December 18, 1999

The Walls Came Tumbling Down!

The Walls Came Tumbling Down!

Over ten years ago (Nov. 9, 1989), the wall came tumbling down. As a baby boomer, I grew up with bomb shelters, weekly bomb attack drills in school and the deeply embedded impression that they could destroy us at any moment. Who was they? They were the Communist nations of the world, especially the Soviet Union and East Germany.

At the end of WWII, the allies divided up their spoils. The U.S., British and French sections of Germany became known as the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany. The Soviet sector became the Communist Germany Democratic Republic or East Germany. These two sections were separated by a wall, in 1961. The wall had various check points manned by soldiers. Passage from one side of the wall to the other was, generally speaking, prohibited. The Berlin Wall divided families and separated friends; much as the fears and distrust of the Cold War divided the world into them (Communists) and us (the West).

On November 9, 1989, the wall came down. It happened so suddenly that the only American TV news reporter on the scene was NBC's Tom Brokaw (go to report). I remember watching the emotional scene on TV and feeling like I was watching a movie, not live news. The Wall had become a given in our world and the significance of its destruction was almost too much to grasp.

The tangible wall was not the only thing to come down. With it, went the Iron Curtain; a non-tangible wall which kept the Soviet Union closed off and separated from Europe and the rest of the world. This event marked the beginning of Russia's transformation to democracy, movement towards the sovereignty of the former Soviet States and the official end of the Cold War.

It may be no mistake that the fall of the Wall occurred around the same time as the anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia (November 7, 1917). The 1917 event ushered in the Soviet era; the 1989 event ended it. Ironically, both events had to do with the peoples' resistance against oppression.

The leaders and key players, in 1989, were U.S. President George H.W. Bush, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Ironically, it was Gorbachev's economic and political reforms, known as Perestroika (1986), that set the wheels of international events in motion. While we watched in amazement as the Soviet Union gradually became more open, Perestroika was a very controversial issue inside the Soviet Union. Ultimately, another wall came down. The August 19, 1991 Coup marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the eventual election of Boris Yeltsin as the first president of the Russian Federation, the establishment of a parliamentary form of government and adoption of a constitution.

Bush, Gorbachev and Kohl are honored on the tenth anniversary of end of the wall, in Berlin; but, note that the goal of a free and unified Europe is yet to be completely realized. Russia's distrust of NATO, the ongoing conflict in Chechyna, the deadlock between the U.S. and Russia regarding the ABM Treaty/START, and Russia's economic problems are of great concern.

There is much to be done, regarding the West's relations with Russia. This each anniversary of the fall of the Wall, Iron Curtain and end of the Cold War reminds us of where we have been and the progress that has been made.

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