Monday, November 09, 2009

20 Years since the Berlin Wall came down? Really?

I think the resounding thing I feel from the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down (as predicted by my friend, the author of Cicero's Songs, when I first knew him in 1985, by the way)is old.

Some of you may know that my husband is a few years older than me. What I studied in History at school had been Modern Studies for him. I kind of feel a bit like that with things like tonight's commemoration of an event which counts as History for my daughter. It surely can't possibly be two decades since we saw those huge, jubilant, crowds smash up the barrier that had brutally and ruthlessly divided a country, a city and many, many families and friends for 28 years.

We watched the events of 9th November 1989 unfold from our digs in a small Nottinghamshire village. We'd moved down only a few weeks before and it was a huge change for us. It was like moving to another planet for us. Everything was so different, the accents, the way of life, the roads were so much busier. For the first time in our lives, we were living away from the coast which was really hard for me at least, to get used to. It was quite a shock to our systems.

That modest change in our lives took quite a lot of adjustment, but it was nothing compared to the difference the tumultuous events in Berlin made both there and across Europe as the Iron Curtain was ripped down, melted and turned into coke cans. I know what we went through - what on earth it must have been like for the people in both East and West Germany I can barely imagine.

After the initial euphoria of the wall coming down came the sometimes painful and expensive process of reuniting Germany. There and across Eastern Europe, it came as a much bigger culture shock than we'd ever experienced for people who'd lived most or all of their lives under stifling Communist rule to become citizens in a democracy.

The officials of the state had to learn that they had to treat people with decency, fairness and respect and not just dictate to them as before.

In the aftermath of all of this, our own Shirley Williams set up something called Project Liberty, an organisation which helped train government officials in being accountable to parliament and the people instead of an all powerful Communist Party. She talks in her recently published autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves (a book well worth a read if ever there was one) about how Project Liberty helped with the process of privatisation. Under the Communists everything was state owned and Project Liberty advised on the transition to private ownership and the importance of setting up appropriate safety nets for people. Under Communist rule, everyone had jobs, but that would not continue under the new capitalist economies so they had to set up a structure that helped those people. It's typical of Shirley to want to use her expertise in Government to help in this way to try to help build fair and open systems of Government and her involvement in this is one of the reasons she's my all-time political hero.

Those amazing events of 20 years ago led to huge change across all of Europe and gave hope that even huge totalitarian monolithic repressive regimes could come to an end.

That change means that the maps of Europe my daughter grows up with are so very different from those when I was her age. Then a huge swathe of Eastern Europe was coloured in pink with just four letters, USSR, on it. Where I grew up with West and East Germany, she only knows Germany.

It really doesn't seem like 20 years ago, though........


real estate Vancouver BC said...

I remember the 9th November 20 years ago. I was sitting in front of TV here in Vancouver and couldn't believe what was happening. It seems like yesterday. I'll never forget the feeling I had. It was hope that the world can change to something better. However, the situation few years after that was not so optimistic like on 9th November. The economy was in much worse situation than had been expected and some friends from Germany told me that the differences remain even nowadays. Well, everything has its cost. But we must hope.

Best regards,

Roland Hulme said...

"Those amazing events of 20 years ago led to huge change across all of Europe and gave hope that even huge totalitarian monolithic repressive regimes could come to an end."

Yes, I too am in hope that one day, the totalitarian monolithic repressive regime known as 'The European Union' will come, if not come to an end, to at least embrace the principles of 'accountability' and 'democracy.'

But I might be waiting a while.

This summer, when I was back at my parent's house in Europe, we opened up the atlas my father had bought in the 1950s (it's an utterly beautiful book, with topographic maps and gorgeous artwork.) It was simply astonishing just how much our world had changed - and how much it had stayed the same. The map of Europe's been practically redrawn, whereas the United States has remained resolutely fixed.

When I was a teenager, it's hard to believe I visited countries that don't even exist any more!

Will said...

Actually being in school while all this change was happening was a weird experience. I was still in Primary School when the USSR collapsed and that was at the time when we were learning a lot more about all the countries on the map. Except the damn map kept changing! We were just about getting used to one Germany, but the USSR becoming fifteen republics was harder to work out. Then factor in the Velvet Divorce and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

It was a strange time to be learning about the world, just as it was changing beyond what the teachers recognised.


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