It was thanks to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

August 17, 2017 – 03:47 pm

People waiting to go through the checkpoint to East Berlin in 1965Sooner or later, of course, the Wall would have disappeared. “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this Wall, ” Ronald Reagan demanded in his speech in June 1987 in front of the sealed Brandenburg Gate. But no one listening that day could have dreamt that within two and a half years, precisely that would have happened.

Only 24 hours before the crossing points were opened on 9 November 1989, Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor, was in Poland, assuring Lech Walesa, the country’s first non-Communist leader, that it would be “many years” before Germany was reunited.

Kohl was spectacularly wrong. But the Wall’s demise did not happen in isolation – and least of all was it due to the urgings of a US President. It was the product of events that Gorbachev did not initiate, but which his domestic reforms accelerated to fatal speed, as perestroika and glasnost at home interacted with mounting restlessness in the Soviet Union’s European empire.

Just 20 years before, the iron grip on that empire seemed unshakeable, as Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was the high point of the “Brezhnev doctrine” that prescribed limited sovereignty for its satellites, and a duty to intervene in “fraternal solidarity”, should one of them veer off the socialist path.

So it was in Czechoslovakia, and so it was for any hopes of political liberalisation within the Soviet Union. Thereafter a decade passed with scant change. But in 1978, the unlikely persons of the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church helped set in motion the process that would lead to the fall of the Wall.

Poland, with a long history of enmity to Russia, and whose sense of nation was entwined with its Catholic heritage, was always seen by Moscow as the most potentially troublesome member of the Warsaw Pact. The election of Karol Wojtyla proved its fears were right.

By choosing a Polish pope, the Church gave new impetus to Polish nationalism, which John Paul II actively encouraged. His ecstatically received visit to his homeland in 1979 hastened the foundation in 1980 of the Solidarity movement, led by Walesa.

The crisis culminated in 1981 when Poland’s new leader Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law – but little did the world know that the Brezhnev doctrine was already dead. It was assumed Jaruzelski’s move was imposed by Moscow. In fact, by 1981, with the country bogged down by war in Afghanistan, the Kremlin had decided against an invasion.


Source: www.independent.co.uk


 

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