Germany

History’s Wall

Print edition : December 12, 2014

At the Berlin Wall memorial in Berlin, on Novembe 9, Chancellor Angela Merkel Mayor Klaus Wowereit (right) leave after putting roses in a preserved segment of the Berlin Wall during the ceremonies that marked the 25th anniversary of its fall. Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

November 11, 1989: A demonstrator pounds away at the Berlin Wall as East Berlin border guards look on from above the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: David Brauchli/REUTERS

Combo picture of the German Reichstag building, one with the Berlin Wall taken on November 10, 1989, and (bottom) the same view 20 years later. Photo: AFP

A plaque saying Berlin Wall in German where the Wall once stood. Photo: N. Ramakrishnan

November 19, 1961: East German troops erect a new concrete wall at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, marking the border with West Germany. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Western leaders extol the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 25th anniversary of the event as a triumph of good over evil, but they are noticeably silent about other walls that have come up either to keep people subjugated or to prevent them from crossing borders.

Germany marked the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9 with great pomp and pageantry. The streets of Berlin were jam-packed with people gathered to mark the day that led to the reunification of East and West Germany. As many as 8,000 lighted balloons were released into the night sky as the music of Beethoven played in the background. In attendance were stalwarts of movements that led to the collapse of the socialist bloc, such as the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. The fall of the Wall has been characterised as a triumph of good over evil, of democracy over dictatorship. This myth-making has continued uninterrupted, with the Western media and governments conveniently glossing over the facts that led to the dismantling of the Wall and the ending of the Cold War. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), as East Germany was known, was among the most prosperous members of the socialist bloc. The state had a well-developed economy which guaranteed full employment and social security.

After reunification, all economic, social and cultural vestiges of the socialist state have been destroyed. Industries were either privatised or closed down. Today, the eastern part of the country has the highest unemployment rate, with more than 75 per cent of the industries concentrated in the west. As a result, the eastern part has witnessed steep depopulation. Young people have all headed to the western part of the country to find employment. The population in the east has decreased by more than 13 per cent since the time of German reunification. The average gross income of a worker in the east is 25 per cent lower than his counterpart in the west of the country.

The “Der Linke” Party, which is considered a successor to the East German Communist Party, has been doing well in elections despite being demonised in the German media. In fact, the Linke has been attracting voters all over Germany. They have been winning seats in the German Parliament in the past two decades. For the first time, the Linke is all set to govern in the State of Thuringia. The Social Democrats (SPD), which is part of the grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), will be its coalition partner. Until now, the two major left-of-centre parties and also the right of centre have refused to join hands with the Linke. During the 25th anniversary celebrations, the Linke and its leadership was subjected to abuse and ridicule for their alleged nostalgia for the former GDR.

Western triumphalism: Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former President of the Soviet Union whose policy of perestroika and glasnost was the single most important factor responsible for the dramatic events 25 years ago, warned the world that it was once again on the brink of another “Cold War”. Gorbachev was speaking in Berlin at a symposium during the anniversary celebrations to commemorate the disbanding of the Berlin Wall.

“Instead of building new mechanisms and institutions of European security and pursuing a major demilitarisation of European politics, the West, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War,” Gorbachev said in his speech. “Euphoria and triumphalism went to the heads of the Western leaders. Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and the lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination of the world.” Gorbachev specifically mentioned that the continued expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the installation of missile defence systems on Russia’s borders and the U.S.-led wars in West Asia were the main reasons for the “collapse of trust” between Moscow and the West.

Top U.S. officials, including former President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State, James Baker, had assured Gorbachev in the negotiations that led to the removal of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact by Moscow that NATO too would be disbanded. The Warsaw Pact alliance was the military counterweight to NATO during the Cold War era. Instead, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it was Western triumphalism that was most evident. Western intellectuals prematurely started writing obituaries for socialism and hailed the pre-eminence of Western-style democracy and civilisation. Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man, confidently predicted such a scenario after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing away of a particular period of post-War history, but the end of history as such: that is the end of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,” Fukuyama wrote.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War have only led to global instability. The regional wars instigated by Western military intervention have led to widespread suffering and the death of more than a million people in various countries. Most of the wars were instigated and led by the U.S., starting with the first Gulf War of 1991. The U.S. then intervened in the Balkans, splitting up Yugoslavia on the basis of its ethnic and religious make-up. After that came the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington has still to learn its lessons. The regime change it helped engineer in Libya three years ago has left the country teetering on the edge of a civil war. Now the Barack Obama administration is getting ready to send in troops to Iraq yet again, in a belated effort to rectify the mess it has made in the region.

Angela Merkel and other Western leaders have made the Berlin Wall synonymous with dictatorship and evil. “It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it is a message of faith for today’s and future generations that they can tear down the walls—the walls of dictatorship, violence, ideology and hostility,” she said in her speech on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of breaking down of the Berlin Wall.

After the reunification of Germany, the country started playing a proactive military role in international affairs, starting with its intervention in the Balkans. Germany played a key role in facilitating the secession of Slovenia from the Yugoslav Federation. That event precipitated the events that led to NATO military intervention and the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation. Germany, despite having strong commercial links with Russia, has joined the anti-Moscow bandwagon on the Ukraine issue. Berlin acquiesced to the illegal regime change in Kiev in order to facilitate the speedy entry of Ukraine into the NATO alliance and the European Union.

A four-star German general, Hans Lothar Domrose, who commands the NATO Allied Joint Forces Command, recently stated that the military alliance was preparing to conduct major manoeuvres near the Russian border. In recent months, scenes eerily reminiscent of the Cold War days are being repeated. According to the London-based think tank European Leadership Network, there have been at least 40 “near misses” involving Russian and NATO military forces that came close to a military conflict. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a second Cold War seems to be beckoning.

Walls of separation

While extolling the fall of the Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel and other Western leaders have been noticeably silent about other walls that have come up to either keep people subjugated or prevent them from crossing borders. The most notorious separation barrier is the one that the Israelis have built. The Palestinians call it the “apartheid wall”. It snakes mostly through Palestinian territory for 760 kilometres, gobbling up Palestinian homesteads and farmlands. Israel has ignored the 1967 ceasefire line while constructing it. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the construction of the wall is illegal. The Israelis call it a security fence built to keep out terrorists and suicide bombers.

When the Berlin Wall’s 25th anniversary celebrations were going on, young Palestinians on the West Bank breached a section of the apartheid wall, armed only with hammers, in a symbolic effort to show to the international community that more devious walls than the one that once existed in Berlin have since come up. The German government is a staunch supporter of the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. “Germany will never abandon Israel but will remain a true friend and partner,” Angela Merkel had once said.

Another separation barrier that has shown its longevity is the one built on the ceasefire line between North Korea and South Korea at the 38th Parallel. It is 248 km long and came into existence after the Korean War ended in a stalemate in 1953.

But the longest separation wall is the one built along the Mexican border by the Americans to keep out illegal immigrants. More than 1,100 km of the border has been fenced since 2006. This is approximately around one-third of the entire length of the border between the two countries.

Smaller separation barriers have been cropping up in other parts of the world. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are in Morocco but just 20 km off the Spanish coast. To prevent Africans seeking entry into the E.U., the Spanish authorities have built fences that are more than six metres high around these two enclaves. Many Spaniards have described them as “fences of shame” for which their government spent over €30 million.

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