The fall of the Berlin Wall: the influence of the USSR and an echo in the fate of Vladimir Putin

The fall of the Berlin Wall through the eyes of Mr Putin

American experts on how the events of 30 years ago are seen from a historical distance

There are very few historical moments that are perceived years later as unequivocally as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even the most radical populists in Europe, opposed to the European Union and global economic ties, do not question the positive nature of the event that changed the European continent 30 years ago..

The fall of the Berlin Wall is also considered important by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the days when the unification of the two Germans into a single state began, KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Putin, as he himself later says in his interview book “From the First Person”, was disappointed that no one in Moscow had read his reports from Dresden, because there were busy with their intrigues.

Later, Vladimir Putin referred in many interviews to the fall of the Berlin Wall as something that was supposed to unite, but, in his opinion, did not unite Europe. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild in January 2016, Putin said that “the Berlin Wall fell, but the division of Europe was not overcome, the invisible walls were simply moved to the east.” But, one way or another, the life of a KGB officer who served in the GDR was changed by this event – like the life of the entire European continent..

Professor at the School of International Affairs at George Washington University Hope Harrison (Hope M. Harrison) landed at West Berlin Airport on November 10, 1989 to work on her book on building the Berlin Wall. When she boarded a plane in New York on November 9, she did not know that she was flying straight into history..

In an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, Hope Harrison says that the Soviet leadership of that time did not really have a hand on the pulse of events in Germany: “Moscow did not control the course of events in Germany at all, and we remember what Gorbachev said – that, unlike previous Soviet leaders, he did not intend to interfere in the affairs of his allies in Eastern and Central Europe. He made it very clear that he was critical of the long-time leader of the GDR, Erik Honecker, and that reforms should also take place in Germany ”.

“Honecker was ousted from power in October, and Gorbachev hoped that Germany would become more stable and reformed, while remaining a socialist country. But when the Wall fell, Moscow had nothing to do with it – because, in fact, all this happened due to an error (secretary of the SED Central Committee for information, Gunther Schabowski, who announced on November 9 that the free departure of people from the GDR is possible “immediately “- D.G.). Nobody was and could not be ready for this “- is sure Hope Harrison, who published her second book in 2019 -” After the Berlin Wall: Memory and Creation of a New Germany from 1989 to the Present “.

According to Harrison, when late in the evening on November 9, 1989, the passage of people from East Berlin to West Berlin was opened, the new leader of the GDR, Secretary General of the Socialist United Party of Germany, Egon Krenz, called the Kremlin to inform him about this, but “the operator told him that now in Moscow is deep in the night, and he will not connect him with anyone “.

“In Moscow, they simply slept through the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the next day Gorbachev was somewhat upset and worried. He spoke to Krenz, but he was definitely not trying to turn things around, send tanks or soldiers – he just expressed the hope that the situation would not get out of control. But it was no longer possible to keep all this “under control”. So by December, the conversation about organizing the 2 + 4 format had already begun, and Gorbachev, together with Thatcher and Mitterrand, were seriously worried about how the unification process would go, and even tried to make it all go slower, ”says Hope Harrison.

Wilson Center Washington expert and ex-diplomat William Hill (William H. Hill) worked for Voice of America in 1989, and now shares his memories of how he learned about what was happening in Berlin: “I was then head of the European department of Voice of America, and, as often happened, on November 9 stayed up late in the office at work. I had the TV turned on, luckily, on NBC, and I saw the channel’s correspondent Tom Brokaw stand in front of the Berlin Wall, on which people climbed, live. It was an outstanding event that none of us expected “.

“I was preparing to live my whole life during the Cold War, and everything that happened in the summer and autumn of 1989 was completely unexpected. When a round table was held in Poland, as a result of which everything changed there, when Hungary and Czechoslovakia opened their borders so that Germans leaving the GDR could travel to Austria, then everything just fell apart – I remember how I celebrated Veterans Day, and they called me from the Bulgarian the Voice of America service say that Todor Zhivkov has been suspended, and so on. The wall, built in 1961, was a symbol of a divided Europe, and when it fell it was spectacular. And ordinary people on the streets did it, ”recalls William Hill.

According to the ex-diplomat who twice headed the OSCE Mission to Moldova, 1989 and 1990 were a time of great hopes: “Then, for example, the representatives of the United States and the USSR, Secretary of State James Baker and Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, worked together to develop a reaction from the Security Council UN to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in connection with his aggression against Kuwait. The main thing then was the feeling that the conflict between us is over, and we can work together “.

The fall of the Berlin Wall: the influence of the USSR and an echo in the fate of Vladimir Putin

William Hill also recalled the story of how in the winter of 1989, in Dresden, Vladimir Putin, in uniform and with weapons, went out of the KGB mansion into the street to warn the demonstrators that he would not allow them to enter the building: “There is an important detail in Putin’s life connected with his stay in Germany – precisely because he served there, he was not in Russia during the beginning of glasnost and perestroika and missed these changes. And when he returned to Leningrad, he had a terrible job, and I know this firsthand, because years earlier I had come across at Leningrad State University with his predecessor in the same position as overseer of foreigners. He, of course, pulled out his trump card, having got to Sobchak, but in general, Putin missed the entire period of political renewal and the beginning of political dialogue in Russia “.

According to the ex-diplomat, it is quite possible that this was what later influenced the formation of Putin as a politician..

If we talk about why in Europe the joy of the fall of the Berlin Wall was replaced by speculations about the need to build new walls, then William Hill is sure that in fact it is too early to be upset: “The processes in Hungary and Poland are now somewhat different than 30 years ago , but if you look at the election results, you can see that the societies there are divided approximately in the middle, and it is not clear where they will turn further in their development. I believe that life in Central Europe as a whole is much better 30 years after the fall of the Wall. Some countries are more disappointing than others, but I’m generally happy with the ratio. “.

“Events teach us that the story never ends, and if you stop working to make it develop in the direction you like, then others will come and turn it in the direction you may not like. The events that took place in 1989 led to the fact that the world as a whole has become much better ”- William Hill is convinced.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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