November 9, 2019

Where did all the time go? Thirty years ago this week the Berlin Wall fell. Then Soviet chairman Mikhail Gorbachev freed the Baltic states and allowed divided Germany to reunite. It was a geopolitical earthquake of historic proportions – and a major miracle of our times.

The once mighty Soviet Union had become exhausted by its long military/economic/political struggle to keep up with the much wealthier United States and its rich allies. Moscow had 40,000 tanks, but its economic infrastructure, crippled by Marxist ideology, was an empty shell.

A senior KGB general in Moscow told me that, a decade earlier, the renowned Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov had warned the Politburo that failure by Soviet industry to account for deprecation to modernize and replace outdated equipment would provoke a major crisis by 1990. This is exactly what happened.

By 1990, Soviet industry was broken down, outdated or rusted away. The Kremlin could no longer maintain the Soviet welfare state with its free medicine and education, long holidays, vacation spas, early pensions and unaffordable military spending. Arms alone may have accounted for over 40% of Moscow’s budget.

The Soviet Empire came crashing down after a revolt by East Germans, followed by Baltic peoples and central Europeans. Secretary Gorbachev, an idealistic leader of high ethics, refused to use the Red Army to crush the rebellion.

KGB, fed up with decrepit Communist misrule, abandoned the Party and moved to take control. East Germany broke free of Moscow and joyously reunited with West Germany, altering Europe’s balance of power to the displeasure of Britain and France, Germany’s historic rivals.

According to the Russians, Moscow made oral agreements with Washington, London and Paris that, in exchange for allowing Germany to reunite and then join NATO, the Western powers vowed NOT to extend the alliance into the former Communist states. They agreed to a neutral buffer zone across Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

The West lied. Precisely the opposite occurred. NATO, led by its sponsor, the US, moved relentlessly east, using its economic and political clout to dominate Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland (they were delighted), the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania and the wreckage of former Yugoslavia. New NATO bases in Romania and Bulgaria gave the US-run alliance much greater access to the Mideast.

The Georgian government, led by Gorbachev’s foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, a key player in dismantling Communism, was ousted in a CIA-led ‘color revolution.’

Protests by bankrupt Russia over NATO’s intrusion into Eastern Europe were scornfully dismissed by the West with ‘well, you don’t have anything in writing to confirm your claims of a deal.’

True enough, in the confusion of ‘fin de regime’ Moscow and its Russian diplomats failed to get signed treaties. `We trusted the Western powers,’ came their pathetic reply. Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies were looting Moscow of its military technology and bribing the corrupt government. At times, Russia felt like an occupied nation.

The US poured vast sums of money into Russia to shore up its pro-US oligarchs and robber barons, corrupting everyone in their path. A bunch of drunken former Communist Party bigwigs attempted a clownish coup, only to be blocked by the KGB and military. Another serious drunk, Boris Yeltsin, was helped into power on a route paved with US $100 bills by the West. It was Russia’s darkest hour.

KGB finally seized power by outing Yeltsin and installing one of its brightest officers, Vladimir Putin. He quickly began rebuilding Russia and cleaning Moscow’s Augean Stables. Germany achieved another miracle by its successful reunification with former East Germany.

I walked through the deserted main building of East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the abandoned HQ of the quarter million-strong Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. Files were strewn on the floors; sheets of paper marked ‘Top Secret’ blew about. It was spooky and miraculous.

I was reminded of poet Shelley’s great poem Ozymandias:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Copyright Eric S. Margolis Nov 2019

This post is in: Germany

4 Responses to “MIRACLE IN BERLIN”

  1. Eastern Rebellion says:

    I recently heard the head of NATO state that in fact there was no agreement (unwritten or otherwise) between the West and the former Soviet Union about NATO expansion eastwards. He also said that it was not up to the US and Russia to make that decision, and that only the countries who are part of NATO had the authority as a group to make that decision. The former east bloc nations wanted to join NATO because, with very good reason, they did not trust Russia. In fact, the Russia of today is in a much more assertive position than it was after the collapse of communism, and as the people of Ukraine will tell you, is still very much accustomed to the use of force to impose its will.

  2. peter mcloughlin says:

    NATO’s “victory” in the Cold War marked the end of the peace. The period 1945-1991 was a post-world environment; we are now in a pre-world war environment. The West’s expansion east shows an ignorance of what part of the cycle of war we’re in. Although it could be argued logically, if the expansion had not taken place, Russia would have bounced back, eventually refilling the vacuum left by the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Warsaw Pact. Sometimes logic can be dangerous: it has set NATO on course for war with Russia, now without any buffer zone, and therefore viewing itself under existential threat. Russia, which survived the USSR, now views that survival as in danger. It is the prospect of defeat that will cause a leader to press the button: that’s the fall-back position of nuclear deterrence doctrine.

  3. Just one clarification and a comment. West Germany joined NATO in May 1955, long before its reunification with East Germany in 1990. When the two independent German republics reunited, West Germany’s membership in NATO automatically extended to eastern Germany, too. As welcome as German reunification was to many (though not all) in the West, things have not worked out all that well for many in the former East Germany. To this day, people in Germany refer to the “former East Berlin” and the “former East Germany”, and apart from East Berlin (where a number of new hotels and restaurants have set up shop since 1990) and a few other bigger cities, much of the eastern part of Germany has not really flourished. Most of its old industries were shut down after reunification and high unemployment persisted in the old East Germany for many years after that. And despite trillions of German marks and euros being poured into the former East Germany to upgrade its infrastructure and provide full pension benefits to the older people there, many in the eastern part of the country (mostly people who are over 50) do not feel that they have been fully integrated into the united Germany. While almost everyone understands there can be no turning back to the old days of Communist rule, there is a certain nostalgia for a time when there was a somewhat greater sense of community pre-1990 than there is today. Perhaps that results from the shared economic hardship that the vast majority of East German people had to endure under Communist rule. But even to this day, many German politicians speak of the need to fully unite the country, which indicates they recognize that reunification hasn’t gone as well as was anticipated back in 1990.

  4. I really like the poem… one of my favourites.
    The only thing to add to this excellent article is that Gorbachev received the Nobel prize in 1990. Well deserved.

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