Germany honors Gorbachev for his crucial role in reunification

The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet reformer who facilitated the end of the cold war with his actions, has aroused genuine mourning and homage in Germany, for his decisive contribution to the non-violent fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and to German reunification a year later.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
31 August 2022 Wednesday 15:30
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Germany honors Gorbachev for his crucial role in reunification

The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet reformer who facilitated the end of the cold war with his actions, has aroused genuine mourning and homage in Germany, for his decisive contribution to the non-violent fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and to German reunification a year later.

"I bow to a great statesman," Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a condolence statement. “Germany remains linked to him out of gratitude for his decisive contribution to German unity, out of respect for his courage in democratic openness and in building bridges between East and West, and in memory of his great vision of a home common and peaceful Europe.

Gorbachev was the top leader of the USSR when key events for Germany occurred. “We will not forget that perestroika [restructuring] made it possible for Russia to attempt to establish a democracy, for democracy and freedom to be possible in Europe, for Germany to be unified, for the iron curtain to disappear,” the German chancellor said. Olaf Scholz.

"He has died at a time when not only democracy in Russia has failed," Scholz lamented, "but also when Russia and Russian President Putin are digging new graves in Europe and have started a terrible war against a neighboring country, Ukraine."

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel, born in Hamburg but raised in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), issued an emotional note of praise with historical and personal references. "He showed by her example how a single statesman can change the world for the better," the Christian Democrat wrote. Mikhail Gorbachev also fundamentally changed my life. I will never forget him."

Angela Merkel, 68, was 35 when the Berlin Wall fell. She lived and worked in East Berlin. "Today I can still feel the fear that I had with many people in the GDR, the fear that when we shouted 'We are the people' in 1989, the tanks would start moving again as in 1953", recalled the former chancellor in reference to the marches of East German citizens opposed to the communist regime, which took place under that slogan.

Indeed, in June 1953 Soviet tanks had rolled through the streets of the GDR to suppress a construction workers' strike that led to a general uprising against the government, an uprising that was crushed.

But none of that happened in 1989. Gorbachev did not intervene to prevent the fall of the Wall or the collapse of the GDR in the following months. “We had half a million men stationed there, armed to the teeth. The greatest concentration of weapons, well-trained military forces, tanks, nuclear weapons… –Gorbachev himself would explain in 2009 in an interview on Canadian television CBC picked up yesterday by the Reuters agency–. If we had given that order, it would have been a mistake, which could have led to a catastrophe, which could have ended in a third world war." In 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "peacefully ending the Cold War."

Without their courage, Merkel argued, "the peaceful revolution in the GDR would not have been possible." The former chancellor concluded: "Furthermore, he allowed a reunified Germany to become a member of NATO." The FRG (West Germany) had been since 1955, and although Gorbachev was in agreement with reunification, he ruled out at first that the new Germany would be a member of the Atlantic Alliance.

In the summer of 1990, Foreign Minister Helmut Kohl traveled to Moscow and the Caucasus to meet with Gorbachev, and the two ironed out the last rough edges. In September of that year, the 24 treaty was signed between the two Germanies and the four victorious powers of World War II (France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union) that allowed the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990.

At that time, in the satellite countries of the Soviet sphere, the awakening society and the emerging democratic parties and groups benefited from the fact that Gorbachev did not resort to violent repression. But that positive memory in Germany and much of Eastern Europe contrasts with that of the deceased leader in the Baltic countries, then part of the USSR and against which Gorbachev did send military force. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became independent at the beginning of 1991. Months later, on December 25 of that same year, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from the presidency of the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist that same day.

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