Germany marks 30th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, but post-Cold War gains are under threat
Reportaje Los Angeles Times, 09.11.2019 Tracy Wilkinson y Erik Kirschbaum, periodistas
Tens of thousands of Germans and visitors from around the world converged Saturday at this once-divided city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the fall 30 years ago of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, even as many gains since then are today under threat.
“The Berlin Wall is now history and the lesson learned is that there are no walls high enough or wide enough to keep people out or limit freedom that cannot be torn down,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up on the Communist eastern side of the divide, said at the gate where the 100-mile long barrier once ringed West Berlin.
Even though the 12-foot-high wall and the accompanying “death strip” — where East Germans attempting to escape the Communist side were killed by border guards — has been mostly dismantled for a longer period than the 28 years that it stood, East-West divisions remain, along with broader global challenges and disputes once thought resolved.
Amid a rise of isolationist nationalism in Europe and the United States, Merkel,who has been chancellor since 2005, said the wall “reminds us all that we have to do our part for freedom and democracy.”
At the gate on Saturday, those celebrating sang along to music and watched fireworks for the 30th anniversary.
“The values that Europe is based on, such as freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and safeguarding human rights, are anything but self-evident,” said Merkel, who will leave office in 2021 after her fourth term. “They have to be lived and defended again and again. This is more important today ... than ever before.”
In the days ahead of the anniversary, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, while dogged by questions over the impeachment inquiry of Trump, toured remnants of the wall and guard bunkers in rural Germany where he had patrolled 30 years ago as a U.S. Army officer.
Pompeo said Saturday, after returning to Washington, that he was “amazed at how far we have come since then.” Throughout his three days in Germany, he repeatedly praised the importance of the U.S. relationship with Germany and other European countries in tackling the world’s problems, from Afghanistan and Syria to nuclear proliferation.
“The problems that Germany and the United States have taken on on behalf of the world [are] enormous,” he said on Friday, alongside Merkel at her dramatically modern offices, with a view of the Brandenburg Gate.
“We have worked together to raise billions of people out of difficult situations from authoritarian regimes, not only here in Europe but across the world,” Pompeo added. “And we should be incredibly proud of the work that we have done together and we should remind the citizens of Germany, the citizens of the United States and all across the world the power of our two countries working together.”
But many of his hosts questioned his positive assessment, noting President Trump’s disdain for the European Union, public disparaging of Merkel, criticism of NATO and withdrawal from key arms-control agreements that emerged after the Cold War as ways to keep Russia in check.
“The Atlantic has become wider,” said Thomas Paulsen, president of the Koerber Institute, a foreign-policy institute in Berlin where Pompeo delivered a speech. “Germans see a need for greater independence from the U.S. ... Are we still wunderbar together? We are stronger if we speak in one voice.”
He added, with Pompeo in the audience, that he hoped the transatlantic relationship could survive the latest “Twitter tirade.”
The transatlantic relationship is not the only area where, 30 years on, there are questions about the progress made since 1989.
Lingering divisions between East Germans and West Germans continue to haunt the country that has since emerged as Europe’s most important nation and economic powerhouse.
A recent opinion poll by the Ipsos institute showed about one in seven Germans (15%) has a negative view of the fall of the wall because of the turmoil and cost its demise caused to their lives, while another 30% have only mixed views — negative views, Ipsos noted, were linked to rising taxes and high costs related to the reunification a year later. Only a slim majority of 54% have positive views of the wall falling, the pollster said.
Another poll by the Dimap institute for ARD television found 52% of East Germans believe they have been unfairly treated and 64% believe the two Germanys have not fully grown back together, and another 15% say they haven’t grown back together at all in the ensuing three decades. There are still significant gaps in wages, pensions and levels of accumulated wealth between East and West Germany — and voting patterns are still considerably different in the east and west.
“Some people [who] thought that there would be a equalization between east and west faster are realizing now that it’s probably going to take a half century or even longer,” Merkel said in an interview published Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “In the first 10 or 20 years [after the Berlin Wall fell], there were hopes that things would go faster.”
Germany has also been experiencing a deeper bout of self-reflection at this year’s anniversary of the wall falling in the wake of the surprising rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in recent years, which has won up to 25% of the vote in some formerly communist eastern states.
The AfD’s strident anti-foreigner policies and populist slogans have caught on especially in eastern Germany, where income levels are generally lower and there is far less accumulated property and wealth than the West after a half century of communism.
“I realize the upheaval was far more dramatic for the people in the East than for us in the West after the wall fell,” said Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller in a speech Friday in a nod to one of the main complaints of easterners. “We’ve accomplished a lot in the last 30 years, but the work is far from done. We’ve made a lot of mistakes in these last 30 years and we haven’t succeeded in overcoming all the differences between East and West. It’s disappointing. We’ve got to acknowledge that and keep working hard to create a common standard of living across all of Germany.”
Mueller nevertheless urged everyone to celebrate what happened 30 years ago Saturday.
“Berlin and Germany — go out and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished over these last 30 years,” Mueller said.
Monika Gruetters, Germany’s culture minister, said in an interview with a small group of U.S. journalists that Germany would never forget the leading role played by the United States — and especially Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — that contributed to the fall of the wall and the later reunification of Germany.
“I think Reagan and Bush, and also [West German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl had a vision and belief in the goal,” Gruetters said.
Pompeo, in his visit, unveiled a statue of Reagan at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, praising his prescience and influence in the collapse of communism.
Gruetters added about the wall falling:
“That was one of the happiest moments in German history. Even when remembering now with films and speeches we want to start crying because it was such a happy moment. It was a peaceful revolution, without any bloodshed. That’s why we are a little bit proud that despite our terrible history to have this moment as well.”
The Berlin Wall was quickly built in August 1961 to stop East Germans fleeing to the West. It began as a barbed wire and cinder block wall and was later fortified as a heavily guarded white concrete barrier that encircled West Berlin and effectively imprisoned 17 million East Germans by cutting off their one last open gate to the West.
Communist regimes collapsed in the face of the popular uprisings across Eastern Europe in 1989 — signaling the end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had been the most dramatic symbol of the Cold War.
At least 139 people were killed trying to escape to West Berlin and many who were captured in foiled attempts ended up serving long jail terms.
Trump on Saturday congratulated Germany, saying in a statement issued by his office that:
“courageous men and women from both East and West Germany united to tear down a wall that stood as a symbol of oppression and failed socialism for more than a quarter of a century.”
“The United States and our allies and partners remain steadfast in our unwavering allegiance to advancing the principles of individual liberty and freedom that have sustained peace and spawned unparalleled prosperity,” he added.
In 1989, capitalism won. Today its greatest ideological challenge is the planet
Columna The Guardian, 09.11.2019 Larry Elliott
- The fall of the iron curtain saw the market dominate. But environmental protection has become a significant rival belief
George Smiley finally gets his man at the end of John le Carré’s Karla trilogy, but is far from jubilant as the Soviet spymaster defects from East to West Berlin. Reminded by a colleague that he has won his cold war battle, Smiley replies: “Did I? Yes. Yes, well, I suppose I did.”
Smiley’s world-weariness was notable by its absence when the west finally claimed victory in the cold war 30 years ago this week. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of oppression. Its demolition was a euphoric moment.
But everything was black and white back then. Freedom had triumphed over tyranny. Washington had defeated Moscow. The market would extend into parts of the world where it had been off limits. The power of a united Germany would be diluted by a new pan-European currency. Victory for a certain set of American-inspired principles meant ideological conflict was at an end. The demolition of the Berlin Wall marked not just the end of history, but the end of geography and the end of politics as well.
That was the theory. But three decades on, Le Carré’s caution appears to be warranted.
A decade of flatlining living standards has made voters far more questioning about the societies they live in
Yes, there have been things to welcome. The liberation of eastern Europe is one. The lifting of well over a billion people out of abject poverty is another. New products that have enriched people’s lives, such as smartphones, are a third. The idea that everything about globalisation sucks simply replaces the fallacy that the market can solve everything with the fallacy that markets never work anywhere.
That said, the key assumptions of late 1989 have been found wanting. To the extent that there was a golden age of globalisation, it lasted a mere dozen years, from the raising of the iron curtain to 2001, when China was admitted to the World Trade Organization. During that period, the former Soviet Union was given free-market shock treatment, India dialled back on protectionism, and Beijing put out the welcome mat for western multinationals. It seemed a win-win game: China attacked poverty by moving people from the country into better-paid jobs in the cities; consumers in the west found that imported TVs, clothes and toys became cheaper. What’s more, downward pressure on the cost of living meant interest rates fell as well, making it cheaper to get a mortgage. House prices spiralled, but inflation stayed low.
Cracks eventually started to appear. For workers in the west, the cold war had offered two benefits. First, the existence of a rival to capitalism meant employers and governments had to offer higher wages and more generous welfare systems, or risk a popular backlash. Second, the fact that countries containing more than half the world’s population were off limits to the free market meant there was only limited scope for outsourcing jobs to countries where labour costs were considerably lower.
These restraints were removed in the 1990s, with predictable results. A more aggressive approach was taken towards welfare, manufacturing jobs migrated from west to east, and any remaining controls on the movement of capital were removed.
The 1990s saw the unlearning of the lessons of the 1930s, namely that uncaged finance was a dangerous beast, and that it was a good idea if workers could afford to buy the goods and services they were producing without sinking into debt. After a series of localised scares, the global financial system imploded in 2008. From the deep recession that followed there has been no meaningful recovery.
Clearly, the world in 2019 is not the one envisaged in the heady days of 1989. For a start, it is not unipolar. Russia under Vladimir Putin is a more serious threat than the Soviet Union was in its dog days, under Mikhail Gorbachev. Most of the decline in poverty since 1990 has occurred in China, which operates a form of totalitarian capitalism to rival the free-market US model. Both variants seem to have lost their mojo: US-style capitalism cannot seem to tolerate even modest increases in interest rates; Chinese-style capitalism flounders in the absence of state investment and easy credit. Instead of the rugged free market, we have zombie capitalism.
A decade of flatlining living standards has made voters far more questioning about the societies they live in. When they hear politicians say that globalisation is an irresistible force that cannot be reversed, they ask: why? When they are told that artificial intelligence will revolutionise the world of work, they ask: for whose benefit? Those who took the sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall believed that the future would be better than the past, and for them it was. There are plenty of people in developing countries – especially in Asia – who think the same way today. But in the west, faith in progress is far less evident than it was before 2008.
The upshot of all this is that free-market capitalism again faces an ideological challenge, and one that was not envisaged 30 years ago. The cold war was won because western capitalism proved better than communism at delivering goods for consumers. The events of 30 years ago created an ideological vacuum that is being filled not by Chinese-style capitalism but by environmentalism, a creed that does not accept the basic “more is better” tenet of capitalism. On the contrary, it says that adherence to this belief is killing the planet. Which is why it poses more of a threat than the real Karlas ever did.
El infame muro fue derribado hace 30 años
Columna El Líbero, 10.11.2019 Carlos Alberto Montaner, periodista y escritor cubano
El 9 de noviembre de 1989 comenzó el derribo del Muro de Berlín y la desaparición del comunismo en Europa. Hace 30 años de ese extraordinario episodio. Lo recuerdo como los días más felices de mi vida.
Es imborrable la imagen de esos jóvenes jubilosos pulverizando a golpes de mandarria la pared que les impedía acceder a un futuro luminoso labrado con su propio esfuerzo. La libertad era eso: poder luchar por un mejor destino sin un Estado que decidiera en nuestro lugar, sin un Partido que escogiera nuestras opciones, sin los ojos permanentes de la policía política posados en nuestra nuca.
¿Qué hubiera pasado si Gorbachov invoca la “Doctrina Brezhnev” y lanza los tanques del “Pacto de Varsovia” sobre los manifestantes y asesina a 10.000 berlineses? Nada. No hubiera pasado nada. Fue lo que hicieron los camaradas reformistas chinos ese mismo año de 1989 en Tiananmen. Mataron a millares de disidentes y “la primavera china” se secó inmediatamente. Si Gorbachov recurre a la violencia, el comunismo seguiría imperando en la URSS y en el Este de Europa.
¿Por qué Gorbachov no lo hizo? En primer lugar, por razones psicológicas. Gorbachov no era un hombre sanguinario. Me contó su principal ideólogo, Alexander Yakovlev, que ellos rechazaban la violencia. Eran comunistas y patriotas, pero no asesinos. Además, pensaban que había que “liberar a Rusia del peso de la URSS” y eso se podía hacer sin coacciones ni represalias.
Sólo el costo de mantener a flote el satélite cubano le había significado a la tesorería moscovita más de 60.000 millones de rublos a lo largo de los años, sin contar los equipos militares, la misma cifra que tenían de déficit el año en que fue disuelta la URSS. Y encima, Fidel Castro, además de lo que le costaba a la Unión Soviética, no cesaba de conquistar países absolutamente improductivos que colgaba insensiblemente del presupuesto de Moscú: Nicaragua, Angola y Etiopía, mientras intrigaba contra la “perestroika” y el “glasnost” y aplaudía la presencia militar soviética en Afganistán. Aquello era intolerable.
Gorbachov quería transformar a Rusia en una nación realmente desarrollada, próspera y libre, pero sin propiedad privada de los medios de producción, regida por un sistema planificado, de acuerdo con el proyecto colectivista marxista. Abandonaba, eso sí, el leninismo, por todo lo que tenía de represor, olvidando que Marx había propuesto “la dictadura del proletariado”. De alguna manera, Lenin, y luego su discípulo Stalin, se habían limitado a crear la metodología para implementar ese tipo de dictadura preconizada por el filósofo alemán.
“¿Por qué fracasó Gorbachov?”, le pregunté a Yakovlev, lo que también lo incluía a él en el desastroso fin de la perestroika. Se quedó pensando unos instantes mientras miraba a la ventana. Golpeó con su pipa la pata de palo que le había quedado como muestra de su condición de héroe de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y, finalmente, me dijo con un dejo melancólico: “porque el comunismo no se adapta a la naturaleza humana”.
Era cierto. Por eso había fracasado en todas las latitudes -germanos, latinos, cristianos de diversas denominaciones, musulmanes, asiáticos- y con todo tipo de líderes: educados, agraristas, proletarios, locos y cuerdos, precavidos y aventureros. No había excepciones.
En cambio, la superioridad del modelo occidental, la democracia liberal, era evidente. ¿Por qué? Exactamente por lo contrario: era una expresión de la naturaleza humana. La democracia liberal había parido a Corea del Sur. El colectivismo y la planificación, a Corea del Norte. La democracia liberal admitía la diversa variedad de las personas, lo que entrañaba hábitos, conductas y resultados diferentes, rasgos que provocaban una inevitable estratificación social. Aceptaba el mercado y rechazaba el mundillo concebido por los planificadores. Lejos de rechazar y perseguir a los emprendedores, los aplaudía y encumbraba, porque la mejoría constante del entorno se debía a la competencia, aunque se sabía sin la menor duda, a partir de Joseph Schumpeter, que el mercado se alimentaba de los cadáveres de los más ineficientes.
A 30 años de su desaparición europea, el colectivismo, entreverado con el narcotráfico, regresa por sus fueros y asoma su oreja peluda en algunos países de América Latina. Ya no se trata de crear el paraíso en la tierra, sino el infierno. No prevalecerá. Tampoco se adapta a la naturaleza humana.