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


<!-- 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.
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.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs