<!-- IMAGE -->
November 9 marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Most analysts and historians agree that former Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev played a pivotal role in the events leading up to the fall of
the Berlin Wall and beyond. His policies of "perestroika" -
restructuring - and "glasnost," or openness, paved the way for the
dissolution of communist power in Eastern Europe and ultimately led to
the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Robert Legvold from Columbia
University says a key factor was Gorbachev's decision that he would not
use force to suppress reformist aspirations in Eastern Europe.
he made it apparent to the East Europeans that the Soviet Union would
not do what it had done many times in the past: 1953 in Berlin, 1956 in
Hungary and Poland, 1968 in the Czech Republic and so on," Legvold said.
July 1989, the so-called "Brezhnev Doctrine" was replaced by what one
Gorbachev adviser described as the "Sinatra Doctrine," based on the
singer's song "My Way". In other words, the adviser said East European
countries were now able to go their own way - politically and
In early October, Gorbachev marked the 40th anniversary of East Germany by attending celebrations in East Berlin.
Schmemann, former Moscow and Bonn Correspondent for "The New York
Times" says Gorbachev was tough with East German leaders as tens of
thousands of people marched with candles through the streets of the
"A huge march through
Berlin. And at that time, Gorbachev made it clear to [Erich] Honecker,
the East German leader, that he was not going to prop him up - that if
he doesn't get with it he's going to be dumped by history. So the
message from Gorbachev was not just symbolic, it was right there- I
mean they were announcing to the East Europeans that we're not going to
prop you up - and that was huge," Schmemann said.
<!-- IMAGE -->
A few weeks later Honecker was gone. And a month after Gorbachev's visit, the Berlin Wall came down.
Legvold says the fall of the Berlin Wall accelerated the demise of
Communist Party rule throughout Eastern Europe - a demise that started
in Poland in June with the overwhelming victory of the Solidarity Trade
Movement in free elections.
was a cascade. Everything was sort of building at about the same time
and the only thing that suggests a chain is the sequence: first Poland,
then East Germany, then Czechoslovakia and Hungary and ultimately
Bulgaria and Romania."
Serge Schmemann says what happened in Romania at the end of December 1989 was very violent.
was the only one where there was shooting and about a thousand people
lost their lives in Timisoara and elsewhere. And of course [Nikolai]
Ceausescu and his wife were executed after a very hasty little
something that passed for a trial," Schmemann said.
Legvold and others say the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War.
institutional basis for the Cold War so far as it was focused in
Europe, disappeared because the Warsaw Pact, as the opposing alliance,
military alliance to NATO, was scrapped. And of course that meant that
soviet power, military power in Eastern Europe and on the border with
West Germany, in East Germany, was now going to be pulled back. So for
both institutional and conceptual reasons, it was the end of the Cold
War," Legvold said.
Serge Schmemann says the fall of the Berlin wall has had a profound impact on US-Russian relations.
changed the entire map of the world. And it changed mainly our
psychology. We all grew up - I mean I certainly did - in a Cold War
psychology. There were 'good guys', 'bad guys'- there was 'them' and
'us' - there were two powers. If you had Zaire acting up, either they
or we would control it in the interest of the great competition. So the
loss of that has created a dynamic that we have not yet sorted out," Schmemann said.
historian Frederick Taylor says the fall of the Berlin wall has had a
very negative psychological impact on Russians, especially the elite.
He cites as an example former Russian president and now prime minister,
"Putin was a KGB
officer in Dresden, East Germany when the wall came down - and was
well-known in the city. So he experienced it first hand, going from
being a conqueror, in essence the person who walks down the street and
is greeted with respect and fear in this satellite country, this puppet
government subjected to the USSR's control. He goes within a matter of
weeks to being somebody who has really no influence over what is
happening inside East Germany and in fact, of course, he soon ended up
back in Russia. But I think a lot of people felt like him, shared that
experience of humiliation at the loss."
say bringing back Russia to its former superpower status has been a key
element of Putin's and current President Dmitri Medvedev's foreign
Taylor says the fall of the wall has had another unforeseen consequence.
thaw in the Cold War allowed all these strange monsters - and we're
talking about probably Islamist terrorism and various other things - to
emerge out of the kind of murk as the ice melted. And I think we're
still dealing with those problems. We have a world which is much more
open. But in a way, that frozen world controlled fairly rigidly by two
power blocs was, as long as you weren't actually directly on the
fault-line, was a safer place to live in. Whereas now anything can
And says Frederick Taylor, it usually does.