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Panel commemorates fall of Berlin Wall

| Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies sponsored a faculty panel Tuesday in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies to discuss the significance of the events in 1989 in Eastern Europe and their importance to international affairs today.

The panel featured A. James McAdams, professor of international affairs and Director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies; David Cortright, associate director of programs and policy studies of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies; Sebastian Rosato, associate professor of political science and director of the Notre Dame International Security Program and Alicja Kusiak-Brownstein, adjunct professor of history.

McAdams began the panel, chronicling the history of the fall of the Wall and the suddenness with which it occurred.

“We can say that it [the wall] fell but in a way, what it did was open,” he said. “The border that had meant certain death if you tried to run across it in the past, that had meant certain imprisonment if you tried to smuggle your way through it in the past … that border ceased to exist.”

The fall of the Wall was met with joy but also confusion, McAdams said.

“What is so important to understand at this time is the way in which everyone was surprised, everyone was shocked,” he said. “No one had any idea what this meant.”

The political implications of the fall of the Wall also opened up a lot of questions as to what the next step was, McAdams said.

“The big question was what happens when the division between East and West, that was defined by the Berlin Wall, more than any other entity, what happens when that division is gone?” he said. “What happens when you suddenly have to deal with a reunified Germany?”

The fall of the Wall, Cortright said, cannot be traced to one single individual, institution or state.

“Whenever there’s a great success, it is said, success has many parents, while failure is orphaned,” Cortright said. “In this case, there are many claims to success. Margaret Thatcher says it was Ronald Reagan who won the Cold War; Reagan says it was Thatcher who won the Cold War.

“Even some East German communists thought it was their idea. Pope John Paul II played a big role, and Gorbachev definitely.”

However, the most important force in this kind of success is civil society, Cortright said.

“It’s inconceivable to think of the fall of the Wall or the dramatic transformations that took place in the late ’80s without understanding the role of civil society and the tremendous push that was created by the people in the street, protesting against the Communist regime,” he said.

Cortright said disarmament played a large role in ending the Cold War but not in the way that many would think. Rather, disarmament talks led to a more benign relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States.

“It was the transformation of the politic climate and the opening of the new political leadership in the Soviet Union, represented by Gorbachev, that really led to the end,” he said. “… It was not about the weapons, but the development of a political understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

Kusiak-Brownstein, who hails from Poland, shared personal accounts from both herself and her friends on the fall of the Wall.

“One friend said she was preparing for her finals in high school when her mother came in her room and said, ‘You’ll never believe it. The Berlin Wall has fallen.’ My friend answered, ‘It’s about time, isn’t it?’” she said.

Many of the people in Poland reacted in this way because Poland had already gone through a political transformation in the spring of 1989, Kusiak-Brownstein said.

“The fall of the Wall followed the first semi-free election in Poland, which resulted in overwhelming support for the opposition,” she said. “In spite of it, among young people, the spirit of euphoria was often mixed with anxiety.”

The consequences of the fall of the Wall were felt far beyond just Eastern Europe and still continue to reverberate today, Rosato said.

“The fall of the Wall led to a U.S. strategy of what can be called liberal primacy,” he said. “Primacy, because the United States was determined to remain the most powerful state in the world for as long as possible, which meant, at the time, basically preventing the return of Russia and Western Europe, especially Germany, becoming powerful.

“Liberal, because the United States wanted to spread liberal values all across the globe: democracy, free markets, etc. The reason for that is because one, it would make America safe and two, it was the right thing to do.”

The results of this strategy, however, have been a huge disappointment, Rosato said.

“This strategy of the US has three failures,” he said. “It guaranteed that the [European Union] would be a geopolitical nonentity; it threatened Russia by encircling it and seeking to destabilize it.

“Third, we not only threatened Russia, but antagonized Russia by extending NATO all the way up to its border and making it pretty clear that Russia is next.”

This strategy and its failures, stemming from the fall of the Wall, play a huge part in international politics today, demonstrating the far-reaching consequences and importance of the fall of the Wall, Rosato said.

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About Kayla Mullen

Kayla is a senior political science major and the Managing Editor of The Observer. She hails from Philadelphia, PA and was previously a resident of Howard Hall.

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