Fall of the Berlin Wall

  Tearing down the Berlin Wall

22 years ago today the Berlin Wall began to be physically torn down. It was a great day for freedom and the triumph of long years of nonviolent resistance throughout Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall had been constructed beginning on August 13, 1961 with barbed wire fence followed by a 100 mile wall and more than 300 watch towers to spot and shoot escapees and the East German communists called it the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.” Minefields were laid in some sectors.

The destruction of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 was not inevitable. It did not fall down. It was torn down.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

Both Luis Felipe Rojas and Yoani Sanchez in the midst of their identifying the walls of repression that exist in Cuba today are doing their part to ensure that the walls of repression built up in Cuba over the past half century are also torn down.

In Germany, this was not a passive top down process or the Berlin Wall falling as a result of gravity and inertia. It bears repeating that it was torn down by courageous Germans.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

Remember that between 1961 and the very year it was torn down at least 136 Germans were extrajudicially executed by the East German border guards just for trying to cross the Berlin Wall to freedom. There is The Berlin Wall Museum that offers a complete listing of the 136 known victims with details about them and their deaths.

Chris Gueffroy shot dead on February 5, 1989 at age 20 by East German guards while trying to cross the Berlin Wall

For example one of the last victims, Chris Gueffroy was born on June 21, 1968 and shot dead on February 5, 1989 trying to cross on the Britzer Zweigkanal, near the small garden colonies “Harmonie“ and “Sorgenfrei” on the sector border between Berlin-Treptow and Berlin-Neukölln. Dead at 20 years of age for the crime of wanting to live in freedom. A memorial column commemorating Chris Gueffroy was erected at Britzer Zweigkanal in Berlin-Treptow in 2003 in honor of his 35th birthday. A biography and account of the circumstances that led to his death and the aftermath are available online.

Memorial Column for Chris Gueffroy
As in Cuba today, the process of the Berlin Wall being torn down was both a struggle of ideas and of nonviolent action. Germans crossed the wall seeking freedom in an act of nonviolent defiance. Many escaped but many paid the ultimate price for freedom. The Order to Border Guards from the East German regime was clear:
“It is your duty to use your combat … skills in such a way as to overcome the cunning of the border breacher, to challenge or liquidate him in order to thwart the planned border breach… Don’t hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past.”

On June 14, 1973, Fidel Castro addressed the men charged with shooting East Germans fleeing to West Germany as “the courageous and self-denying border guards of the GDR People’s Army who stand guard in the front line of the entire-socialist community.” Later in the evening Premier Castro addressed the Nikolay Bezarin Barracks in East Berlin:

It is very important to know that the people of the GDR have great confidence in you, that they are truly proud of you. The comrades of the party and the citizens of socialist Berlin have told us with great satisfaction about the activity of the border troops, speaking with great admiration for you and for your services.

Some equate nonviolence with pacifism and they are profoundly mistaken. There is nothing passive and often times nothing peaceful about nonviolent resistance. It can be loud and boisterous or as in the case of the Berlin Wall the loud sound of tools smashing against an oppressive structure that denied the East German people the right to freedom of movement.

Those walls are present today in the Cuba of the Castro brothers but they are not only physical walls but also psychological walls. Human rights defenders like Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva of the Council of Human Rights Rapporters, bloggers like Yoani Sanchez and Luis Felipe Rojas, activists like Jorge Garcia Perez “Antunez”, Oscar Elias Biscet, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, and the Ladies in White “Laura Pollán, musicians like those that comprise the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo, graffiti artists like El Sexto and many more are working to tear down both sets of walls in Cuba.

The end of the Berlin Wall was not inevitable it was the product of the courage and sacrifice of many Eastern Europeans. The same holds true for Cuba. In the same manner that Europeans once did under the Iron Curtain, Cubans today are speaking, writing, spraying, singing, marching and protesting truth to power in Communist Cuba. They need the solidarity of people of good will from around the world to tear down the walls of repression that remain in Cuba to ensure that there is not another missed opportunity for a nonviolent transition to freedom.


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