Around eight o’clock on November 8th, 1989, I stepped into a taxi at the Gare de Lyon in Paris carrying the first copies of a book I had written that included a plan for the reunification of Europe. I gave the driver my address, annoyed that he had the radio on. Suddenly, I heard the newscaster saying that the Berlin Wall had fallen! Before climbing up to my fifth floor flat, I bought a bottle of champagne at the corner store, and rang the bell of the French-German couple who were my neighbors. They were convinced that Germany was not about to become whole again. Exactly as I predicted, it would occurred less than a year later, on October 3, 1990.
The wall separating East from West Berlin symbolized the division of Europe that had existed since the end of World War II, when the Soviet Army liberated Berlin, after meeting American forces on the Elbe, and Germany was divided into four occupation zones, Russian, British, French and American. In the months following its fall, French President Francois Mitterand attempted in vain to delay the reunification of Germany, with which France had fought three wars in just over a century. During the years since, bolstered by Germany’s leading economy, one by one the countries of Eastern Europe have been integrated into what became the European Union in 1993.
It is shocking that France 24’s coverage of this historical event is asserting that it was a popular uprising that forced the East German government to order the wall dismantled down. Things actually never reached that point, although popular pressure had been building since the spring. It did come down by government order, but those who had been guarding it remained standing on top, peacefully watching the first bricks come down. I believe it was in April that I had seen on a newsreel what I called ‘kiss of death’ given by Michail Gorbachev when he visited the East German Communist leader, Erich Honecker. By August, the Soviet leader’s message was heard loud and clear in Hungary., where I had spent six years in the sixties. Quietly, it opened its border with Austria at a place called Heggyeshalom, that had been barred by what looked like a very thick log, intimidating to anyone traveling from east to west in a Fiat 600. As soon as word got out, East Germans vacationing at Hungary’s Lake Balaton, stuffed their belongings back into their cardboard suitcases and surged across to that neutral country between East and West, whose role as refuge for Communist dissidents was suddenly enlarged.
Actually, I first realized something momentous was in the works in the spring of 1984, year, when Gorbachev, tipped to become the new Soviet leader landed in London, where he was greeted on the tarmac by a visibly ecstatic Margaret Thatcher. But decisive change in Eastern Europe was still five years away The massive shipyard strike in Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa who founded the first real trade union behind the Iron Curtain, Solidarnosc, had been going on since 1981, but it was not until 1989 that it forced the head of government, Colonel Jaruzelski to step down, with elections finally held under his successor, Rakowski. By the end of November, the activities of Charter 77 led by the dissident Czech writer Vaclav Havel, culminated in a ‘Velvet Revolution which eventually made him President, in a turnabout worthy of another popular Czech writer Milan Kundera, who went on to have a long international career.
Fittingly, it is around this historic anniversary that French President Emanuel Macron chose to tell Europe that it had to finally get its act together and cease believing American warnings that Russia was a threat, requiring the continued presence of NATO — right up to Russia’s Western border, in defiance of President Ronald Reagan’s promise to Gorbachev that it would not move one inch beyond the Eastern border of a reunited Germany.
Until now, the forty-some Macron has worked in close cooperation with Germany’s four-term Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, as her health deteriorates and she names an unknown successor with a complicated name (Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer), Macron has fully asserted his leadership of Europe. Calling the EU ‘brain dead’ in an interview with the prestigious British weekly The Economist, he declared that Europe should no longer accept to be a future battleground between the US and Russia, but build its own defense system and seek closer relations with Moscow — the very thing that NATO was created to prevent.
Predictably, Merkel quietly stated her disagreement, however the time has past when Germany can single-handedly resuscitate Europe’s decades-long Trans-Atlantic tie. The thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will only truly mark Europe’s independence if it is free to entertain independent relations with both Russia and China. Not coincidentally, just before traveling to Beijing, Macron delivered a speech to France’s ambassadors declaring that the world has fundamentally changed, and that the two countries that the US considers as potential enemies share a more relevant view of the world than Europe’s seventy-year long master. The question remains: As they fight a rising far-right, will Europe’s leaders finally become adults?
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.