THE BERLIN WALL TWENTY YEARS LATER. Two years ago, I posted here about how the fall of the Berlin Wall on this date was “one of the most important events of my adult lifetime” and how surprised I was that the event had received so little attention outside of Eastern Europe. (I should have said more accurately that it was the single most important event of my adult lifetime.) Despite the celebrations taking place in Germany today, it seems to me that the twentieth anniversary of the event has still received relatively little attention elsewhere—perhaps on the order of the attention paid this summer to the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. I was pleased to see Anne Applebaum’s article of today which tells about how she celebrated yesterday by going through the Brandenburg Gate: “And I thought about what an extraordinary, almost unbelievable success it has all been.” She acknowledges that the majority of commentary on the fall of the Berlin Wall has “focused on the many unsolved problems, the mistakes that were made and the resentments that are still felt all across the former Eastern bloc.” She argues that: “Too many have taken the achievements for granted”, and concludes with a ringing affirmation: “The inhabitants of Central Europe are healthier, more prosperous and more integrated with the rest of the continent than they have been for centuries.”

This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Nick says:

    The transition from Cold War to post-Cold War was so rapid and thorough that generally people in my generation have a hard time thinking of nuclear war fears as anything other than paranoia and a quaint relic of the 50s. We were shown duck and cover videos to laugh at in high school.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that most of the 20th century was dominated by war on a massive scale, tremendous social upheaval, and fear of apocalypse. How much of the world’s population was shrouded in mystery and suffering during the Cold War?

    My life has been one of individual, nationalistic politics in a time of relative peace and prosperity. Although any time referred to as “peaceful” or “prosperous” should have an automatic asterisk denoting, “Except Africa.”

  2. Dick Weisfelder says:

    I wish you’d not play to that stereotype, Nick. Some places in Africa, like Botswana and Senegal have been very peaceful. Places in Asia like Sri Lanka or in Central America, like Honduras have not. Even in Europe, places like Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo have suffered incredible violence. So why not specify instead of lumping 50+ contries in Africa together under a bad conduct label?

  3. Philip says:

    I think Nick, like me, is depressed by the lack of economic progress in Africa in my lifetime. I note that Botswana has been ranked number 1 in world in economic growth per capita for a recent period. I have the impression that the biggest problems for Africa come from barriers to trade—the wrong kinds of rivers, terrible conditions for roads, even malaria (apparently immunities are to only local variants so that travel is can be dangerous. I know that I am generalizing too broadly about a whole continent, but I am really asking you some questions. Why has there been so much disappointment? Is it a number of different stories?

  4. Philip says:

    As for peace, I had always thought that apartheid would not end in my lifetime or that if it did, there would enormous bloodshed. A man I worked with told me several years before it ended that apartheid would end soon and it would end peacefully, and that peace would continue. He explained it by saying that the South African plains have a tradition of peaceful sharing. Again, I am asking you some questions (how much is there to his explanation? why did apartheid end?)

  5. Dick Weisfelder says:

    You’ve asked enough for a whole course! Perhaps I should come to southern CT and give one, since I have only a few weeks left in my teaching career!

    The growth of internal and external resistance to apartheid was severely taxing the resources of the white government. Families departed to avoid the violence and their young men being drafted. The US Congress overrode Reagan’s veto to join much of the western world in imposing harsher sanctions.

    F. W. deKlerk saw the handwriting on the wall and decided it was better to negotiate than to preside over the gradual brutalization and destruction of the entire country and its economy.

    But I think that the key triggering element was the example of Mikhail Gorbachev. If the head of the communist party of the USSR could embark on a process of reform, why not the leader of the apartheid regime. In the past apartheid had been the backbone belief of the Afrikaner Dutch Reformed churches. But they had begun to see it as a great evil. So DeKlerk could pursue what he perceived to be the moral and practical path at the same time.

    Like Gorbachev, he did not intend to surrender power and hoped in vain for a settlement that would privilege the white minority more than the final result did. Like Gorbachev, he saw his plan frustrated.

    I don’t want to give him too much credit, since he had been an entrenched leader supporting apartheid for his political lifetime. He had sent others to commit acts of terror against neighboring states and against internal insurgents. He would preside over an effort to play rival African groups against each other in the transition to liberation, fostering black on black violence and virtual civil war between pro ANC and pro Inkatha Zulu. He denied responsibility for what Mandela identified as this subversive “third force,” but he commanded the elements that perpetrated it.

    Hence I want to give equal weight to the growth of the internal insurgency and its support from abroad in the form of enhanced sanctions. But DeKlerk could have dug in his heels and fought to the last Afrikaner as Keppel-Jones predicted in his novel “When Smuts Goes.” So I guess he deserved his shared Nobel Peace Prize.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.