Publication: The Times

Full Citation

  • Title Victory for Democracy
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Saturday,  Nov. 11, 1989
  • Issue Number 63549
  • Page Number 11
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
VICTORY FOR DEMOCRACY The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain between East and West Germany were built to imprison the people of the Communist East within a tyrannical political system from which they had been fleeing in their thousands. The gates of this grim and brutal barrier have now been thrown open because the Communist system has broken down from the inside. . In these momentous days, for all the German people , their friends rejoice at their new freedom to move between the separated states of their divided land and at the prospect of an eventual reunion. The new challenges to be faced as a result of the most significant of all the recent great changes in Eastern Europe are no reason for ambivalence towards what has happened. This said, we must be clear about the past if the future is to be faced with care and confidence . Though the Iron Curtain did not drop across divided Germany until 1945 and the Berlin Wall was not built until 1961, an Iron Curtain between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe had existed since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It was then that the Soviet State first began to wage the cold war. That war was fought by Stalin and his successors in the misguided Marxist convic - tion that it was a fight against a capitalist system which was destined to perish. It was a struggle pursued by subversion and political sabotage, with hot war kept in reserve. The threat of social destabilization played a signif - icant part in the rise of Hitler in Germany. The defeat and collapse of the Nazi State were achieved by the great pragmatic alliance between Britain, the United States and Stalin's Russia, but in the final stages of the war the actions of the Western allies were heavily conditioned by President Roosevelt 's illusion that Stalin was now a friend who need not be feared and must not be offended. Roosevelt refused to believe that Stalin coveted wider territories, regarded Churchill rather than Russia as the instinctive imperialist, refused at Yalta to require international supervision of Polish elections , and even let it be known that American forces would leave Europe two years after the end of the war. He also refused to allow the Western forces to advance to Berlin. Disillusion came quickly. The Polish elec - tions were not free and Stalin absorbed the states of Eastern Europe in his Communist system . By grabbing territory too soon, he alarmed the Americans before they could think of withdrawing . Churchill had spoken of an Iron Curtain which had descended across Europe from Stettin to Trieste. What had actually-happened was that the Iron Curtain, which had previously protected Communism at the Soviet frontier, had been moved west - wards to protect its new "empire" and to divide Germany. Europe has survived in peace for the 44 years since then because of the speed with which Roosevelt 's successor , President Truman, grasped that Stalinism must be resisted, committing the United States to the defence of the free peoples of Europe. With the overthrow of democracy in Czechoslovakia, Stalin's blockade of Berlin and the Western airlift there could no longer be any doubts. Nato was formed in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union within its existing sphere of power and the Federal Republic was established in Western Germany. All attempts to break free on the other side of the Iron Curtain were crushed by Russian tanks. By firmness and restraint the West's defence of freedom has given time for the system inherited from Lenin and Stalin to test itself to political and economic destruction. It gave time too for an exceptional statesman , President Gorbachov , to come to power and accept the realities instead of resisting them. His acknowledgement of the need for reform and freedom in Russia has enabled Poland , Hungary and now East Germany to ask for the same. He has signalled to the East German State that Moscow will not intervene to help subdue the people of East Germany or to frustrate their wish for self-determination . It is only because of this that the system in East Germany has collapsed. Political logic now points to the evolution there of a-free democratic state with a properly elected government, and it is almost inconceiv - able that the East German people would not vote for reunification with West Germany in some form if the question were put to them. This is not something the West should fear. It has become something of a habit to speak of reunification as a threat/Thinking is easily swayed by memories of the two world wars. Yet Hitler's tyranny lasted a brief, though terrible , 12 years and the triumphalism of Bismarck's empire from 1870 to 1918 occupied a small span in the whole of German history. The Federal Republic was founded from the start in an affirmation of the individual's rights against the State. Although there is no cause to fear the union of the Germanies on intrinsic grounds, this is not to say that they should rush towards union. It may be true that if the ideological distinction between them goes, there is no logic in their separation . But there are strong and wider international reasons for proceeding with caution. At present the bulk of the armouries of Nato and the Warsaw Pact are concentrated in the two German states and the problems that would arise if there should be any precipitate moves towards a single state are great arid complex . East Germany should concentrate, with the support of the West, on building democracy. The Russians and the West, meanwhile , should begin to concert their own policies, but without haste, in preparation for reunification if and when it comes. It may be that some loose form of economic and social confederation between the two states of the German people might be a first stage , but the ultimate question for the superpowers is what the position of a reunited Germany might be in relation to the Federal Republic 's commitment to Nato, and how the Soviet Union will regard its own military involvement in East Germany. These present risks as well as opportunities. Above all, no attitudes should be struck that would of themselves undermine President Gorbachov. The forthcoming summit between him and President Bush could hardly be better timed . There is much to be thankful for, but 44 years — or, on a deeper reckoning , 72 years—of European history cannot without risk be thrown off quickly or without the most careful thought.