Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Berlin Wall was opened 25 years ago today

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Helmut Kohl at the Brandenburg Gate
On 9 November 1989 the German Democratic Republic told its citizens that they could visit West Germany and West Berlin. The Communist government did not mean they could cross the Berlin Wall (the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart") that evening but that's what East Germans understood. For soldiers to have stopped them could have led to violence so they were allowed to go. 

That evening seems very recent to me. WHERE DID 25 YEARS GO?

Many people do not know that Germany need not have been divided until 1989. Khrushchev offered the USA a united, neutral and demilitarised, but democratic Germany - and the offer was unforgivably rejected by the USA. Adenauer oddly was opposed to the idea too - as, of course, was the leader of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, but his views didn't count with Russia. The same offer in respect of Austria was accepted.

Mr. Gorbachev, looking very ancient, is reported as saying yesterday at an event at the Brandenburg Gate that 

"The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it's already begun."

Interestingly, though an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Mr Gorbachev blamed the West for this state of affairs and mentioned the expansion of NATO and NATO military intervention in Iraq, Kosovo and Syria. He has a point but I think the cold war aways continued in the background, certainly as far as military planning and the intelligence services were concerned and, under Vladimir Putin, the intelligence services and former members of those services are running Russia. 

There is no longer much of an ideological difference between Russia and America - but there is some difference, because democracy and human rights can be said to be the USA's ideology. This ideology has led the Americans to try to topple governments friendly to Russia in the former USSR and therefore is a direct threat to the Russian government. On the other hand Vladimir Putin pays lip service to much the same ideals, except when it comes to 'homosexual propaganda' aimed at minors, and does not have an alternative ideology to offer. But, in any case, great powers automatically attract enemies and the USA has done a lot to attract them and so we are in the classical situation where unfriendly powers are vying over influence, something that was not supposed to happen in the democratic era. 

It is depressing and worrying but anyone who remembers Mr. Brezhnev knows that this is not going to be a Cold War like the last one. I suspect though that, since  neither side intended to disturb the division of Europe into Communist and democratic blocs, the Cold War itself was based to a large extent on paranoia on both sides. So did George Kennan, whose famous Long Telegram formed the basis for the US policy of containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but who did not think the Cold War was necessary. Yet the Cold War was a duplicitous, curiously insincere affair. When the Communist regimes fell the Poles and Hungarian anti-Communists got no help from the West. The KGB, not the CIA or MI6, helped bring about the changes in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. 

This is the kind of paradox which is the stuff of Cold War spy fiction and its doyen, John Le Carré. 

Britain and France did not want Germany to reunite and discussed after the Wall opened how it could be prevented but could not think of a way. Mrs. Thatcher and François Mitterand agreed with François Mauriac who once said: 
I love Germany so much I want there to be two of them.
George Kennan also opposed the extension of NATO into Eastern Europe 1998 saying it the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs." ... 

I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

I am sure Kennan was right that Communist Russia was not a threat to Western Europe. He backed detente. He also thought Vietnam was not of strategic importance to the USA and opposed the Vietnamese War, though not the Korean war. He was angry with Eisenhower for letting down Britain and France over Suez and he thought mass immigration a grave danger for America and Europe. That's a lot of things to have been right about. 

Whether he was right to oppose NATO expansion in 1998 is harder to say. Would this have kept good relations with Russia? If not it would have made the Baltic States much more vulnerable than they already are to Russian aggression - although it would also have made NATO less exposed. I suspect that Kennan might have argued that they are not of strategic importance to the USA or Western Europe. 

Had he lived to see it he would, of course, have opposed NATO's later further expansion to include Romania. He makes deploys good arguments, but  NATO expanded into Eastern Europe because Eastern Europe desperately wanted to join NATO. Had NATO not expanded I am pretty certain that Vladimir Putin would still have annexed the Crimea and intervened in Ukraine.

Mark Steyn, who is always worth reading, commemorates the opening of the Wall here and gets in an amusing point about Mr. Obama's narcissism.
As he put it in his video address to the German people on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
'Few would have foreseen on that day that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent.'
Tear down that wall …so they can get a better look at me!!!


  1. A striking picture of Helmut Kohl at the Brandenburg Gate - must surely have been staged? - I remember talking to some friends during those momentous events of 1989 - every day amazing new developments on the television, great historical events unfolding progressively across eastern Europe, brought to us in a tumult of emotional broadcasts - and we agreed that the end of the Cold War was not necessarily going to produce universal peace and democracy in that part of the world, and that it would take possibly several generations (if ever) for American and west European ideals of liberty, justice and democracy to take hold in the countries released from the grip of the Soviets. We were not wrong.

    1. I realised immediately that the Cold War kept the peace - at least in Europe - and that the coming threat would be from nuclear terrorism - which I still believe - but I was not as canny as Chandler Rosenberger with whom I lived and worked in Bratislava in 1990 who told me the next thing would be conflict between Christianity and Islam. He is now Assistant Professor of International and Global Studies and Sociology at an American university called Brandeis. I envy him being an academic though he is not as far as I know a famous name. I just googled Brandeis and found that it's the college which we all read about that announced it would offer an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "a staunch supporter of women's rights" and an outspoken campaigner against female genital mutilation, honor killing and Islam in general. After complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Brandeis withdrew the offer, citing that Ali's statements condemning Islam were "inconsistent with the University's core values". O tempora, o mores.