A few weeks ago, Berlin commemorated the fall of the infamous “Berliner Mauer” with a nine-mile line of 8,000 illuminated white helium balloons, sharing with the world remarkable pictures taken from the air. In Athens, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in cooperation with John Stuart Mill Research Group (JSM), Women for Liberty and the Students for Liberty-Greece organized an evening of consecutive discussions about the outcomes of this historic event and its implications for Germany and the rest of Europe.
The event entitled “25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Did freedom really prevail?” attracted more than 200 guests, most of them young people, who filled the Institute of International Relations (IDIS) located in the historic centre of the city. Aristides Hatzis, professor at the University of Athens and director of the JSM, gave the introductory remarks.
The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Matthias Makowski, Director of the Goethe Institute in Athens. A born West-German, he mentioned that life “in the other Germany” behind the iron curtain was far less promising, so when the wall was torn down it finally gave East Germans the opportunity to complete humanity’s long walk towards a liberal, democratic freedom after decades of longing for it.
The remarks of Dr. Makowski were followed by two panels with several high-ranking Greek academics; a retrospective one entitled “1961–1989–2014; Before and after the Wall”, while the second panel “After the fall: Socio-economic implications of European integration” focused on the long-term consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
All scholars agreed that the Fall of the Berlin Wall needs to be seen within the international framework of “détente” as well as with the domestic dynamics of democratic awakening in the GDR. Communism had failed to provide the people of East Germany with the political rights which already flourished in the Western part of Germany, and that regime could not prevent poverty either. From the first protests in Leipzig to the one million people event on Alexanderplatz, the message was common: Freedom from oppression!
However, the process and the consequences of Germany’s reunification were not “low-cost”, as many resources had to be transferred to the East to provide necessary infrastructure. The German governments in the decade 1990-2000 took bold measures and implemented crucial reforms in order to build a sustainable entity from both political and economic aspects.
“It is important to give young people an understanding of what overcoming socialism and the division of Germany really meant to the people in both German states”, Markus Kaiser, FNF’s program manager for Greece, concluded. “But what is even more important is to learn about the paradigm change towards freedom which resulted from the peaceful ‘German revolution’. I am thus thankful that the focus of this evening wasn’t put solely on an historic view, but also on the various accomplishments which we enjoy today and which could only be achieved due to the courage of countless oppressed people on the other side of the iron curtain.”