Berlin Wall festivities highlight new divide
Thursday 04 November 1999
There will be celebratory speeches at the Reichstag delivered by elder statesmen including Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush, and the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich will play again under the Brandenburg Gate.
Only the East Germans who toppled the Wall and buried communism under its ruins will be missing.
There is nothing to stop them from coming, of course. They are no longer forbidden from walking down the Unter den Linden, across the invisible boundary between the two halves of the united Germany, and gaping at the Reichstag's restored facade. As long as they don't say anything.
The order of festivities has been planned with Prussian precision. Wolfgang Thierse, parliament's president, has been given five minutes to open the proceedings. Then Mssrs Gorbachev and Bush, presidents 10 years ago of the two superpowers, will speak for 10 minutes each.
Helmut Kohl, the "Chancellor of German Unity", and Gerhard Schroder, Chancellor of Germany's most disunited government since the Weimar Republic, are allowed a full 20 minutes each to regale their audience with accounts of their respective roles.
Mr Kohl, as is well known, can speak fondly on this subject for many hours without interruption, as he has insisted on doing on numerous occasions during his long career.
Mr Schroder, on the other hand, might not wish to dwell on this particular episode. He was no fan of reunification, and was decidedly unenthusiastic about the events unfolding in Berlin 10 years ago.
How fortunate it is that Mr Thierse happens to be an East German.
He gets his five minutes of fame ex officio as a token Ossi, because none of his former compatriots has been invited. Thanks to Mr Thierse's contribution, the Eastern perspective of this drama, whose first act unfolded in the East with a cast of millions of East Germans, will not be entirely lost.
But still some East Germans are grumbling, as is their custom. Senior politicians of the new Lander have gone so far as to describe the planned festivities as a disgrace. Germany should not be commemorating the fall of the Wall "without a single speaker from the East", said Harald Ringstrorff, Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
The former dissidents who led the revolution, many of whom have since been consumed by it, are the most glaring omission. "It was human-rights activists who gave the people the courage to run to the border checkpoints," said Richard Schroder, a prominent former dissident. At least one of them should be allowed to speak, he urged.
Many West Germans are inclined to agree, with a Bavarian politician going as far as to say that the wrong Schroder had been invited. The government says, though, that it is now too late to change the programme.
Perhaps it is for the best. As things stand, the Reichstag jamboree will provide an authentic snap-shot of the current state of the nation: a country divided by its people's perception of what really happened 10 years ago.
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