Friday, 5 June, 2020

The Fall Of Berlin Wall

Dhruba H. Adhikary


Ninth day of November every year reminds me of three significant events, two of which have a direct bearing on Nepal: a) the royal proclamation of 1990, enacting a new constitution and b) as the day to commemorate birth anniversary of Ganesh Man Singh (born in 1915), who is variously remembered as a statesman, a Nepali Congress leader and finally as the ‘commander’ of the joint front that led a movement with demand to end a 30-year ban on political parties, in early months of 1990.
The third epoch-making occurrence happened in another continent, Europe, exactly a year earlier. Berlin hit the headlines (not just within native Germany) reverberations of which swiftly spread across the world. Now Berlin is the capital city of unified Germany, but, as I saw it then, the situation there in late1989 was markedly different: there were two Germanies and two Berlins. And of the two Berlins, the east was East Germany’s capital, and the west a West German city surrounded by East Germany on all sides. It was like an enclave---a living legacy inherited in the aftermath of World War II.
In fact, the year 1989 was already heading to be a year of tumultuous happenings with far-reaching consequences: in June China was in the news because of Tiananmen incident and neighbouring Nepal was made to face a trade and transit blockade from its southern neighbour, India.
Back to Berlin of 9th November 1989. Shortly before midnight, elated by announcement to ease travel restrictions Berliners in the east instantly forced the border guards to open the gates and headed to west Berlin. It was an overwhelming scene as visitors---on foot and on Trabant cars---in their thousands made their way to the west where West Germans greeted them with open arms. In an unprecedented frenzy, young men and women climbed the wall on Brandenburg gate; some of whom used hammers and pickaxes to begin the symbolic demolition of the 3.6 metre high---and heavily fortified---wall that had ideologically and physically divided the city in August 1961. It was a 43-kilometre long wall.
The surge of visitors on that night---and on following day---appeared sudden but the circumstances for an exodus from the Communist-ruled East Germany to the west were already building. Even then, few had anticipated such a mass movement of people between two cities would be only a few weeks away. Authorities in West Berlin had earlier made arrangements to offer ‘welcome money’ of one hundred Deutsche Marks to each one of the East German visitors coming to see the West through the lights, affluence and freedom found in west Berlin.
The morning of 10th November turned out to be the dawn of an extraordinary day for everyone in the city. Foreigners present in West Berlin at that time included a small group attached to the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ). I was among the trainees in a special course designed to train the trainers. Understandably, IIJ instructors were a bit lenient to us on that day, and gave us some free time in the afternoon which we utilised to walk through crowded streets along Ku”rfustendamm, the main avenue, often stopping at cafes and at underground railway stations some of which were closed for years because the tracks ran under east Berlin territory. That the West Berlin wore a festive look was made visible by groups of jubilant youngsters celebrating the historic occasion. It was essentially first indication of ultimate German re-unification which actually took place a year later. In late afternoon, Chancellor Helmut Kohl flew to Berlin from Bonn, the capital of West Germany, and delivered a highly emotional speech.
Obviously, those were not the days of mobile phones fitted with camera; the latest communication technology making its way to the market came in the shape of a facsimile (fax) machine. Once we returned from the city tour, the IIJ staff informed me about a long-distance phone call from London! The second call came almost immediately, and the caller was Khagendra Nepali of the BBC. He asked me to relate to radio listeners in Nepal---and beyond---about the historic developments taking place in Berlin as well as their possible implications for the rest of Europe, especially for East Germany and other countries aligned to the Soviet-led bloc.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union did not do anything in retaliation which could be construed as intervention. In fact, when events were unfolding in Berlin, Moscow was asleep and Gorbachev’s aides did not bother to wake him up. When he was eventually given a morning briefing about the gates being opened, he reacted in these words: “They did the right thing.” In the opinion of Gorbachev’s biographer, William Taubman, the Soviet leader knew that the fall of the Berlin Wall was inevitable. After all, foundations of communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania had already been fatally shaken.
As expected, the fall of the Wall heralded the beginning of the end of Soviet empire. In other words, the era of Cold War entailing intense rivalry---both ideologically and economically--- between the two superpowers was coming to an end. And it did not take very long. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the phase of competition for superiority was effectively over. It had begun in 1947, shortly after the conclusion of the World War II. As a result of dissolution of Soviet Union, the United States became a sole superpower.
However, the prevailing political dynamisms have been shifting in intervening years with emergence of China as a formidable power---both economically and militarily. Today the world is watching how new power equations are being worked out, primarily to counter the strong position of the United States. China appears to have found it expedient to forge close relations with present-day Russia so that they can work together offering resistance to the West. The US, on the other hand, is seen making efforts to woo countries like India for keeping its global position unchallenged.
While the removal of wall separating Berlin helped reduce conflict situation in Europe three decades ago, the idea to erect a wall President Trump floated during election campaign of 2016 has potentials to increase US hostilities with Mexico, ultimately threatening the entire area of North America.

(Adhikary is a journalist active since 1978 and writes on regional issues. He can be reached at 

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