‘And the Wall Came Tumbling Down’
“WHO would have believed it?” “I never thought I would see it in my lifetime!” What provoked these comments? The destruction of the infamous Berlin Wall and all that it represented, starting in November 1989.* East Berliners poured into West Berlin, some to taste the expensive delights of capitalism and others to reunite as families.
That breach in the dike opened up the floodgates. Many felt that Eastern Europe would never be the same again.
Cold War Ended?
Much more significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall has been the collapse of the ideological wall that separated East from West. Suddenly there is virtually no Cold War. As retired U.S. Army colonel David Hackworth wrote in Newsweek: “The cold war is over. Even the hard-line kill-a-Commie-for-Mommy haters now admit it’s over.”
According to the German paper Stuttgarter Zeitung, even NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), in a meeting held in London in July 1990, recognized the end of the Cold War. Under the title “Atlantic Alliance Says a Final Goodbye to Cold-War Era,” The German Tribune quotes the Stuttgart paper as saying: “After 41 years of confrontation [with the Soviet bloc nations] the 16 Nato leaders paved the way for a new strategy and bade the cold war era a last farewell. . . . Hostility was to be replaced by partnership. . . . Security and stability . . . were no longer to be ensured mainly by military means but by a policy of balance, dialogue and all-European cooperation.” The theater of peace-threatening conflict has now moved from Europe to the Middle East.
Democracy Has Its Price
Democracy, so-called free choice for the people, is the latest political fashion. And nearly everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. But there is a price to be paid. Warmer relations between the East and the West and its capitalistic democracy do not come cheaply. An editorial in Asiaweek commented: “The countries of what can no longer quite be called the Soviet bloc are in an economic mess . . . Democracy comes at a price. . . . Democracy has many virtues, but perfect stability is not one of them.” Who are paying the price for these changes to a freer, democratic society, as it is called?
Millions in Poland, eastern Germany, and elsewhere are discovering that the move from a centrally controlled economy to a free-market system initially brings with it unemployment and adversity. As industries try to streamline and become more competitive, redundancies set in. Other sectors of society are also seriously affected—the military and the armaments industry. How so?
As mutual fear and animosity dissipate between East and West, so the need for massive armies diminishes. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families will now have to adapt to civilian life and all its pressures. Defense budgets may be cut. Orders to armament factories may slow down, and the manufacturers may have to diversify. Workers may have to move to other areas and learn new skills.
This incredible and turbulent turnabout in Eastern Europe has created a fundamentally new international situation. How did all of this come about?
Crucial Words, Crucial Changes
Crucial to these changes has been the revised attitude of nonintervention displayed by the Soviet Union. In the past the specter of the Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) held reform forces in Eastern Europe in check. But Poland’s experience in the 1980’s with the challenge of the Solidarity movement and the nation’s gradual move to a more democratic regime showed that the previous Soviet policy of military intervention had changed. Poland’s experience indicated that cracks in the Communist monolith did exist and that peaceful, gradual change could be achieved, at a price. But what made all of this possible?
According to some political commentators, fundamental to all the changes in Eastern Europe has been the pragmatic policy of the leadership in the Soviet Union under the guidance of the president of the U.S.S.R., Mikhail Gorbachev. In February 1990 he stated: “The Soviet Communist Party initiated perestroika [restructuring of society] and generated its concept and policy. Profound revolutionary changes encompassing all spheres of life and all sections of the population have been launched on this basis in the country. . . . Rapid changes, unusual in scope and originality, are taking place within the framework of perestroika.”
As Asiaweek commented: “Today, despite some setbacks, [Gorbachev’s] campaigns for glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) have encouraged reformers in Hungary, Poland and throughout the Soviet Bloc.” These two crucial Russian words, glasnost and perestroika, have entered the world’s vocabulary since Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union in 1985. They have represented a new attitude toward government in the Communist world.
Political commentator Philippe Marcovici, writing in the conservative French journal Le Quotidien de Paris on the changes in Czechoslovakia, said that such had come about “thanks to Moscow, because one thing is clear: The Soviets did not just let it happen; they made sure that Czechoslovakia, like the other people’s democracies, would break out of the straitjacket in which it was bound. . . . In both Prague and East Berlin, mass demonstrations prompted change; people taking to the streets forced authorities to capitulate and leave.”
The consequence has been that, like a political Mount St. Helens’ exploding, democracy and independence burst out all over the Eastern European map in a matter of a few months—Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.
German Reunification—Blessing or Curse?
That is a question that many in Europe are now weighing. The two Germanys established monetary unity in July 1990 and achieved political unity in October. While this makes millions rejoice, it also makes many in Europe tremble. That includes some in eastern Germany who might have to give up their homes to former owners in western Germany. In spite of reservations expressed by some British leaders, one British newspaper headline stated: “We’ll Just Have to Trust the New-Born Germany.”
Having suffered terrible and costly invasions at the hands of Napoléon (1812) and Hitler (1941), the Soviet Union at the end of World War II wanted to guarantee its safety with a buffer zone in Eastern Europe. Thus, the Soviet bloc of eight Eastern European Communist countries was formed within a few years of 1945.* Now the Soviet Union feels less threatened by Germany or the United States, and her iron grip on the former satellites has loosened. It looks as if the Iron Curtain, proclaimed by Churchill in 1946, has melted, allowing new light to enter.
How These Changes Can Affect You
We have already noted some economic ramifications of these changes for many countries—new jobs, new settings, and new skills for some. For many others there will be unemployment and a struggle. That is a by-product of the philosophy of the free-market world—survival of the fittest.
On the other hand, the change toward democratization is allowing a freer movement of people. And that means international tourism. As other countries (Spain and Italy, for example) have discovered over the past 30 years, foreign tourism can make a big difference to a balance-of-payments problem for any government. Millions in the West are anxious to visit the historic cities of Eastern Europe, cities whose names evoke a bygone age of glory—Budapest, Prague, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Leipzig, to name a few. People also want to be able to visit freely Leningrad, Moscow, and Odessa. Likewise, people from Eastern Europe want to visit the West. Certainly, international tourism serves to break down some barriers of prejudice and ignorance. As many a tourist has discovered, sharing a beach with so-called former enemies can soon make animosities melt.
There is another aspect of the fallen Wall that attracts millions of people—the possibility of free association with their fellow religious believers in other nations. To what extent will this be possible? What changes in the religious field are taking place in Eastern Europe? The following article will consider these and other questions.
The Berlin Wall, 29 miles [47 km] long, separating East and West Berlin, was constructed by East Germany in 1961 to impede the exodus of refugees to the West.
The eight countries were Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, East Germany, Albania, and Yugoslavia.
[Map on page 5]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)