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Opinion

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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As President Mitterrand said, Germany only became one country in 1870, and then it started wars. There is something in that which I still fear. When you get some of the Germans demonstrating against immigrants in rather terrible ways, then that fear all comes back.

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Now, I feel you facilitated the reunification. You could say it was inevitable. It wasn't. Political leaders are not there to accept reality. I think we are there to change inevitability – certainly into love of freedom. And you did move in the right direction morally.

In any event, now Germany is once again very powerful. Her national character is to dominate. Added to Germany, you now have Austria in Europe, making the German factor bigger.

President Mitterrand and I know. We have sat there at the table very often indeed. Germany will use her power. She will use the fact that she is the largest contributor to Europe to say, "Look, I put in more money than anyone else, and I must have my way on things which I want." I have heard it several times. And I have heard the smaller countries agree with Germany because they hoped to get certain subsidies. The German parliament would not ratify the Maastricht Treaty unless the central bank for a single currency was based there. What did the European Union say? Yes, you shall have it.

Now, that is flatly contrary to all my ideals. Some people say you have to anchor Germany into Europe to stop these features from coming out again. Well, you have not anchored Germany to Europe, but Europe to a newly dominant Germany. That is why I call it Germany Europe.

This flies in the face of the history of what has happened to empires in Europe in this century: They all collapsed. The German empire collapsed in war. The Austro-Hungary empire collapsed in war. The Turkish collapsed in war. That collapse of empire was followed by political collapse.

President Mitterrand and I speak up for political reasons. We brought our colonial territories up to independence with a rule of law. And so the French empire went, the British empire went, the Dutch empire went. So did the Belgian, the Spanish and the Portuguese. In their stead, you now have 187 nation states.

Later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Gorbachev: Yes, I, too, like Mrs. Thatcher, was thinking about the dangers associated with German unification. But I was acting at that time in full accord with my moral position and with my political analysis. And we did sign treaties that placed obligations on a unified Germany regarding the ground rules of international behavior and borders.

Like Mrs. Thatcher, I was also struck by the more recent events in certain parts of Germany where reactionary elements were provoking clashes between Germans and migrants.

And I must say that public opinion in our country, and public opinion as well as the government in Germany, responded in a very responsible way.

I went to Germany at the time of these events [the firebombing of the home of Turkish immigrants in 1992 ] and spoke to a group of 35,000 workers at Volkswagen factory. I told them that when the Soviet leadership had taken a positive decision on German unification we assumed that Germany had changed, that the German people were committed to democracy, that Germany would be cooperating with other nations and sharing the responsibility for the future of Europe, that the German people would not be provoked into clashes with migrants.

I must say that the workers responded with applause that could have made the roof fall in. I have this hope for Germany.

© 2009 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Distributed online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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