|Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate, Nov. 8|
Yesterday I blogged about my memory of the day twenty-five years ago exactly that the Berlin Wall came down. In that reminiscence was a casual observation that the world I live in today is little interested in that event. Whether that’s the case, or whether I simply am not checking the best sources of information, always of course possible when you wonder why the world isn’t paying attention to your issues, it’s inevitable that when the world moves on, it forgets.
Since yesterday I’ve continued to read around on the internet to find others marking this anniversary, and I am getting a fuller picture of how the event is being covered. The BBC has been replaying lots of its coverage of the day and the days that followed, particularly the next forty-eight hours, placing emphasis on just how dramatic those events were, and just how much courage it took to make them transpire. Pastor Führer (could there possibly be a more unfortunate name for any German to bear?) of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig is claiming (or others are making the claim for him) that none of the events leading to the fall of the wall would have taken place if it had not been for the prayer service in his church. People poured out into the street after a service a week before the fall to protest, joining other protestors already there, and it became clear that something was happening in the DDR that no one could ignore any more.
Everybody now gets to lay out his or her own interpretation of events. If you want to make the church look good, or demonstrate that God was behind it all, you will say this prayer meeting in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche was the spark that started it all. Others will claim this event, important as it was, needs to be seen in a larger context.
My idea of a hero of the entire event, if you’re looking for one, is Mikhail Gorbachev. Erich Honecker was, from all reports, ready to follow the lead of the Chinese in Tienanmen Square and simply wipe out resistance with guns. But Gorbachev showed up and pulled the plug. This is too big for you to stop, he told Honecker, and Honecker backed down.
I am not alone in my admiration for Gorbachev and the role he played in the fall of the wall. Gorbachev had a place of honor at the celebration last night as Berlin celebrated. Cynics will tell me my willingness to smile at the man’s name is misplaced. The Soviet Union was tottering at the time and the West Germans promised him 3 billion marks of credit and 12 billion more in actual cash to get his troops out of East Germany within the next five years.
OK, so he’s not a one-man band who made all the good things happen. I still think he deserves recognition for doing just the right thing at just the right moment. In a trigger-happy world, people who say no to violence, for whatever reason, should be recognized.
Now Gorbachev is playing another role. He’s warning the West that its triumphalism is helping bring the world back to a new Cold War. Whether he’s right, and we would do well to go easier on Putin and show some sympathy for Russia’s fear of losing its buffer states to the NATO powers, is a topic I am not equipped to handle. Ditto whether the wall is coming down between the Koreas, and whether Pyongyang’s recent moves suggest something is afoot there. (Is the U.S. promising billions to Kim the way the West Germans promised billions to Gorbachev?)
Heady issues all. And I don’t want to become part of the commentariat who blog and bloviate their way through history, adding little or no understanding to complex issues.
I just want to say, at the moment, that I’m feeling a kind of affection for old Mr. G. I may eat my words in a month or a year, but that’s where I am at the moment.
picture credit of Gorbachev at the Berlin Wall two days ago