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Western Press Review: Commentators Remember Fall Of Wall

  • Don Hill

Prague, 9 November (RFE/RL) -- A flurry of Western commentary focuses on the fall of the Berlin Wall ten years ago today. Commentators reach a near consensus that the world still has walls to go and promises to keep.

NEW YORK TIMES: Freedom of thought has replaced the deadening conformity of a single ideology

The New York Times says in an editorial that the Wall was, the editorial's words "for 28 years the most powerful symbol of the Cold War, dividing not just Berlin and Germany and Europe but East from West."

The newspaper says that on balance, the effect of the Wall's fall has been positive. As the New York Times puts it: "Freedom of thought has replaced the deadening conformity of a single ideology. Oppressive five-year economic plans have given way to freer markets. The secret police and other devices of totalitarianism have largely disappeared."

But, says the editorial, the progress has been uneven. It cites this: "In Eastern Europe, for example, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- have prospered. Romania, Bulgaria and the components of the old Yugoslavia have fared less well. Most observers agree that the countries that bit the bullet first -- closing inefficient industries, reducing state subsidies -- have shown the best results. In political terms, the differences are less pronounced. Democracy, with multiple parties and free elections, has taken root nearly everywhere, though at varying speeds, with the former Yugoslavia being the most glaring exception."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Integration offers the best chance for the future pacification of the Balkans

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe, commentator George Melloan takes aim at the same "glaring exception." He writes this: "Neither Serbia nor Russia has evolved entirely out of the harsh authoritarianism practiced by their separate communist regimes of yesteryear."

Melloan writes that Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, despite reverses that would have brought down Caesar, remains entrenched. There's still a wall between East and West, the commentator suggests, and Western Europe needs to chip at it harder. As Melloan puts it: "One thing Europe should consider as it celebrates the anniversary of the liberation of its eastern half is that, even in devastated Serbia, there exists a latent wish to become a more integral part of Europe. Integration offers the best chance for the future pacification of the Balkans. The sooner Europe's leaders make that a high-priority project, the sooner they will be able truthfully to claim that the breaching of the Berlin Wall laid the groundwork for a truly united Europe."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is a victory for justice

Yesterday, one day before the fall of the Wall, Germany's highest appeals court handed down an affirmation of a six-year prison term for East Germany's last communist ruler, Egon Krenz, who had been convicted of manslaughter for ordering the Wall's guards to "shoot to kill" at those trying to escape. Krenz says he will appeal to the International Court of Justice. He claims that the verdict was politically motivated, and he cited the timing.

Not so, writes Herbert Prantl, commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. As Prantl puts it: "Egon Krenz must go to prison. Many will decry the verdict as unseemly triumphalism by the winner of the Cold War, but in truth it is a victory for justice." Prantl also writes this: "The verdict against Krenz and two other high-ranking officials in the former GDR regime, Guenter Schabowski and Guenther Kleiber, is a delayed victory over the violations of basic human rights which distinguished the regime in East Germany."

The commentator dismisses extra-judicial alternatives, such as a truth commission, a prompt amnesty -- which he says would be premature -- or a court finding that it lacked jurisdiction. Of the last, Prantl says, in his words: "Survivors of those shot trying to escape the GDR simply would not have accepted that."


Washington Post columnist Geneva Overholser, writing in the International Herald Tribune, says that independent policy organizations are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Wall's fall by debating who won the Cold War. She adds wryly (that is, with an ironic twist), in her words: "I am wondering when someone is going to tell the U.S. Congress and the president that the Cold War is over."

After communism collapsed, many people thought that there would be immense peace benefits, a restructuring of foreign policy, a movement toward multinational cooperation, Overholser says, but -- looking back -- such people were nafs. As the columnist puts it: "The new thinking failed to take into account how much some Americans, particularly some powerful ones, liked the Cold War. It was lucrative -- for many. It made foreign policy clear and simple -- having a big enemy does that. And it gave the folks in charge energy -- there's nothing like a nuclear arms race to focus the mind."

The writer concludes with this: "I wish the thinkers good luck in figuring out who won the Cold War, a tough and interesting question. The much tougher challenge, though, will be figuring out how we'll ever get over it here in Washington."

TIMES: The picture is still confused, but contains many hopeful landmarks

The Times of London says editorially, in the newspaper's words: "Demolition of Europe's most hated structure released a country from prison, and heralded the unstoppable liberation of vast stretches of the entire European continent from the suffocating cruelty of a bankrupt ideology and from tyrannical systems in which political controls were exerted for their own benefit by a corrupt, ruthless, privileged few."

The Times says: "Left to work out their own salvation, the new democracies have made a courageous fist of it."

The newspaper concludes, as follows: "The picture is still confused, but contains many hopeful landmarks. If EU politicians can only grasp that frontiers in Europe may have less meaning, but nationhood is a pride newly recovered and entitled to respect, the second decade after the Wall's fall could see dynamic, and increasingly stable, European nations make the most of the links and loyalties that historically have bound them."