Friday, November 13, 2009

Tear Down This Wall

There have been lots of reporting and discussions of the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall (on Nov. 9th, 1989). Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to surround the West Berlin and stop the escape of East German people from fleeing to the West. It was torn down 20 years ago that symbolized the collapse of Communism and end of the Cold War.

President Ronald Regan was a key figure in ending the cold war with Soviet Union. In his June 12 1987 historical speech at the Brandenburg Gate by the Berlin Wall, President Reagan openly challenged the supreme leader Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall as a symbol for increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc. He said: … We welcome change and openness [note: this is referring to Gorbachev’s new 1986 “glasnost” policy after he came to power]; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!...”

Berlin Wall was 103 miles long and 12 feet high, complete with guard towers, anti-vehicle trenches and bed of nails, etc. In the 28 years of its existence, it did serve its purpose and made it extremely difficult for East German to escape using this route. More than 100 people were killed while trying to cross it to the west. To some extent it was an accident and a result of miscommunication by government officials that on Nov 9th, instead of a later date, East German people demanded to cross the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall in such a mass that border soldiers weren’t able or dare to stop. Then people began to take down the wall, piece by piece.

The fall of Berlin Wall did not happen overnight. It wasn’t really due to any miraculous ideological conversion or armed rebellions by some. The reason was pure and simple – it is the well-being of the people. East Germany has had poor economic development under the Communist rule since end of WWII. The dissatisfication of its people reached the tipping point at late summer of 1989 that proved to be too much for any regime to bear.

Similar and parallel developments had taken places in other countries as well. Over 40 years of experimentation of communism in Russia, China, eastern Europe and so on had failed. Deng recognized it in China and began to reform in 1979; Gorbachev recognized it in Soviet Union and glasnost began in 1987. Poland’s Walesa recognized it and ignited the revolutions in 1989 of Central and Eastern Europe that reached East Germany in Nov, 1989. These leaders are now remembered in history as ones who contributed to the change for better. The hardliners who tried to hang onto their power, like East Germany’s Erich Honecker and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu stood on the wrong side of the history and are remembered as such.

Less than a year later, west and east Germany reunited to become one Germany. Ironically, British and French leaders Margret Thatcher and François Mitterrand were against it since they feared a unified Germany would change the power balance and British and French interests in Europe and the world.

The reunification of two Germanys of course offered a very interesting model for countries like the two Koreas and two Chinas - China and Taiwan. There are some parallels. For instance, they were all one unified country of same culture and ethnicity before end of WWII (yes, I am ignoring the colonization period and attempt by Japan). Japan and U.S. have not been that interested in seeing it happen for similar reasons that French and British did not want to see one unified Germany. There are some significant differences however. When the two Germanys reunited, the ratio of their GDP (PPP) per capita were about 2 to 1 while the ratio of their populations was about 4 to 1. In comparison, the ratio of two Koreas’ GDP (PPP) per capital is 15 to 1 and the ratio of populations is 2 to 1. The ratio of Taiwan’s and China’s GDP (PPP) per capital is about 4 to 1 while the population ratio is about 1 to 60. I can certainly see possible unification of China and Taiwan in another decade or so, if China continues to prosper and becomes a more open and free society.

Of course, there are still physical walls around the world and some are being built as we speak. To give you few examples, there is the Israeli West-Bank barrier of a target length of over 400 miles and the Mexico – United States barrier of a target length of 700 miles. When will these walls be torn down? That would be anyone’s guess.

Talk to you soon!

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