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Berlin Wall – 20 Years Gone

  • December 30th, 2009
  • Posted by 7thmin

wall-anniv-20-resize.jpg COMMENTARY: The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall was celebrated globally and commemorated for its international meanings, beyond the borders of reunited Germany.

merkel-resize.jpgChancellor Angela Merkel, former citizen of the German Democratic Republic, hosted the other EU heads of government, Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev, and the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, during ceremonies at the Bornholmer Strasse crossing point and the Brandenburg Gate (9.11.09).

Historical figures of the time  – former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev last President of the USSR, Lech Walesa from Poland, and the former American President George H Bush – helped out at events.

The Chancellor recalled the reunification of Germany as one of the happiest moments of her life, attributable to the courage of East German people – and added, “freedom has to be fought for.”


Why such great focus on the Berlin Wall and why such attention worldwide after twenty years?

berlin-wall-europaeu.jpgIt did grip the imagination of a multitude to see the edifice tumble; it was truly a public-led event hardly an official one in 1989; a triumph of the human spirit, marked as it was by such a massive and spontaneous street party.

So it has continued; images of the Wall under demolition have made it easily into a generation of television documentaries; these images became a sign of our times.

As for why twenty years should be considered so important; that is a long journey in terms of a human life and human memory, so this official commemorative activity may have been seen as a moment to revive the spirit of 1989, and the message of freedom.

One of the principals in the drama of that year, President Francois Mitterrand of France, has since died.

He acted as a sceptic on German reunification, but French national opinion polls firmly favoured it, and as rotational President of the European Council in 1989, he helped with the project for Germany to achieve its coming-together well-embedded in a restructured EU.

“A European Germany not a German Europe”, was the refrain.

With Chancellor Kohl, he engineered the famous deal: reunifcatioin would be embraced by partners such as France; and Germany would underwrite the Euro currency – clearing the way to expansion and consolidation of the European Union after 1992.


What was the actual change that brought down the Berlin Wall –reuniting Germany; reconfiguring  Europe with a larger EU, and ending the Cold War?

Most analysis today sees the story beginning with the crisis in the Soviet Union, where the economy among its many failings was weighted down by massive military commitments.

Gorbachev the reformer hoping to save the situation through arms reductions and foreign borrowing , set out to make friends with the West.

In the process he let it be known, clearly, the USSR would no longer support communist states in Eastern Europe if they could not maintain their own stability.

There was no intervention from Moscow when limited free elections in Poland (4.6.89) unexpectedly produced a non-communist majority in the parliament.


From then on, everywhere, the civil society would assert itself – people in streets demanding change.

It was a mass social movement, helped along by intense manoeuvring and negotiating on the part of government leaders from many countries, but in the end it came down to the removal of fear — and as Chancellor Merkel would come to say, the courage of plain folks.

At the end of 1989 the governments of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and  Romania were overthrown, with free elections convened the following year.

All of those countries demanded to be admitted to the then European Community, later EU — to assert their “European” identity, and so move further away from Russia; become a part of the Western economy, and consolidate a commitment to human rights and democracy.

For the historical record; all have since joined the EU (the former Czechoslovakia as the two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia; the GDR as part of the new Germany), along with the break-away Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Slovenia from former Yugoslavia.


Please see the following from the author:

LR Duffield, “Historical and Personal Perspectives on the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989: address to 20th anniversary forums”; Sydney  9.11.09, Canberra 22.11.09. (30.12.09).

duffield-berlin-repl.jpgLR Duffield (2009), Berlin Wall in the News:Mass media and the fall of the Eastern bloc in Europe, 1989. Saarbrucken: VDM; available from Amazon books.


Celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate 2009; Chancellor Angela Merkel; triumph of the human spirit – 1989 street party; correspondent Lee Duffield, Berlin Wall 10.9.89.