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Collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Ideological conflict it defined

17/11/2014

I am a bit late on this but thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the Wall and the international relations which were shaped by the ideological conflict it symbolised.

The 9th of November was the 25th anniversary of an historic occasion. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic event signalling the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union and ending the ideological conflict which had shaped international relations since the conclusion of the second world war.

Soon after the Wall’s erection in 1961 it had become a powerful symbol of communist oppression juxtaposed as it was by western freedom and democracy. JFK’s “Ich bin ein berliner” speech strengthened this narrative when the charming young president captivated West Berliners and powerfully expressed the United States’ solidarity with the West Germans and Western ideals of capitalism, freedom and democracy.

[Interestingly Kennedy was accused of making a terrible German language gaffe when he said “Ich bin ein berliner” which some reports had translated as “I am a jelly doughnut”, I discussed this story with my hosts in Berlin recently who assured me (as corroborated by the following links) Kennedy’s German was most certainly on the mark].

Kennedy’s confidence was followed by the cautious detente pursued by both Nixon and Carter in their relations with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan’s bold condemnation of the “evil empire” as he took to calling the Soviets represented a drastic change in tone. Yet there was more to the Reagan presidency than cheap catchphrases and one liners about Soviet economic and political disconnect. The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev to the Kremlin presented a fresh opportunity to foster better relations between the two ideologically opposed super powers.

While Ronald Reagan was exhorting the general secretary to “tear down this wall” in probably his most powerful speech, during his second term of office he also struck up a friendship with Gorbachev and worked hard to forge a better path forward for Russia and the United States.

It is hard to say whether it was the appointment to general secretary (Mikhail Gorbachev) of a committed socialist who desired reform not revolution of the system, Reagan’s bombastic announcements matched with personal diplomacy, a combination of the two, economic factors or military overreach but something changed in the 1980s which made the collapse of the Soviet Union much more likely.

The Brandenburg gate where Reagan gave his speech in 1985 is now a major tourist destination and a short bus ride from Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse which serves as a focal point of an entire tourist industry devoted to cold war curiosity, fascination and in some cases apparent nostalgia. Germany today is possibly more integrated than ever, not just the country itself but also through political connections in Europe and international trade ties. This connectedness is borne out by the European Union’s continued popular support in the country.

In my next post I will share some of the more interesting stories I have come across relating to the milestone.

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