Twenty-three years ago, two countries in Europe decided to stitch up decades of a divisive past and reunite. It was on October 3, 1990 that East Germany and West Germany put behind the animosity of the Cold War and came together once again. The reunited Germany with Berlin as its capital not only marked an epoch in history but also provided a milestone in the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. As East and West Germany fought over a deep ideological rift symbolised by the Berlin Wall, which came down in November 1989, and the Iron Curtain, which ultimately gave way, millions in the East suffered under the yoke of Communism that stifled freedom, crushed rights and made a mockery of human existence. Yesterday under the stewardship of Angela Merkel, the nation celebrated Reunification Day with Stuttgart being the hub of festivities. The third-time Chancellor, called one of the most powerful women in the world, was seen signing autographs in the company of President Joachim Gauck and Baden-Wuerttemberg Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann.
The country today stands tall in the world. While the West battles a debilitating economic crisis perpetrated by careless fiscal planning and spiralling bank debts, Germany has moved ahead with sound fiscal discipline and a strong economy. Known as the ‘sick man’ of Europe in the early 2000s, the German prowess in research, technology and education leapfrogged it to the big league.
It was on June 12, 1987 that the then US president Ronald Reagan in a historic speech before the Berlin Wall, called on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” The charismatic leader referred to graffiti he had come across on the wall which said it will come down one day. And so it happened, just after two years.
Living under the shadow of the Soviet Union for decades, people of the East grew accustomed to hardships and crisis. There was shortage of food, unemployment, and lack of opportunities for personal growth. Freedom and liberty were dirty words. Those who tried to defect to the West were either shot dead or brutally tortured in prisons notorious for their conditions. While people in the East suffered, those in the West could lead a free and relatively prosperous life. What happened then to the state of development and people’s liberty can be compared to today’s Russia vis-à-vis the former Soviet bloc countries. Russians are not free, the rulers are authoritarian and more citizens are leaving the country by the day. However, the east European countries, which lived under Soviet suzerainty for long, have been able to get back on their feet with people leading a free and unshackled existence.
The lessons from the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall should never be forgotten. The contrast between the state of East and West Germany during the Cold War is the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. A united Germany knows it the best. It is Germans who truly deserve the celebrations•