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The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Later

The Legacy of 1989 Is Still Up for Debate

BERLIN-WALL-hugeNew York Times/Steven Erlanger—The historical legacy of 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the cold war thawed, is as political as the upheavals of that decisive year.

The events of 1989 spurred a striking transformation of Europe, which is now whole and free, and a reunified Germany, milestones that are being observed with celebrations all over the continent, including a French-German extravaganza Monday evening on the Place de la Concorde.

But 1989 also created new divisions and fierce nationalisms that hobble the European Union today, between East and West, France and Germany, Europe and Russia.

From left, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher next to a piece of the Berlin Wall.

From left, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher next to a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Some of the intensity of those divisions is evident in the tug of war, in both Europe and the United States, over the achievements of 1989 — whether they owe more to the resolute anti-Communism of Ronald Reagan or its inverse, the white-glove embrace of the East by many in Western Europe.

And while many in the West saw the wheel of history spinning inevitably, causing the rise of democracy and banishing serious rivals to American power, China forestalled its own revolution in 1989 and catapulted itself to prominence through an authoritarian capitalism that the leaders of Russia are now studying.

The Chinese ended up with a Leninist capitalism, which none of us imagined in 1989, and which is now the main ideological competitor to Western liberal democracy,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a chronicler of 1989 in his book “The Magic Lantern.”

It is a tribute to 1989, not unlike the French Revolution 200 years before it, that its meaning is hotly contested. Different groups in different countries see the anniversary differently, usually from their own ideological points of view.

A group of Russian tourists gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Friday.

A group of Russian tourists gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Friday.

In general, said James M. Goldgeier of George Washington University, a historian of the period, “the big question out there for 20 years is who gets the credit.”

For many in the United States, he said, most of the credit now goes to President Ronald Reagan and his aggressive military spending and antagonism toward Communism. That view has largely eclipsed another American perspective, which was that globalization and democratization were so powerful that a Mikhail Gorbachev was inevitable, and that the cold war ended through “soft power” — propaganda, diplomacy and the Helsinki accords.

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Filed under Culture, Europe, History, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

Researchers Identify Genes Affecting Alzheimer’s Risk

Alzheimer's Stamp

Alzheimer's Stamp

By David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer—Two European research teams have identified three genes that affect a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in the elderly.

The new genes appear to have at least as big a role as four others discovered in the last 15 years that are known to play a role in Alzheimer’s.

“The message here is that genes are important in Alzheimer’s disease . . . and there may be multiple ways of reducing the risk that the genes produce,” said Julie Williams, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University in Wales who helped lead one of the teams.

All so-called “Alzheimer genes” have normal roles in brain physiology; they don’t exist solely to cause dementia. Instead, small variations in their DNA alter their function and, through processes only now being uncovered, increase or reduce a person’s risk of developing the disease.

Two of the genes described in the new research may be involved in determining the brain’s capacity to clear itself of toxic “amyloid” proteins that collect outside neurons, eventually poisoning them.

The most important previously known Alzheimer gene promoted overproduction of amyloid. The new findings suggest that at least two processes — production of amyloid and its removal — are involved in the disease.

At least 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. By one estimate, one in seven people aged 72 and older have dementia, with Alzheimer’s the most common form.

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