The Berlin Wall: 25 Years Later
Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (Sweden and Poland being later replaced by) Prussia, the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Russia have pressed and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground.
At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asia and MENA. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politico-militarily press onto peripheries, including the First and Second World Wars. Therefore, this new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma lasting from the 1814 Vienna congress up to Potsdam conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germany’s and Italy’s should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?
At the time of Vienna Congress, there were nearly a dozen of Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. The post-WWII Potsdam conference concluded with only three Germanophone and two Italophone states. Then, 25 years ago, we concluded that one of Germany’s was far too much to care to the future. Thus, it disappeared from the map overnight, and joined NATO and the EU – without any accession talks – instantly.
West of Berlin, the usual line of narrative claims that 9/11 was an event of the bad socio-economic model being taken over by the superior one – just an epilogue of pure ideological reckoning. Consequently – the narrative goes on – the West (German) taxpayers have taken the burden.
East of Berlin, people will remind you clearly that the German reunification was actually a unilateral takeover, an Anschluss, which has been paid by the bloody dissolutions affecting several waves of two of the three demolished multinational Slavic state communities. A process of brutal erosion that still goes on, as we see in Ukraine today.
Sacrificing the alternative society?
What are Berliners thinking about it? The country lost overnight which naturally triggers mixed feelings. In the case of DDR, the nostalgia turns into ostalgia (longing for the East). Prof. Brigitte Rauschenbach describes: “Ostalgia is more like unfocused melancholy.” Of the defeated one?! It is a “flight from reality for lack of an alternative, a combination of disappointment with the present and longing for the past.”
The first German ever in the outer space, a DDR cosmonaut, Sigmund Jähn is very forthcoming: “People in the East threw everything away without thinking…All they wanted was to join West Germany, though they knew nothing about it beyond its ads on television. It was easier to escape the pressures of bureaucracy than it is now to avoid the pressures of money.”
Indeed, at the time of Anschluss, DDR had 9.7 million jobs. 25 years later, they are still considerably below that number. Nowadays, it is a de-industrialized, demoralized and depopulated underworld of elderly. If the equality of outcome (income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunity a tangible reality offered the day after to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition? Wolfgang Herr, a journalist, claims: “The more you get to know capitalism the less inclined you are to wonder what was wrong with socialism.” Famously comparing the two systems 15 years later, one former East Berliner remarked: “Telling jokes about Honecker could lead to problems, but calling your foreman at work a fool was OK. Nowadays anyone can call Schröder names, but not their company’ supervisor, it brings your life into a serious trouble.”
The western leftists involved in the student uprisings of the late 1960s were idealistically counting on the DDR. When the wall fell, they thought it marked the start of the revolution. After sudden and confusing ‘reunification,’ they complained: ‘But why did you sacrifice the alternative society?’
They were not the only one caught by surprise. In the March 1990 elections, the eastern branch of Kohl’s Christian Democrat party, passionately for ‘reunification,’ won an easy majority, defeating the disorganized and dispersed civil rights activists who – in the absence of any other organized political form, since the Communist party was demonized and dismantled – advocated a separate, but democratic state on their own. The first post-‘reunification,’ pan-German elections were held in December 1990. “Our country no longer existed and nor did we,” Maxim Leo diagnosed. “The other peoples of Eastern Europe were able to keep their nation states, but not the East Germans. The DDR disappeared and advocates of Anschluss did their best to remove all trace of its existence.” Vincent Von Wroblewski, a philosopher, concludes on Anschluss: “By denying our past, they stole our dignity.”
The letzte Mensch or Übermensch?
In the peak of Atlantic hype of early 1990s, Fukuyama euphorically claimed end of history. Just two decades later, twisting in a sobriety of inevitable, he quietly moderated it with a future of history, desperately looking around and begging: ‘Where is a counter-narrative?” Was and will our history ever be on holiday?
100 years after the outbreak of the WWI and 25 years after the Berlin Wall came down, young generations of Europeans are being taught in schools about a singularity of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurfacing again.
Formerly in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya, Mali, Syria and Ukraine; Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, and while Eastern Europe is obediently bandwagoning, Russophone Europe is opposing. The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, punitive action. This time, both Libya and Syria (Iraq, Mali, Ukraine, too) have been given a different attachment. The factors are multiple and interpolated.
Let us start with a considerable presence of China in Africa. Then, there are successful pipeline deals between Russia and Germany which, while circumventing Eastern Europe, will deprive the East of any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose an effective joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. Finally, here is a relative decline of the US interests and capabilities, and to it related re-calibration of their European commitments, too. All of that combined, must have triggered alarm bells across Europe.
This is to understand that although seemingly unified Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties). Atlantic and Central Europe are confident and secure on the one end, while (the EU and non-EU) Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end are insecure. “America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself” – Robert Kagan famously claimed. Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Eurozone drama, MENA or the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europe’s.
Therefore, this year will be just another reminder: How have the winners repeatedly missed to take our mankind into completely other directions; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and greener humankind. Where is the better life that all of us have craved and hoped for, that we all deserve?