Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

THIS Sunday Marks a Big [...]

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

THIS Sunday Marks a Big [...]

Article excerpt

Byline: COLUMNIST BERNARD TRAFFORD

THIS Sunday marks a big anniversary for me. On 9th November 1989 I was appointed to my first school headship, an unusual success in three respects: I was young, a musician and an internal applicant. Celebrations naturally followed. But something else was happening, something so momentous that even our partying had to stop for the BBC's Nine O'clock News.

The Berlin Wall, symbol of Communist tyranny, was crumbling. Berliners tore it down the next day: but on 9th November East Germany's communist regime caved in and opened Berlin's crossing points to the West.

They were heady days. The Communist Bloc was imploding. People across Eastern Europe were taking to the streets, asserting and (amazingly) winning their democratic rights. The old dictatorships were approaching their end.

I wasn't about to change the world: but I was taking on a significant responsibility with the privilege of leading a school of some 700 children. The challenge and excitement were intoxicating and in that way, if no other, I felt at one with the tide of democratic change sweeping across Europe.

I'm now in my 25th year of headship, in my second school. Is it still so heady and intoxicating? Of course not. I've grown older, hopefully wiser, perhaps more cynical: I certainly have the bene-fit of experience. It's not so instantly thrilling, but the satisfaction's deeper.

Democratic Europe, too, has had to mature and learn from experience. Not all that experience is good.

The countries on the western side of the former Communist Bloc are making the most of being part of democratic Europe. Indeed, I've done some work with the Council of Europe on education for democracy and been humbled by those members' forthright recognition of the diffi-culties and of the hard work needed to make democracy flourish. By contrast, the nations closer to the old Moscow centre are less secure in their democracy. Ukraine is divided and looks fit to continue tearing itself apart in near-civil war for some time. Too many of its people perhaps feel themselves Russian rather than Ukrainian for any settlement to be easily reached. …

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