Publication: The Independent

Full Citation

  • Title The redundant symbol of the Berlin Wall
  • Author Crawshaw, Steve
  • Publication Title The Independent
  • Collection The Independent
  • Date Wednesday,  Nov. 8, 1989
  • Issue Number 961
  • Page Number 25
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library The Independent
  • Copyright Statement © Independent Print Limited.
The redundant symbol of the Berlin Wall Steve Crawshaw on the destruction of certainties in Eastern Europe THERE is only one certainty about East Europe today, that all certain? ties have been destroyed. The scepti? cism of even the East Europeans themselves ? who have been disap? pointed so many times over the years ? has gradually evaporated, as they realise that their region has slipped irrevocably out of the grasp of the old regimes which ruled unchallenged for four decades. The resignation yes? terday of the East German cabinet was just the latest indication of how the tables have finally been turned. In Poland and even in Hungary, the Communist Party perhaps hoped until recently that it could cling on to real power: within a few brief months, however, history has rudely pushed the rulers aside. And now, East Germany. A nation has stood up, as hundreds of thousands come out on the streets of Berlin, Leipzig, and other towns across the country. Western politicians, whqhad become used to knowing that the East-West basics would never change, are strug? gling for a response. President Rea? gan last year called for the Berlin Wall to come down. It was good rhet? oric ? but he said it confident that it could not happen in the foreseeable future. Now, however, the removal of the wall is not just a possibility: it is one of the few logical options left. Egon Krenz replaced Erich Honecker as Communist Party lead? er last month, and hastily began talk? ing about reform. But the demon? strators have made it clear that promises of limited change are no longer enough. Once the protesters realised that the rulers of the one- party state were on the run, they pressed home their advantage. Only three weeks ago, even the opposition leaders spoke only of vague "demo- cratisation". Now, free elections top the protesters' list of demands. The implications of the decision last Friday night to let all East Ger? mans leave via Czechoslovakia can hardly be overstated. It means that, to all intents and purposes, the wall is already down. One unfortunate East German was arrested when he tried to leave the traditional, danger? ous way directly across from his homeland to the West. But, in a kind of political laundering operation, any East German who sets foot on Czech- oslovak soil can now leave that way, after showing only his identity card. If the East German authorities have already conceded that much, they might as well go the whole way, and knock a real hole in the wall. The half-liberalised travel laws an? nounced this week satisfy nobody. Whichever leader takes a deep breath, and starts to knock the wall down will stand to reap immense po? litical gain, at home and abroad. The authorities' only other alter? native is to batten down again, to close the borders entirely ? a pros? pect which the continuing mass dem? onstrations make increasingly diffi? cult to sustain. It was, after all, the huge demonstrations which forced the East Germans to reopen the bor? der to Czechoslovakia last week. It seems likely that Mr Krenz's days are numbered. Just as he has jettisoned so many of his comrades in recent weeks in order to stay in power, so they will presumably seek to jettison him ? still saddled with his old reputation as a hardliner ? to keep the communist ship afloat. He may be replaced by someone like Hans Modrow, the partially reform? ist Dresden party leader whose name is, for the moment at least, the only one not greeted by protesters with catcalls and derision. But even Mr Modrow may not be able to offer much in the longer term. Popular aspirations for free elections can hardly be shut off again, like a tap ? not, at least, short of Tianan? men-style violence, which would pro? vide no answers at all, for the rulers or the ruled. It still hardly seems credible that the wall, the ultimate symbol of Eu? rope's post-war division, has simply become redundant overnight. But then, did a Solidarity government in Poland seem credible a year ago? Did Hungary's departure from the War? saw Pact, now openly discussed in Budapest, seem plausible? And, fi? nally, did anyone, inside or outside East Germany predict that a million people would be on the streets, de? manding immediate change, by the end of the year? The Soviet Union has declared what its chief spokesman, Gennady Gerasimov, calls the Sinatra Doc? trine ("Let them do it their way") ? an indication not that Moscow is keen to let East Europe go, but that it Believes it no longer has the ability to intervene militarily and still survive the growing unrest at home. Meanwhile, Nato strategists and Western politicians remain desper? ate not to confront the enormity of the changes. Free elections in the German Democratic Republic would, it is clear, imply some kind of reuni? fied Germany in the longer term: the East German leadership has always been explicit that it is the separate political system which gives the GDR its reason for being there. Equally, the prospect of a single Germany presents problems for European sta? bility, since it presupposes the final collapse of the existing blocs. But to seek to get rid of a problem by pre? tending that it does not exist is hardly a rational way forward. If Western politicians find it within themselves to deny that any nation has the right to free elections, then they ought per? haps to ask themselves just how se? lective that much-abused word "free? dom" is allowed to be.