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Opinion: The day after the Wall fell

The fears of Germany and its neighbors in 1989 have largely been resolved by 2009.

 Jews, Turks and Other Minorities:

1989: Groups representing Jews and Turks were terrified at the sudden resurgence of the Far Right in West and East Germany after the wall fell. After the wall fell, deadly assaults and arson attacks on homes housing foreign workers — mostly Turkish in the West, a mix of Vietnamese, North Korean and Africans in the East — became weekly events. But Germany’s culpability for the Holocaust remained undiluted, and, if anything, the sweeping away of the East German government destroyed the dangerous lie that because East Germany was “communist,” its people were innocent of wartime crimes.

2009: The worst fears of Turks and Jews about reunification proved unfounded, and Germany today is one of the most liberal societies on earth. The new Merkel coalition will be slightly less amenable to Turkish EU membership, but is unlikely to block it. On Israel, Merkel is likely to feel freer to speak out about Mideast diplomacy since it was her former Social Democrat partners who tended to skew very pro-Palestinian. However, there is little to gain in that theater for a German leader, and beyond Germany’s efforts to talk Iran away from nuclear arms, the Mideast is likely to remain a place where Germans keep a low profile for decades to come. In the end, Germany has done more to own up to its wartime behavior than most nations, whether they were Allied or Axis, during World War II. The very fact that Germany is now reunited is testament to this fact.


1989: For China, the revolutions of Eastern Europe stood as a double lesson. Having just crushed its own native pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, the collapse of East Germany’s communist regime appeared to indicate to Chinese hardliners that the use of force had, after all, saved the People’s Republic. Yet by 1989, China already had built a significant momentum toward market capitalism, thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Even on many social issues, China compared favorably with the East German police state. The dual lesson, then, was to continue economic reforms as a way to defuse social anxiety, while cracking down hard on political dissent.

2009: By and large, the Communist Party of China still applies those same lessons. Recent unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang brought violent confrontation with the regime. Political dissidents, whether they protest atrocious environmental conditions, religious repression or the lack of democracy, are jailed and harassed. The regime in Beijing, meanwhile, has turned Deng’s “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics” into a full-blown global competitor to western-style liberal market capitalism. Gorbachev’s failure at restructuring — perestroika — in the Soviet Union and the USSR’s collapse provided additional evidence for China that adding political rights — glasnost — would be the kiss of death for a party trying to maintain a monopoly on political power. Presumably nothing China has seen from the former communist states of eastern Europe has convinced them otherwise.

Michael Moran was based in Germany for RFE/RL from April 1990-May 1993.