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FTN: The significance of the fall of Berlin Wall

Nov 10, 2009 08:19 AM IST India India

Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and with it came apart the decades old war between communism and capitalism. Needless to add, it was capitalism that had won on the fateful day as the two Germanys united to be one, once again. Face The Nation debated: 20 years after fall of Berlin Wall: Is the triumph of capitalism a good thing?

On the panel of experts to discuss the issue were Member of Parliament and National Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) D Raja, Economist Gurcharan Das and senior journalist and author - also a presenter on BBC, Nik Gowing.

At the start of the show, 70 per cent of those who voted in said yes, the triumph of capitalism a good thing, while the other 30 per cent disagreed.

Collapse of Wall, end of Cold war

The fall of the Berlin Wall signified the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and was followed by the collapse of Communism in Soviet Union in 1991. The Wall that separated two cultures but one people was brought down in a peaceful and bloodless way. The Wall had been a product of the post World War II scenario. The four zones of occupation had decided Germany's fate. The area under three allies - French, British and American occupation was West Germany and the area under Communist USSR was East Germany.

The Wall erected in 1961 had come to signify the separation between the slower economic pace of the Communist-ruled Germany and the great strides that the Capitalist West Germany had made.

The casual comments of former East German official Guenter Schabowski about the proposed ending of restrictions on travel from East to West Berlin are widely thought to have led to the fall of the wall.

Former Soviet Union premier Gorbachev's spearheading reforms in his own country is also credited for creating an atmosphere conducive to the re-unification of Germany on November 9, 1989 when thousands flocked to the Berlin Wall and razed down the structure that signified economic stagnation to the people.

Nik Gowing was in Berlin at the time, covering East Germany. He spoke about the electrified atmosphere that night in Berlin.

"Remember, when you woke up on November the ninth, you didn't expect that the Berlin Wall would be (brought) down that night. You saw there that image of Member of East German Politburo, Guenter Schabowski and I was in the Media Centre in East Berlin that night. He had a piece of paper which instructed him to make an announcement that the Berlin Wall would be opened and that members the East German public could one day go through. But it all took off and got out of control. Literally, within minutes, people were trying to get through from the East into the West."
Nik Gowing said that in his various interactions with world leaders and people who have lived through change of regimes from Communist to Capitalistic, he sensed a feeling of enormous relief. It was a relief of being allowed political pluralism and at the lack of the yoke of central control.

Though capitalism may have its perils and shortfalls, no one had expressed any repentance for the switch over.

But Gowing also said it was inevitable as he had witnessed Gorbachev haranguing the East German leader that all this (Communism and closed economy) in East Germany had to end.

He narrated how he had feared that the coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down could well be his last. After all, the atmosphere was charged and thousands had died in the past two decades, merely trying to go past the wall.

East German security people found no one giving them any orders and in a matter of minutes and hours, the Wall was torn.

Nik Gowing said that after covering Eastern Europe for nine years till that day, he could sense that this was the end of Communism there as no one was giving orders.

capitalism vs Communism debate

Here were people who voted out Communism by an act of popular will, by a people's movement.

But D Raja said, "I do not agree with your statement that people brought down Communism. They brought down the Wall. What should have happened at some time in history just took place. It does not mean capitalism triumphed or Communism ended."

D Raja did not agree that the bringing down of the Wall was in any way the signal that capitalism had won or that Socialism had failed and had no future. capitalism will have to be negated and will be negated at some point of time, Raja said.

"It is a struggle between the theory of capitalism and theory of Socialism. What happened in Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe is the failure of a particular model of Socialism. That does not mean Socialism had failed or that it does not have any future," Raja said.

Economic Crisis and capitalism's problems

Has the euphoria over capitalism that ruled the Berlin Wall's collapse died down now as the world faces economic downturn and other Capitalist demons?
"No, I do not think so," said Gurcharan Das.

"I think what you had at that time when the Berlin Wall fell was not just the triumph of capitalism, but the triumph of sanity and what human beings considered natural," said Das.

With thousands of years since the beginning of surplus and of exchanging goods, capitalism is the natural way of life according to Das. He felt that Communism was the wrong and un-natural one of the two types of governance.

According to Das, the economic downturn was not a crisis of capitalism.

"It just shows human beings are flawed and you will need enlightened regulation that will not kill the animal spirit. Basically, this is the only way. What Marx's way showed that human egos will not shrink that far and therefore let us not try to re-engineer human beings. Let's live like human beings," Das said.

Westward bound for money?

Gowing said that the people crossing over into West Germany at that time were doing so for the freedom.

"The Left party is still well supported there. There are many (from the older generation from East Germany) who feel a sense of fear about the openness. I have to say, I could challenge you on this bit on capitalism. This is about political pluralism. And this is not just about East Germany," Gowing added.

"There is no wall and they can choose where they can live, but many East Germans still live in East Germany and still have a very nice life. Many in Poland have a very nice life. But in Bulgaria for example, it is still an extraordinarily corrupt nation. But corruption existed within Communism too," he said.

He mentioned the example of how wealth has trickled down in the economies that switched from Socialist structure to Capitalist structure. Countries like Czech Republic and Slovakia many Volkswagen cars are made. Mobile phones are being made in countries like Romania and Bulgaria.

"All of this has been a cascade down of the economic system and in many, many people have benefited in a way none of them could have conceived of twenty years ago," said Gowing.

"Let me put it clearly. capitalism, as a system, has been proven to be inhuman, parasitic and brutal. I agree Democracy and socialism have to be understood in correct perspective," Raja said.
"In fact Marx spoke about the complete liberation of mankind from all kinds of exploitation and enslavement," D Raja added, saying capitalism is a temporary and transient stage.

Gurcharan Das said it is true that free market economies where there is no political pluralism, the people reject the system. Gowing spoke about the petrifying experiences while going through even Customs in countries under centralised controlled nations.

It was the hardliner Communist chief of KGB who realised that change had to be ushered in to help Russia and Communism to survive. But in they end, they did not, observed Gowing.

Communism may have gone out from Russia (then the USSR) but a form of Socialism rooted in Russian culture still exists, he said.

"Communism may have gone, but it has been replaced by something else, which is not full political pluralism. But there is capitalism. Russians are extremely good at capitalism," insisted Nik Gowing.

Final results of the SMS poll: 20 years after fall of Berlin Wall: Is the triumph of capitalism a good thing?

Yes: 71 per cent

No: 29 per cent