Monday, November 09, 2009

The Fall of the Berlin Wall - 20 Years Ago Today

Today is 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a remarkable day for the advance of human freedom and a day that marked the beginning of the collapse of communism throughout Europe and Russia.

The New York Times has a great round-up of articles about the fall of the wall. Pete Boettke shares his reflections. Here is Ronald Reagan's famous 'Tear Down This Wall' speech given at the wall in 1987. Richard Ebeling has a wonderful write-up remembering the Berlin Wall and what it symbolized:
On this 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should remember all that it represented as a symbol of tyranny under which the individual was marked with the label: property of the state. He not only was controlled in everything he did and publically said, but his every movement was watched, commanded or restricted.

Freedom in all its forms – to speak, write, associate, and worship as we want; to pursue any occupation, profession, or private enterprise that inclination and opportunity suggests to us; and to visit, live, and work were our dreams and desires lead us to look for a better life – are precious things.

The history of the Berlin Wall and the collectivist ideology behind it should remind us of how important a loss any of our freedom can be as we determine in what direction – toward greater individual freedom and private enterprise or more government command and control – we wish our country to move in the 21st century.
Read the whole thing.

Photo via The New York Times. Click on image for a larger view.

Tyler Cowen remember his visit to Berlin in 1985, four years before the wall fell:

I first visited Berlin in 1985, while traveling with Randall Kroszner. We drove to West Berlin by car and we were terrified for the few hours we were underway in East Germany. Randy did not drive over the speed limit once. I was hardly a communist sympathizer but still I was unprepared for the day trip to East Berlin. I saw soldiers goose-stepping down one of the main streets. In the stores old ladies yelled and swung their brooms at me. Many buildings still had bullet marks or bomb damage from World War II. In a restaurant we ate a rubber Wiener Schnitzel and shared a table with an East German family; they did not have enough trust in their government to speak a word to us. I was unable to spend my mandatory thirty-mark conversion on anything useful; I carried back some Stendahl and Goethe but didn't want the Lenin. This was in the capital city in the showcase of the communist world.

My biggest impression was simply that I had never seen evil before.

I had this feeling after coming back from Haiti in 1996, having seen true poverty for the first time in my life. I had a lesser, but similar feeling after going to Moldova in 2005, the only communist country still left in Europe. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and, while not as poor as Haiti, still had strong levels of oppression and corruption throughout the country. (But for the collapse of communism in the rest of Europe, I'm sure Moldova would have been much worse than it is today.) Both countries were sad reminders of what an incredible blessing it is to have been born in a part of the world that is free. It is a blessing I can take absolutely no credit for and hope never to take for granted.

I've only been to Berlin once, in 1999. While there, I saw a small remnant of the wall that was preserved for remembrance. Ten years after the fall, what once symbolized the oppression of millions had become a tourist attraction. Let's hope the rest of the tyranny in the world today faces a similar fate.

1 comment:

thinking said...

It really was a remarkable achievement, and one brought about largely by economic pressures and the economic differences between east and west. The rise of technology played a role as well.

I agree about the observations regarding the value of freedom, and in this country we're moving moreso in that direction.

Under the Bush administration, I remember many Republican pundits talking about how one may have to sacrifice some measure of individual liberty for collective security.

Then there's the shameful fact that the Bush administration employed torture techniques used by Soviet and East German communists, and to this day, most Republican political leaders have not repudiated that.