Reunification's ghosts haunt Berlin Wall feast
Wednesday 10 November 1999
After last week's row about East German dissidents overlooked by the organisers of the official events, it emerged yesterday that a former world leader who played a very distinct role in Germany's reunification had also been forgotten. "We were never officially approached by anybody to attend the ceremonies that are taking place in Berlin," a spokesman for Baroness Thatcher revealed yesterday.
The German parliament, which extended those old war horses Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush and Helmut Kohl the courtesy of its rostrum for a few minutes, had not been able to squeeze in the former British prime minister.
"She doesn't worry about these things," the spokesman insisted. In any case, Lady Thatcher is off to Prague next week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution".
There is no chance, of course, that Berlin will forget the Western leader who fought to prevent Germany from reuniting. Her role was briefly remembered by George Bush, who spoke of a nameless "friend" he had had to bring into line. For his efforts, Mr Bush received the freedom of Berlin this week. It is unlikely Lady Thatcher will be showered with a similar accolade any time soon.
The other illustrious stay-away is Egon Krenz, the East German leader who opened the Wall 10 years ago and is now on his way to prison for killings perpetrated on his orders before that moment of enlightenment. Krenz was no reform Communist, unlike Mr Gorbachev, who was feted yesterday as the returning hero.
But Mr Gorbachev clearly feels some affinity with fallen Communist leaders. He yesterday castigated Germans for the way they treat his erstwhile comrades. "There are some undercurrents in your life that I just do not understand," he told a stunned Reichstag. "I have in mind the relationship between the government and certain politicians of the former GDR. It's strange that right now they are sentencing those very people who 10 years ago made the decision to remove the Wall."
Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, in the same boat as Lady Thatcher in opposing German reunification 10 years ago, has evidently changed his opinion on this, as on so many other matters. Seeking to undo the PR disaster of the past week, he went so far as to credit East Germans for their revolution. "The Wall was not brought crashing to the ground in Washington, Bonn, or Moscow," he said. "It was the brave and fearless people in the east that made it crumble."
It was Mr Kohl who stole yesterday's show. He was on every television screen dwelling on his own role, charitably sharing credit with his friend Mikhail but with no one else. But the former German chancellor captured well the ironies of the anniversary. For as Germans were lighting lanterns to celebrate the demise of the Wall, Jewish groups were remembering Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Jewish property was torched by the Nazis. For this reason, 9 November can never become a German national day.
Mr Kohl drew a direct line from Germany's darker past to the joy of 10 years ago. "After the catastrophe of two world wars and the shameful acts committed in our name, we Germans were able to experience great happiness towards the end of the century," he said. "So let us grasp unification as a gift and opportunity for the future, and not dwell small- mindedly on all the difficulties and problems."
So they did not dwell on too many of the problems, the guest list made sure of that.
t The archive article published yesterday on the fall of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago entitled: "It has lost its meaning. It must be torn down" was erroneously credited to Neal Ascherson. In fact it was written by The Independent's former Bonn correspondent Patricia Clough
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