the “Long nineteenth century” is a term which was originally coined by the Russian Ilya Ehrenburg for the 125-year period comprising the years 1789 through 1914, but was made popular by the great British historian Eric Hobsbawm.
He also is the person who defined in detail the term “Short 20th century”, originally proposed by the Hungarian Iván Berend, referring to the 78 years between the years 1914 and 1991. Hobsbawm saw the period beginning with the start of the First World War and ending with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He thought that the chain of events represented such significant changes in world history as to redefine the era.
Looking back from today, it seems that the establishment by Sir Tim Berners-Lee of the first ever website, with the URL http://info.cern.ch, in 1991 turned out to be the more important event in that year.
Francis Fukuyama declared “The end of history” in his famous book in 1992. Fukuyama’s argument was that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the last ideological alternative to liberalism had been eliminated. Fascism had been killed off in the Second World War, and Communism had imploded after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In states that called themselves Communist, like China, political and economic reforms were heading in the direction of a liberal order. Hong Kong it seemed, would take over China, rather than the other way around.
According to Fukuyama, no other than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had predicted the moment when a perfectly rational form of society and the state would become victorious, which had now arrived. There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis.
But history – and nature – had a few more tricks up their sleeves. We recently learned that liberal democracy, globalisation and free trade are actually rather fragile achievements and that nature can put the kibosh on human society and actually human existence quiet easily.
While the Y2K problem turned out to be a nonstarter, 9/11, the attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers in Manhattan in 2001, was seen by contemporaries as more important than the demise of the Soviet Union to define the start of the 21st century. Today, with every single day more people are dying from CoViD-19 as died from the 9/11 attack in Trumpian USA, this appears as a rather naïve idea.
With all due respect to Mr. Hobsbawm, who since 2012 rests in Highgate Cemetery, not far away from the grave of Karl Marx, I dare to move the end of the 20th century from 1991 forward to 2020. Maybe I feel entitled to this as Eric and myself share the background of spending childhood time in Berlin and of having Jewish ancestors without being a believer (the family was originally called Obstbaum, later Hobsbawm).
The 21st century, I would argue, started not in 1991, but in the year which is now coming to an end, 2020. Scientific results and practical experiences have shown that the point of no return of a severe climate change with species-threatening consequences for homo sapiens has been passed in 2020, if not indeed a few years earlier. It has also transplanted the menetekel of a pandemic killing millions of people all over the world from Hollywood movies into reality, creating havoc not only for the global tourism industry, but severely impacting the daily life of most of the 7.8 billion humans currently living on the planet which we used to consider as “our”.
Everybody is yearning for the end of the emergency and the return to the old “normal” in 2021, when it is obvious that there is no way back and only some hazy ideas exist of how to find the way forward. Professionally COTRI offers guidance for the business of caring for Chinese visitors in the coming years with our ADVANTAGE: TOURISM program and the CTT China Tourism Training Edition 2021.
For a broader and more long-term perspective all that seems to remain at the end of the Long 20th century and the start of the 21st century in a few weeks is the well-intentioned advice: Carpe Diem!
With best wishes for a much more successful and much more joyful year 2021 remain Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the entire COTRI WEEKLY team.
PS The next COTRI WEEKLY will be published on January 5th, 2021. Stay tuned.