The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 25th Anniversary

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Published on The National Security Archive, by Thomas Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya, Nov 9, 2014.

  • Documents show accident and contingency, anxiety in world capitals;
  • East German crowds led the way, with help from Communist fumbles, self-fulfilling TV coverage, Hungarian reformers, Czechoslovak pressure, and Gorbachev’s non-violence.

Washington, DC, November 9, 2014 – The iconic fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago today shocked international leaders from Washington to Moscow, London to Warsaw, as East German crowds took advantage of Communist Party fumbles to break down the Cold War’s most symbolic barrier, according to formerly secret documents from Soviet, German, U.S., Czechoslovak and Hungarian files posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (The National Security  

The historic events of the night of November 9, 1989 came about from accident and contingency, rather than conspiracy or strategy, according to the documents. Crowds of East Berliners, already conditioned by months of refugee flights to the West and weeks of peaceful mass protests in cities like Leipzig, seized on media reports of immediate changes in travel restrictions — based on a bumbled briefing by a Politburo member, Gunter Schabowski — and inundated the Wall’s checkpoints demanding passage. Television coverage of the first crossing that yielded to the self-fulfilling media prophecy then created a multiplier effect and more crowds came, ultimately to dance on the Wall.

The documents show that the actual collapse of the Wall began with Hungarian Communist reformers who proposed in early 1989 to open their borders to the West, while seeking particularly West German foreign investment to solve Hungary’s economic crisis. Hungarian Communist leaders checked in with Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1989, letting him know they planned to take down the barbed wire; and Gorbachev — true to his “common European home” rhetoric — responded only that “we have a strict regime on our borders, but we are also becoming more open.” (Document 1) The Hungarian decision sparked a stream and then a flood of East German refugees. (see photo: Abandoned East German Trabants line the streets of Prague) … //

… So unexpected was the Wall opening that Helmut Kohl himself was not even in the country. Instead, the West German chancellor had gone to Warsaw to meet the new Solidarity leaders of that country, and work out some long-standing Polish-German tensions. The transcript of Kohl’s discussions with Lech Walesa show the Polish leader complaining that events in East Germany were simply moving too fast, and even predicting, presciently, that the Wall would fall in a week or two — at which point Kohl would have no time (or money) for poor Poland (Document 8).

In Washington, the George H. W. Bush White House greeted the fall of the Wall not with joy or triumphalism (that would come much later, when the President was running for re-election in 1992), but anxiety and even fear about instability. When questioned by reporters why he did not show more elation, President Bush replied, “I am not an emotional kind of guy.” (Document 10)

Bush’s caution and prudence were appreciated in Moscow, where Gorbachev’s messages to Kohl centered on preventing chaos and reducing instability, keeping “others within limits that are adequate for the time being….” (Document 11)

But at Gorbachev’s side, his foreign policy adviser Anatoly Chernyaev in private let loose with one of the very few high-level expressions of real joy about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chernyaev’s diary entry for November 10, 1989 (Document 12) contains the coda for the demise of the Iron Curtain, “the end of Yalta” and the Stalinist system, and a good thing, about time, in Chernyaev’s remarkable view.

(full text, photos, documents 1 – 12, note, related links).

Related Links:

The Berlin Wall:

Other Links:

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… and this – uploaded by Pen Groves:

folk music on YouTube-search;

… und noch dies – Gekaufte Journalisten:

  • Video – Exklusiv: RT Interview mit Udo Ulfkotte über gekaufte Journalisten, 18.30 min, von RT Deutsch am 6. November 2014 hochgeladen: Udo Ulfkotte war 16 Jahre FAZ-Journalist und packt jetzt aus. Gegenüber RT berichtet er wie die CIA und andere US-Behörden Journalisten in allen großen deutschen Zeitungen kauften. Taucherausrüstung und Aufenthalte in 5-Sterne Hotels inklusive. Im Gegenzug wurde pro-amerikanische Berichterstattung gefordert und mediale Unterfütterung von US-Kriegsvorbereitungen. Das Interview wurde vom RT Deutsch-Reporter Nicolaj Gericke (@Nicolaj_Gericke) geführt;
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