Fall of Berlin Wall amidst upheaval in all of Eastern Europe

Berlin Wall, photo: www.pohl-projekt.de

15 years ago, on November 9th 1989 the infamous Berlin Wall fell, bringing down a barrier that had held East Germans behind the Iron Curtain and the most potent symbol of divided Europe. The fall of the Wall was not just the end of the communist regime in East Germany but anticipated the political changes in the whole of Eastern and Central Europe.

On November 9th 1989 the East German regime succumbed to huge public pressure, and overnight, almost as if by accident, the Berlin Wall was opened. At the same time in Poland the communist government was seriously negotiating with the opposition movement Solidarity and the Hungarian Communist Party had already taken the road to democratic reform. But the Czechoslovak communist system did not seem to be willing to make any change. Jiri Dienstbier a former dissident who later became a foreign minister in the first post communist government says that dissidents realised that history was being made, and they got ready to act.

"We followed the development in all neighbouring countries. In East Germany, in Poland, in Hungary, and we knew that it is time to act now, that it is the end of at least the closed regime. We could not expect that it would fall so quickly and absolutely, but it at least it was time for us to move as quickly as possible to achieve what was achievable at this time."

According to Jiri Dienstbier the fall of the Berlin Wall is an important symbol of the end of communism in Eastern Europe, but the changes were already under way in many places at the same time.

"In Poland it was after round tables, and then Poland had the first post Communist government with the Prime Minister Mazowiecki. Adam Michnik published his daily Gazeta Wyborcza. The situation in Hungary was different; it was the Communist Foreign Minister of Hungary Gyula Horn who opened boundaries for East Germans to Austria. So there were many events which we could now see as symbolic, but it was a big process inside the whole Soviet colonial system."