How Did the Fall of the Berlin Wall Effect the World?
The Berlin Wall was more than just a barrier, and a physical division of East and West Berlin. It was a symbolic boundary between communism and capitalism. Its fall in 1989 was joyously celebrated by the free world but why was this? How did the fall of the Berlin Wall actually affect the rest of the World?
Let’s go over the background:
At the end of Second World War, Germany had been divided into four zones controlled by the USA, France, Great Britain and the former Soviet Union. This was the result of the Postdam agreement. Subsequent to this the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West deteriorated and the world would find itself in the Cold War. West Germany would become a thriving capitalist and democratic state whilst East Germany communist. The issue with Berlin was that it was situated in the Soviet Zone as a result of the Postdam agreement; however it was still split into four controlled zones. Thus there was a democratic and prosperous economy within the Soviet controlled area which one could liken to an Island.
There were a vivid difference in living standards between East and West Berliners. West Berlin’s economy was labelled an “economic miracle” thanks to the support it received from the West. This was in stark contrast to the East part of Berlin which the Soviets had little interest in developing and human freedoms were restricted. Furthermore the culture of control created by the Stasi (East German Secret Police) had produced paranoia and neighbours, close friends, were manipulated to inform on one another.
By 1950 many East Berliners were fed up of this restricted way of living. They were aware that West Berliners could travel unmolested. The rapid growth of West Berlin afforded them the ability to buy appliances and build comfortable homes. With West Berlin being so close many would simply abandon the East for West. The result was a mass exodus of skilled labour to the West. This was an issue for the Soviets and it was thought that the Soviets would use military force to take West Berlin.
The Solution for them was to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. The initial “Wall” was remarkably installed over the night of August 12’th and comprised of large concrete pillars and miles of barbed wire. The telephone wires were even severed. This had a massive impact on East Berliners living standards. Many would commute for East to West to take employment with better remuneration. The "Wall" stopped that.
The Berlin Wall itself stretched over 100 miles and was upgraded several times to become more effective at stopping people scaling it. It ran round the parameter of West Berlin making it an oasis of sorts. Such was the initiative of desperate East Berliners the Wall was upgraded and resourced with manned towers, an inner wall and an electrical fence.
In the mid to late 1980’s the Soviet’s strangle hold on Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia was weakening. East Germans who wanted to leave could easily escape through other borders where communism was faltering. On the 9’th of November 1989, thanks to strong Western pressure, there was an announcement stating the permanent relocation could be arranged at any checkpoint along the East-West border. Many approached the “Wall” tentatively perhaps, after years of misery, not fully believing this was true. A mass of people congregated on both sides and chipped away at the “Wall” with hammers, small tools and East and West Berliners greeted one another to celebrate. Germany was officially reunited on the 3’rd of October 1990.
How did it effect the world?
There was complete reform of politics in East Germany. The Communists ceased to be such an influential party in Germany after reunification. East Germans could look forward to a better life. ”As the Wall came down, the Soviet power structure with its closed borders, economic oppressions and mind control started to fall” (Halligan, Telegraph, 14.09.15). Things, often taken for granted on the West, where now luxuries in the post-Soviet era. Individuals could now be self-employed, climb up the social ladder, travel and enjoy foreign media. However the good life was not going to be immediate. Most employment in the East was through state owned organisations and when, post reunification, they were privatised job losses followed. Unemployment increased and the West Germans were growing bitter about having their taxes increased to develop the former Eastern German economy. East Germans looked back through “rose tainted” lenses and pondered if life was better pre Berlin Wall falling. The Cold War provided a clear and present enemy, “the West’s enemy’s today are more numerous and far harder to identify” (Halligan).
Eastern Europe change dramatically post wall falling. Counties like Poland, who have now become an ally of the West, have established strong ties with the EU and NATO. In 2004 10 states joined the EU along with several former Soviet states; Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Cyprus. Also significantly, was the foundations laid for a common European Currency.
In the short term, the fall of the Wall has not been a prosperous as hoped. The collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 sparked a series of wars which included acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Across the region there are still simmering ethnic divisions. The newly constituted Russian Federation got its first democratically elected President in Boris Yeltsin who embarked upon swift market oriented reforms. In 1998, Russia defaulted on its debts and its economy crashed. The collapse of the Wall ripped through the fabric of Russian society who in 1998 saw a massive increase in corruption and organise crime (www.cfr.org).
To the broader world it symbolised the fall of communism in Europe. It was relief for America who had been taken to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. America would also have to reorganise as they would surely no longer need a military force of that magnitude post cold war. According to Stipes.com, 2003, United States service personal levels in Europe are less than a quarter compared to Cold War times. It left, at the time, America as the only Super power and allowed the US a “free hand” to spread democracy around the globe. Whether this was a positive or a negative will be debated long into the future.
In Africa it allowed the West to be more firm over Apartheid in South Africa as it was previously hampered with the belief that the National African Congress was a communist organisation. Nelson Mandela was released shortly after the Berlin Wall was pulled down. Other states in Africa, which had been supported by the Soviet Union and the West soon found that support removed and descended into civil war. Quintessential of that was Zaire, known now as Congo, who, under Mobutu Sese Seko, was supported by the West. Subsequent to reunification support was less forthcoming and Seko was deposed. This left a power vacuum that descended into conflict which killed many thousands of people.
There has been some other affects to reunification in Africa. For instance, those African states who, economically, were closer to the Soviets ideals, found themselves having to make closer economic ties with the West. This meant reform and benefited more the wealthier Africans. Those who had previously relied on state welfare, however modest that was, found that removed and thus became poorer.
The Night The Wall Came Down
The fall of the wall is undeniable a good thing. Particularly the peaceful way, in Germany, the transition came about should be applauded. Eastern European countries can look forward to growth. Freedom of movement will allow Eastern Europeans to relocate to Western Europe which in turn will help their aging demographics. The Cold War passed without nuclear war which would have had a cataclysmic on our way of life.
You can read about a film set behind the Iron Curtain
- A Masterpiece: The Lives of Others film review
Lives of Others is a wonderful film about a lonely Stasi agent