Monday, November 9, 2009
November 9, 1989
It's hard to believe, but 20 years ago today, the Berlin Wall began to fall and Communism in Eastern Europe began to crumble. It was an amazing moment in history, and many of us can remember where we were when we heard the news that the German Democratic Republic aka East Germany had decided to open the border between East and West.
Just a few days ago, I had the chance to attend a commemorative event celebrating the fall of the wall. Today, many of us remember the party atmosphere that took over as East Germans were able to cross the border freely into West Germany for the first time in years. It was something that many found inspirational as the East German people and the West German people celebrated on top of the Berlin Wall that had so long separated them.
The fall of the wall and the collapse of the GDR government set off the push for reunification. It was something that many in the western world did not want. Then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was someone that did not advocate a unified Germany. Economically and politically, there were many fears about what a reunified Germany would mean or what it would look like. It was then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush that decided to stand with then-West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in his proposal push to reunify Germany. In the end, the unification argument won, and East and West Germany were reunified in 1990.
A reunified Germany has proven to be more than a good citizen in the European Union as well as the world. George H.W. Bush should be commended for standing with Kohl. His predecessor Ronald Reagan should be commended for standing up in front of the Berlin Wall and demanding that it be torn down. Just about two years later, it was being torn down.
As we look back, it's important to look at what's going on now in Germany. Fast forward 20 years, and there is a phenomenon called the "wall in the head" that many Germans cannot get past. Many areas in the former GDR continue to struggle economically. Surveys say that many former East Germans still feel they aren't fully integrated into the west. One in 10 East Germans, according to another poll, wish that reunification had not happened, and a quarter of West Germans have the same wish in the same poll. There are miles still to go for many Germans as well as a metaphorical wall to overcome going forward.
Looking back though on that day in 1989, everyone was happy. Regardless of the struggles they face today, all Germans are now free. There is no oppressive iron curtain or Checkpoint Charlie anymore.
It's important to remember the courage shown by those East Germans in 1989. Ultimately, it was the PEOPLE that stood up in East Germany risking imprisonment or their lives to challenge the government. They instituted the Monday Protests where hundreds of thousands gathered in the Alexanderplatz in East Berlin and Karl Marx Square in Leipzig and demanded that the German Democratic Republic actually support democratic rights. Those brave Germans stood up for themselves, and the government eventually came to the conclusion that they couldn't stop the mighty tide of freedom. The waves of freedom were flowing, and the world was watching.
Then...East Germany fell, the Soviet Union wasn't far behind. The world map changed as democracy and freedom fire spread across Eastern Europe. The first match lit the tinder box 20 years ago today in Berlin. On that day, the world watched...waited...and hoped.