November 10th 09
Twenty Years A Growing.
Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall came down. This blog remembers
watching the scenes of jubilation on television in 1989. This evening’s
television news revisited those times and the scenes of euphoria and
jubilation. The great and the good are gathered at the Brandenburg Gate
for tonight’s formal celebrations.
It is interesting to see Mikhail Gorbachev, former Secretary General of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union alongside other world leaders of that
period. Until his reign the Kremlin had intervened militarily to stifle
dissent, most famously in my memory in Prague in 1968.
At that time I was working in the Duke of York public house in downtown
Belfast. The Duke’s was the watering hole, and eating house, for Belfast
union leaders, Labour Party types, Communist Party leadership and a
scattering of Republican leaders. Our own civil rights struggle was
starting to assert itself but I have clear recollections of how
discussions among Belfast’s ‘Left’ or at least ‘the Left’ as represented
in the Duke’s was galvanised by the events on the streets of Prague. But
for all the soul searching and heated but intelligent debate no one was
predicting that a brief few decades later the Soviet Union would be no
Gorbachev certainly was about reforming and modernising the Soviet Union,
and not about ending it.
In the 1980s when Solidarity organised across Poland there was no repeat
of the Prague crack down. By the summer of 1988 hefty hikes in food prices
led to strikes across Poland. Before long negotiations dealt with political as well as social and economic matters. Hungary followed. My guess is that the bulk of the protestors, at the start at least, wanted only to improve their systems not to overthrow them. Though, and this is another guess, I’m sure many became more ambitious and more radical as they became more politicised. And more successful.
I am also sure the masses of people assembled in Berlin for the
celebrations include many of the people who participated in the momentous
events which led to the walls coming down. Of course young Germans - twenty somethings - will have no memory of the Wall. Maybe their parents
or grandparents were activists. Maybe they were reared on stories of what
things were like in a divided Germany and a separated Berlin. It must be
an extremely emotional event for an activist to be at the Brandenburg Gate
tonight with children or grandchildren and to be part of all that.
I wonder how history would have flowed if the border guards had opened
fire on those brave people who first pushed their way through the border
crossing that fateful day twenty years ago.
Or if Thatcher’s warnings against German unity had been heeded? But of
course she was wrong. Again. And not only on Ireland, though that is little consolation.
Then on October 3 1990 Germany was re-united, irony of ironies, under an
Irish presidency of the European Union. Charlie Haughey was EU President.
There have been acres of books written about why all this happened. It’s
simple stoopid. It’s called the human spirit. It has a way of overcoming
all the odds. It can even destroy empires. And knock down walls. And
re-unite people and countries.
And despite all the doomsday warnings and threats and concerns it seems
that Germans are glad to be united. And why wouldn’t they?
From the limited dip I did into international news agencies’ coverage of
the celebrations most young Germans are happy with their country. They
take unity for granted. That is clear from a series of polls to coincide
with the twentieth anniversary.
A bit like our own young people will be at the twentieth anniversary of
our own reunification