Cold War movie

Bringing barriers down helps on road to peace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am

There was no more powerful symbol of the cold war than the Berlin Wall. When it fell 20 years ago today, the euphoria and excitement of East Germans as they streamed to the West was shared by a world weary of mistrust, threats and propaganda. The momentum grew and, domino-like, iron-fisted communist rule was replaced across Eastern Europe by democracy and capitalism. But the optimism of those days now seems long ago; the global peace that had been so longed for did not eventuate and amid cynicism, doubt and fear, physical and ideological walls remain in place or are being built.

The Berlin Wall was breached by people eager to escape the shackles of communism. They would not have been able to make their break for freedom had it not been for Mikhail Gorbachev, then the president of the Soviet Union. His dogged pushing of reforms across the Soviet bloc meant that police and soldiers did not open fire on crowds as they had done in Berlin in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968; instead, they opened border gates.

Gorbachev's accepting of the reunification of Germany formally ended the Soviets' cold war with the US and its allies in October 1990. He realised that amid the momentum for change, a divided Germany could lead to regional instability. With the free movement of people and capital could come development. Only good could come from the bulldozing of the Berlin Wall.

The lesson has since been too often ignored. Barriers continue to divide the two Koreas, India and Pakistan and Greek and Turkish Cypriots. New divides are being built. Israel since 2002 has been constructing what it calls a security fence separating it from the Palestinian West Bank. Tension between China and the US could, if not managed carefully, evolve into another cold war.

Barriers, whether physical or otherwise, create instability. Bringing them down leads to peace and mutual benefit. Global issues, such as trade, the environment and crime can only be effectively tackled through partnerships that promote good neighbourliness. The world sorely needs more Gorbachevs.