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Raj Kumar Makkad (Adv P & H High Court Chandigarh)     09 November 2009


On March 5, 1946, when Winston Churchill declared that "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent" few realised the import of his words. For more than half-a-century after that speech in the US, an 'Iron Curtain' divided the world in two blocs pitted against each other in what came to be known as the Cold War. The 'Iron Curtain' may have descended across Europe, but it separated countries across continents, forcing them to choose between the US-led Western Bloc or the USSR-led Eastern Bloc; some made a show of neutrality and hence was born the Non-Aligned Movement whose partiality, however, was never in doubt. Nor did anybody believe that the Soviet Empire, built on the foundation of Communism, would ever collapse. Till Moscow's hold began to waver and when it happened, the world was taken by surprise, as were the Soviet Republics and the USSR-backed regimes of eastern Europe. The autumn of 1989 — now referred to as 'Autumn of Nations' — witnessed the fall of ruthless Communist Governments like nine pins. First came the upheaval in Poland, followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania: People's power triumphed over Moscow's evil puppet regimes. But the event that shook the Soviet Empire and brought it tumbling down, leading to the USSR's demise and the end of the Cold War in 1991, was the fall of the Berlin Wall this day 20 years ago.

The Berlin Wall had come to symbolise the barrier between the 'free world' and the 'Communist world', a marker that constantly reminded people of those who were denied rights taken for granted in a democracy; it became a metaphor of the times. But it's not that the Berlin Wall came up as the 'Iron Curtain' descended across Europe; Berlin was divided at the end of World War II but the formal division of the city — really the spoils of the war — happened in 1961, and quite unexpectedly so. While there were fears that German Democratic Republic, as East Germany under Communist rule was ironically known, would raise a barrier to prevent people from migrating to West Berlin, Walter Ulbricht, the First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and GDR State Council chairman, had famously declared, "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!). Two months later, the wall came up.

And along with the Berlin Wall came a particularly tense period of the Cold War as both Moscow and Washington worked over-time to emerge as the sole superpower. The wall also spawned amazing legends of East Berliners braving 'death strips' and 'fakir beds' to escape to West Berlin; many, if not most, died in the process. The most popular legend attached to the Berlin Wall, of course, was that of Checkpoint Charlie where West and East would meet to swap spies. All that became history, along with the Berlin Wall, when it was brought down, literally block by block, with hammers and pick axes and whatever else Berliners could lay their hands on as East German guards who would earlier shoot at sight joined the milling crowds in a sudden surge of defiant rage on November 9, 1989. Berlin was united, so was Germany. And the world has never quite been the same again.



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