News

    Fall of Berlin Wall Marks End of Cold War

    Fall of Berlin Wall Marks End of Cold War
    Fall of Berlin Wall Marks End of Cold War

    Multimedia

    Audio
    <!-- 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.

    "Increasingly 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.

    In 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 economically.

    In early October, Gorbachev marked the 40th anniversary of East Germany by attending celebrations in East Berlin.

    Serge 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 city.

    "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.

    Robert 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.

    "It 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.

    "Romania 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.

    "The 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.

    "It 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.

    British 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, Vladimir Putin.

    "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."

    Historians say bringing back Russia to its former superpower status has been a key element of Putin's and current President Dmitri Medvedev's foreign policy.

    Taylor says the fall of the wall has had another unforeseen consequence.

    "The 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 happen."

    And says Frederick Taylor, it usually does.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora