Monday, November 09, 2009

Berlin Wall season

As the existence of the Berlin Wall had a significant impact on how I thought of freedom, as a child, this week I will be writing of the Wall, the countries behind the Iron Curtain and the events of 1989 and beyond that have changed Europe and the world for the better.

To start, here is Christopher Hitchens in Slate about what to learn. Take this piece, which may ring a distant bell in our ears:

This 20th anniversary has seen yet another crop of boring articles about how so many people, especially in former East Germany, are supposedly "nostalgic" for the security of the old Stalinist system. Such sentimental piffle—which got a good airing in that irritating movie Good Bye Lenin!—would not long survive a reading of another new book: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Victor Sebestyen. Making effective use of archives opened since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Sebestyen describes the day in late October 1989 when the head of State Planning in the German Democratic Republic, Gerhard Schürer, presented the party leadership with the unvarnished economic news. "Nearly 60 per cent of East Germany's entire economic base could be written off as scrap, and productivity in mines and factories was nearly 50 per cent behind the West." Even more appalling was the 12-fold increase in the GDR's national debt—a situation so grotesque that it had been classified as a state secret lest loans from Western creditors dry up. "Just to avoid further indebtedness," wrote Schürer, "would mean a lowering next year of living standards by 25 to 30 per cent, and make the GDR ungovernable." So the wall came down just before the hermetic state that it enclosed would have imploded. I doubt that there would have been much "nostalgia" for that.

or how about this wonderful quote:

they wanted the unexciting objective of "normality"—a life not unlike that of Western Europe, where it was possible to express everyday criticism, register a vote, scrutinize a free press, and become a consumer as well as a producer. These unexciting demands were nonetheless revolutionary in their way, which gives you an idea of the utter failure and bankruptcy of the regimes that could not meet them. In 1988, in a public debate with a hack official of the Polish Communist Party, Lech Walesa won over the audience with his simple statement that "Europe moves by car, and we are trying to catch up with them by bike."

The waste of humanity for this 50 years of fear, sacrifice and oppression, the fact half of Europe was freed from one tyranny by another tyranny, and the so easily collapsed system once those with guns got consciences. It is a reason to never forget, and never forget those who so readily apologised for the prison states that are long confined to the slag heap of history.


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