World leaders recall the fall of the Berlin Wall
Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, and Francois Mitterrand give their account of 1989.
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If Gorbachev had chosen to use force in those countries under Soviet sway, none could have resisted. But he made it known that he considered that option an historical blunder. The very moment that Gorbachev said to the president of the GDR (East Germany) that he did not intend to use force to solve the crisis, that this was a new day and a new deal, that was the end. This was when the big shift occurred. The fault line was not in Warsaw or Prague. It was in East Berlin.Skip to next paragraph
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So, the Communist leaders in Germany continued to be Communist leaders, but they no longer led anything. This was a truly popular, peaceful revolution against which they could do nothing. After that, it all broke down, leading to the transformation of Europe and to German unity.
Bush: When the Berlin Wall came down, we didn't know whether there were elements inside the Soviet Union that would say "enough is enough, we are not going to lose this crown jewel, and we already have troops stationed there."
In an interview at the time in the Oval Office, I was asked why I didn't share the emotion of the American people over the fall of the Berlin Wall. Leaders of the opposition in Congress were saying that I ought to go and get up on top of the Berlin Wall with all those students to show the world how we Americans felt.
I felt very emotional, but it was my view that this was not the time to stick our fingers in the eyes of Mikhail Gorbachev or the Soviet military. We were in favor of German unity early on and felt events were moving properly.
So, we didn't want to do something stupid, showing our emotion in a way that would compel elements in the Soviet Union to rise up against Gorbachev.
Gorbachev: We were not naive about what might happen. We understood that what was under way was a process of change in the civilization. We knew that when we pursued the principle of freedom of choice and non-interference in Eastern Europe that we also deprived the West from interfering, from injection themselves into the processes taking place there.
As for what was happening within the Soviet leadership at the time, I wouldn't have been able to launch the far-reaching process of reforms alone. There was a group of reformers around me in the very first months of being in office, and we set out to change personnel, including in the Politburo and in the provinces, and replace them with fresh forces. It was also at this time – in 1986 and 1987 – when I thought that we should expand the democratic process. If we didn't involve the citizens, the bureaucrats would eventually suppress all reforms. Without these changes, I would have met the fate of Khrushchev. Of course, it was not a smooth process.
Thatcher: Unlike George Bush, I was opposed to German unification from early on for the obvious reasons. To unify Germany would make her the dominant nation in the European community. They are powerful, and they are efficient. It would become a German Europe.
But unification was accomplished, really, very much without consulting the rest of Europe. We were always amazed that it happened. My generation, of course, remembers that we had two world wars against Germany, and that it was a very racist society in the second. Those things that took place in Germany could never happen in Britain.
I also thought it wrong that East Germany, whom, after all, we fought against, should be the first to come into the European Community, while Poland and Czechoslovakia, whom we went to war for, had to wait. They should have been free in 1945 but were kept under the Communist yoke until the collapse of the Soviet Union and, even now, are not sufficiently integrated into Europe and suffer from protectionism.