle of the leadership.

‘The Honecker regime in East Germany was critically weakened by a series of events in 1989: a refugee crisis, in which hundreds of thousands fled to West Germany, its loss of Soviet support, and finally by the opening of the Berlin Wall. Even at that point, however, it was not that clear that socialism was dead in East Germany; what swept the Socialist Unity party out of power completely and discredited its new leaders Krenz and Modrow were revelations about the opulence of Honecker’s personal residence in the suburb of Wandlitz.

‘Now, strictly speaking, the enormous anger that these revelations provoked was somewhat irrational. There were many causes for complaint against communist East Germany, above all relating to the country’s lack of political freedom and its low standard of living when compared to West Germany. Honecker for his part did not live in a modern version of the Palace of Versailles; his home was that of a well-to-do burgher in Hamburg or Bremen.

‘But the well-known and long-standing charges against communism in East Germany did not raise nearly the degree of thymotic anger on the part of the average East Germans as viewing the Honecker residence on their television screens. For the tremendous hypocrisy those images revealed, on the part of a regime that was explicitly devoted to equality, deeply offended people’s sense of justice and was sufficient to get them into the streets to demand a total end to the Communist party’s power.’

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