20 Years After The Fall Of The Berlin Wall
|Introduced by Vladimir Frolov
|Contributors: Vladimir Belaeff, Stephen Blank, Ethan S. Burger, Pavel Erochkine, Edward Lozansky, Alexander Rahr, Sergei Roy
World leaders gathered in Berlin this week to praise the fall of the Berlin Wall as the event that united Germany, freed Eastern Europe and ended the Cold War. But seen from the vantage point of the past two decades, have the hopes surrounding the events of 1989 born fruit? Or does the fall of the wall represent the greatest missed opportunity in the history of Russian-European relations? Did the wall really come down in Europe? Has the EU and NATO enlargement created new divisions and walls in Europe? Will Russian ideas about a new security architecture in Europe ever be seriously explored by its Western partners?
November 9 marked 20 years since the historic fall of the Berlin Wall. The Wall became the defining symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe into two military blocks – NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It also symbolized the physical and mental barrier between the free (Western) and not free (Eastern) worlds.
Thus, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized not only the ensuing unification of Germany, but also the end to the painful Cold War divisions in Europe.
This week, leaders of European nations, the United States and Russia gathered in Berlin to celebrate this historic event.
Seen from the vantage point of the past two decades, hopes that the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the end of communism would lead to a complete dismantlement of the Cold War barriers that divided Europe and separated Russia from the West have not been borne out. Instead, new walls and barriers are threatening to divide the continent, with the EU and, most dangerously, NATO threatening to create new zones of exclusive security at the expense of non-members, primarily Russia.
In an interview to Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine this week, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev said that some hopes he and others in the Soviet Union had at the time had been fulfilled, but others were not. Particularly, the trajectory of Russia’s relations with Europe and Russia’s place in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany could have been different. We hoped, said Medvedev, that the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact would lead to much greater integration of Russia into Europe.
Recent Russian proposals to create a new security architecture in Europe have found little resonance with Western interlocutors. In his Der Spiegel interview Medvedev described the rationale for these proposals as “creating a new platform” on which NATO members and non-members could freely discuss European security issues.
Did the Wall in Europe really come down? Is Europe really united? Have EU and NATO enlargement created new divisions and walls in Europe? Will Russian ideas about a new security architecture in Europe ever be seriously explored by its Western partners?
Alexander Rahr, Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin:
Two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe has been reunited, but Russia has been left outside the new European house. Today's Europe identifies itself still as part of the West, led by the United States. As long as Europe continues to be an integral part of the transatlantic order, Russia has no place in this architecture.
President Medvedev understands that and wants to alter the architecture into a Euroatlantic one. But for the United States and the former Warsaw Pact states who seek shelter under the U.S. military umbrella, a joint alliance with Russia - as long as Russia follows its own national and geostrategic agenda - is out of the question.
Then there is the misunderstanding of values. Russia, 20 years after the fall of communism, has returned to its previous historic existence, or status. Today's Russia is the most normal Russia one could ever imagine. The problem is that the West changed during the second part of the 20th century, becoming a postmodern democracy. For Russia, which is still undergoing an identity crisis, it is too early to acquire this kind of Western liberal system. But the EU and the United States are rather impatient with Russia and want the country to quickly reform its way of life and thinking. That creates huge misunderstandings.
In five years, the West will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. What will change? Will we by then have a new wall dividing EU member states and non-EU member states through visa barriers, trade tariffs and different security blocs? Will the German chancellor, whoever it will be in 2014, still be so thankful to the United States for safeguarding Germany, as Angela Merkel enthusiastically stated in a speech to the U.S. Congress? Or will the role of Russia, which also liberated itself in 1989, be remembered more historically accurately?
Pavel Erochkine, Advisor, House Lords, British Parliament, Managing Director, M&A Group, Asteria Capital Ltd, Partner, Carter Bedi McKay Immigration Advisors, London:
We are all commemorating 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the Wall was only a symbol. The real dividers were NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Both were systems of collective defense. Both were created at approximately the same time (NATO in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact in 1955). But NATO is still an important player, while the Warsaw Pact was formally ended by the Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel in July of 1991. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved five months later, in December of the same year.
Throughout the Cold War this line between NATO and non-NATO Warsaw Pact countries was very clear. It was the line between the free, modern, Western world and the closed, backward, communist world. Or, from the Eastern perspective, it was the line between the unfair, unequal, exploitative capitalist system and the fair, equal, humanistic communist society. The line is now blurred, but the implications for European and global security are still very significant.
Firstly, the fact that the line is blurred is one of the main sources of tension. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO became drawn into the Balkans; then the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined in 1999, followed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia in 2004 and Albania and Croatia in 2009. At the alliance’s 2008 summit in Bucharest some prominent NATO members made it clear that they wanted Georgia and Ukraine to join, but were resisted by Germany and France.
Russia rightly feels that this expansion of NATO goes against its direct interests. Russian leaders feel strongly about this issue because they believe that “the West” has betrayed Russia in many areas since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many believe that NATO expansion is a good example of betrayal as Western leaders, it is argued, explicitly promised their Soviet counterparts during the German reunification negotiations that NATO would not expand. All of the key Soviet decision makers, including then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, claim that such a pledge was made to make the unification of Germany possible and a lot of former Western officials, including Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time, and former Secretary of State Robert McNamara, agree that there was such an understanding and that “the Bill Clinton administration reneged on that commitment when it decided to expand NATO to Eastern Europe.”
There are others who do not subscribe to this view. Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, his Secretary of State James Baker, and his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft never admitted that they reached such a deal with Gorbachev. A recent article by Mark Kramer in the Washington Quarterly argues that archives and declassified materials show that there was “no pledge … that if the Soviet Union consented to Germany’s full membership in NATO after unification, the alliance would not expand to include any other East European countries.”
Whether or not there was a firm pledge, the West acted against its own long term interests. Further expansion of NATO into Georgia and Ukraine can only lead to a disaster.
When Joseph Stalin was in power, he always wanted to create “buffers” between the Soviet Union and Germany/Europe. All Soviet and Russian leaders since Stalin have wanted to have such buffers. Russia was appropriately forced to leave its Eastern satellites in 1989 to 1990, which it did on the assumption that NATO would not expand further East and that its sphere of interests, formalized as the Commonwealth of Independent States, would be respected and not penetrated whenever there was an opportunity to do so. This is why the whole spectrum of Russia’s population and leadership, from xenophobes and nationalists to liberals, feels betrayed. In the early 1990s some analysts argued that it would only take NATO’s expansion to the Baltic States “to create an irreconcilable, suspicious and hostile atmosphere that would result in a return to the Cold War.” NATO has done and has tried to do a lot more in the region than those analysts even dared to imagine. Even though we are at a low ebb in the EU-Russia relationship, maybe we are lucky to be where we are.
Secondly, Russia never liked the idea of being welcomed to the international system as a “partner” solely on American terms. The West may be alarmed by the rebirth of Russian imperialism, but Russia has never accepted these terms and genuinely sees its policy as, among other things, resisting American imperialism. Russia’s foreign policy has been clear and consistent for years: it wants to rebuild itself as a great power, use this power to “regain” its “sphere of influence” in the CIS and leverage its power to play on the international arena on its own terms. The trick is to understand that hints of further NATO activity in the region are counterproductive and can only lead to a new arms race and more dividing lines. Russia needs more breathing space to be able to calm down and become a more willing partner.
Thirdly, one may ask “what would have happened if Russia joined NATO?” The first head of NATO Lord Ismay’s famous proclamation that the whole aim of NATO was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” may imply that this was out of the question, but the opportunity to get Russia into NATO may have been missed for more trivial reasons. At a private meeting with the NATO leadership, former Russian President Vladimir Putin once asked about Russia’s chances of being invited to join the alliance. The reply was that Russia would definitely be considered and there was a good likelihood of it being accepted if it applied and joined the queue of other countries that wanted to join. It is said that Putin firmly rejected the idea of Russia queuing to join NATO and apparently concluded the meeting by saying that Russia would consider joining if it was invited.
If the opportunity to “get Russia in” has been missed, Russia, NATO and the whole international community should not be afraid to be more creative and try to come forward with new, imaginative designs for new security pacts, which would take the previous mistakes into the account and open the road for more fruitful cooperation. The West is overplaying its hand by using the rule of law as a benchmark. There is no international law with an enforcement mechanism, and the United States has shown this very clearly. There is no equal sovereignty, even if the UN Charter proclaims it. Russia rightly believes in the co-operation of the great powers, which are more sovereign than others, and Western lecturing will achieve little apart from drawing it closer to the great powers of the East, like China. Europe may not accept Russia as a reliable supplier of energy, but how would it feel if Chinese companies owned Russia’s vast resources in Siberia and supplied at least a quarter of the European energy needs?
Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC :
Frankly, I doubt that most of the world’s population has given much thought to the significance of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. It is a reminder that World War II has finally ended (not coincidentally, the people that fought it have largely passed away). A government’s political legitimacy cannot not be based on a war which people have not personally experienced; recent events are what influences most people’s political thinking.
Indeed, in many respects, today’s world is far more frightening and unstable than 20 years ago - cell phones and iPods have not led to world peace. Furthermore, the importance of Europe (along with the OECD countries) has declined, and the threat of nuclear proliferation has grown.
In the time between the end of the Second World War and the reunification of Germany, the Soviet Union failed to remake the countries immediately to its west economically, politically or psychologically. Centralized planning of at least the commanding heights in the countries collectively referred to as Eastern Europe failed to provide their populations with the quality of life found in the West.
The political leaderships not only depended on internal security forces to quash opponents of the regimes; they eventually came to appreciate that their schools could force feed political beliefs to students, whose parents were at least ambivalent about the present system, in the vain hope of changing human nature.
The Berlin Wall kept millions of East Germans from crossing into West Berlin, regardless of whether their intention was to simply to visit, or to flee the state purporting to be their country. It would be accurate to say that the Wall became a metaphor for the Iron Curtain. But the Iron Curtain really began at the Soviet border - as Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles expressed in their words and their actions when they did not fear any risk of retribution.
Today, there really is no need for a new security structure in Europe. The reduction of defense expenditures means that more funds are available to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in the countries of Europe. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe have produced norms and standards Russia and other former Soviet states need to observe if they merit inclusion in Europe (though, unfortunately, many of these countries are not yet ready to discard their past). These organizations can be used for resolving disputes and allaying concerns. The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev probably appreciates this intellectually, but he has yet to show that he has the power and will to make this happen in the near-term.
Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow:
In the past two decades, the world has witnessed yet another historical opportunity missed: the fall of the Berlin Wall has not led to its logical conclusion – Russia’s full economic, political and even military integration with Europe and the West in general. In the recent past, Russia’s “Westernizers’” centuries-old dream of joining Europe was nearly within reach, but then it faded again, to wait for another miracle.
In the 19th century that goal was closer than ever, as Europe and Russia were strongly linked within a unified cultural and economic space, despite their religious differences and many political upheavals. Even Fyodor Dostoyevsky, generally highly critical of the West, noted that Russia needed Europe, and that Europe was Russia’s second Fatherland.
The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 destroyed the natural process of Russia’s drift toward Europe, but the end of the bloody communist experiment should have removed the remaining barriers for that process. However, this has not happened. Will it take place now, at long last? Will Russia even try to overcome the West’s rejection as the balance of world power shifts to Asia?
From the traditional European point of view Russia is too big and too unpredictable to be a member of Exclusive Club Europe. Moreover, some Europeans believe that, despite its Orthodox Christian traditions and culture, Russia represents an entirely different civilization. On the Russian side there are many obstacles to the European affinity as well. Nostalgia for the lost empire, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, monstrous corruption, and even the symbolic leftover from the dark communist times – the Vladimir Lenin mausoleum on Red Square – hardly fit in with Russia’s proclaimed European values.
There are some strong indications, however, that Russia’s integration with the West is not at a dead end. The country’s rise from the ashes after the collapse of the Soviet empire forces Europeans to go on considering and evaluating possible future scenarios for closer economic and security cooperation. It appears that “Old” Europe is ready for stronger ties with Russia, and even within Eastern Europe (curiously known as “New Europe”) widely divergent approaches prevail. While Poland hysterically demands more military hardware and even American soldiers as defense against a possible Russian invasion, other former Warsaw Pact countries are quietly expanding their trade relations with Moscow and welcome the new gas and oil pipelines now being built. The Czechs’ overwhelming rejection of the U.S. missile defense shield is an important indicator of divisions on Russia policy even in the former Soviet-dominated countries.
What is even more encouraging is Medvedev’s push toward creating a new security architecture in Europe with Russia as its integral component. True, this idea has not so far met with great enthusiasm from Moscow’s Western partners, but the Kremlin should continue exerting pressure on this issue and back it up with specific details and logistical plans as well as a strong PR campaign to get the message across, rather than content itself with vague unsubstantiated appeals.
The West should also welcome recent statements from Medvedev and Putin denouncing Stalin’s terror and their rejection of communist policies and dogmas. At the same time, Europeans should be more modest in setting themselves up as knights in shining moral armor while painting Russia totally in black. One should remember that it was not only Nazi Germany that invaded Russia in 1941. Among the troops that participated in Operation Barbarossa, as the assault on the Soviet Union was codenamed, were the Slovak Expeditionary Force, the Royal Hungarian Army, the Italian Expeditionary Corps, two Romanian Armies, Norway’s Army High Command, as well as volunteers from France and many other countries, 4.5 million “civilized” Europeans in all. We should also remember that the Holocaust is also a shameful European phenomenon and those who liberated most of the death camps were Russians.
Russia should be more outspoken in claiming well-deserved credit for liberating the world from the Nazis, from the communist menace, and from the threat of nuclear war. Nor should the role of Russian democrats, including in the Russian federal government, in helping former-Soviet republics acquire independence, be forgotten, as it all too readily is in these newly independent states and elsewhere.
Medvedev’s recent State of the Nation Address, in which he frankly admitted Russia’s deficiencies and outlined his new vision for the country’s development, should be followed by another - indicating Russia’s goal of becoming an indivisible part of the European home.
For its own sake the West should correct the tragic mistakes in its policies toward Russia made by the Clinton and George Bush Jr. administrations. It should mount a new effort to engage Russia, instead of listening to the anti-Russian lobby and relying on proxies in the former-Soviet space who play the anti-Russian card and expect Washington and Brussels to solve their problems – which are mostly of their own creation.
Sergei Roy, Editor, guardian-psj.ru:
Having spent my formative years in Germany and gone to school in such idyllic nooks as Glauhau and Reichenbach, I have always retained a soft spot for all things German, like Goethe, Heine, Wrstchen mit Sauerkraut, German dirty jokes, a prissy liking for Ordnung, for all things to be just so; all the proverbial stuff.
So it was no wonder that in the fall of 1989, especially toward November, every Monday, the day of those mass rallies in East Germany, I would cling to my radio set, listening to reports of thousands of people marching through the streets of Leipzig, of which I held certain rosy memories, and yelling at the top of their Saxon throats, “Wir sind ein Volk! Wir sind ein Volk!” – a sentence that was widely misinterpreted at the time to mean “We are the people!” whereas it actually means “We are one people!”, the “we” signifying Germans both East and West.
That not all West Germans were delighted at the prospect of unification is clear from a joke from those times about a certain West German who, hearing this powerful four-beat slogan, muttered in bewilderment, “Wir doch auch!” “We too (are one people)!” However, this sort of sneaking cynical presentiment about future friction between Ossies and Wessies was hardly popular at the time. A wave of excitement and desire for change had gripped the nation and was carrying it onward, unstoppably.
It culminated in the event of which the 20th anniversary the world, or rather the world’s media and politicos, celebrated the other day: the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an occasion so rich in symbolism that one sometimes wonders which aspects of the symbolism are to be celebrated, and by whom.
No question about East Germans: they desired unity and were intent on getting rid of the undemocratic, communist Erich Honecker regime that had built the wall to “keep out the fascist, imperialist West German elements.”
This last was a lot of hooey, of course, but it was just one half of the Big Lie. The other half was that the wall had arisen only through the machinations of the evil Honecker clique. In reality the free, democratic West had made a lusty contribution to the wall, of which the Berlin one was a mere physical emblem. This fact is glossed over in these days of celebration, but as someone who likes things just so, German fashion, I think certain pertinent events must not be forgotten.
The fundamental fact to be remembered is the Allies’ agreements, signed in Yalta and Potsdam, on the postwar settlement in Germany. In the spirit of these, the Soviet side offered its Western allies a part of Berlin, where they had no business to be: the Red Army had taken Berlin at the cost of more than 300,000 lives (just compare: the United States’ losses in the whole of World War II amounted to little more than 400,000, against the Soviet Union’s 27 million), and Western troops (most curiously, the French, with their minuscule contribution to Victory) were allowed into Berlin by Stalin out of sheer magnanimity. If it hadn’t been for the latter, there would have been no West Berlin and no Berlin wall either to build or to dismantle.
Germany’s postwar history reads like a catalogue of Russia’s former allies’ violations of the agreements once signed in 1944 and 1945: the introduction of a separate currency in the Western zone of occupation in 1948; the setting up in the same year of the Federal Republic of Germany (the GDR did not appear on the map until one year later), of which West Berlin was declared to be a part in 1952; the FRG joining NATO in 1955, ten years after the Allies signed and sealed their decision to disarm and disband Germany’s armed forces and liquidate the German General Staff for all time to come. And so on and so forth.
Clearly the fall of the Berlin Wall is widely seen in the West as its victory in this ongoing war against the un-free, undemocratic East and, by extension, over the one remaining part of that East. To wit, Russia – and who cares that it did away with its own brand of communism 20 years ago?
One wonders what exactly President Medvedev was celebrating in Berlin…
Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., United States:
Future historians may consider the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to be even more pivotal than is perceived today. It was the end of the Great European Civil War, which had commenced 75 years earlier, in 1914.
Twenty years later, the full impact of the fall of the Wall is still evolving. The events of 1989, and their immediate precursors and successors demonstrated, as we can verify today, the paradigm shifts that have occurred to the east of the Wall. The change was then and remains today a realistic and productive exit from the dead-end represented by the Cold War.
Regrettably, a symmetric paradigm shift in the West did not occur in 1989, and is still developing. Triumphalism became one of the psychological roadblocks, and it still surfaces as a relic – to wit the rather silly and self-aggrandizing claim of credit for the fall made in Berlin by former Polish President Lech Walesa.
The geopolitical feeding frenzy over the former Eastern bloc was not a pretty sight, and the dismemberment of Yugoslavia with the bombing of Belgrade became the first massive military action over the continent since 1945. Retrograde geopolitical ambitions, rooted in largely fictional schemas of the 18th century, actually came to life and are still active today. One notes Poland, with its rather transparent intentions to create a sphere of influence over the Baltics, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine and realize a mythical dominion of 250 years ago.
So, some hopes were fulfilled – a peaceful transition away from bloc confrontation to a platform for collaboration; and some expectations are not yet realized – because the transition process is not over.
The reality is that there are world players who actually benefitted from bloc confrontation, and these influential forces remain active, unwilling to accept the changed world, working to revive the confrontation in some form. Consider the actions of Georgia – a pawn of greater forces – in August 2008 as an example of such attempts. The current leadership of Ukraine, which seems to define itself exclusively by its anti-Russian qualities – proposed recently the emergence of a new Wall, presumably to be built by Ukraine, much as the Berlin Wall was built by East German Communists…
So even if one can say that there are no walls in Europe now, it appears that some member countries on the Eastern marches, and some European “wannabes” are not averse to the idea of a Wall per se – democracy and sovereignty are not guarantees of the collective sanity of national elites.
And it is precisely such attitudes and behavior giving impetus to the topic of a renewed European security architecture. There is a sense of impatience regarding the implementation of this concept, but realistically it is too soon to expect major advances. There are several factors at play – the global economic crisis, now in its second year and still far from ending, is diverting enormous resources toward urgent objectives of survival. Another factor is the current threat configuration aimed at Europe. Poland and its partisans notwithstanding, the current threat to Europe is not Russia; it is asymmetric and is based on distant lands and remote events. A profound threat analysis for Europe is the first order of the day.
Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, one can verify that much progress has been achieved, and that much remains to be done. History continues, indifferent to what Doctor Francis Fukuyama may say. And the promise inherent in the events of 1989 remains valid today, as it was then. That is a reason for optimism about the future of Europe.
Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:
I reject the implications of the question posed here. While Europe certainly has made mistakes, it is the Russian ruling class that does not want to integrate with Europe lest that undermine its autocratic power. For them, European integration spells the end of the claim to a great power status, which means an exclusive sphere of influence in the CIS and autocracy at home. Neither of these are goals that Europe can or should support.
Medvedev's plans for a new European security architecture, as is typical of such plans, evokes the Soviet plans of the 1950s and has no substantive proposals to it. Those proposals it does have concern principles, like the territorial integrity of states, which Russia has already violated. So they are patently self-serving. Therefore, it is not surprising that they have no resonance.
NATO and the EU are neither threatening Russia nor excluding it, contrary to the self-fulfilling delusions of the Russian elite. Instead, as the Polish Foreign Minster Radek Sikorski said last week in Washington, Russia is threatening us. Military maneuvers like the recent Exercise Zapad, the aggression in Georgia that the EU did nothing about (contrary to a host of self-serving and wrong publications extolling the EU), the use of energy as a weapon, and efforts to undermine European governments and divide the EU from within all point to Russia's unwillingness to forego the policy of a free hand and empire in Europe.
Unfortunately, Russia several years ago decided to forego reform and democracy, and the blessings of security that these bring. While Europe has had a strong 20 years, despite the current spate of laments, Russia has stagnated and in due course will pay a terrible price for that.