Walls abound



It is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event was historic. It triggered, if not shaped, several developments in the two decades since. It inspired dozens of popular movements. The roughly 140-km-long concrete and steel wall closed off West Berlin from East Germany. But it was more than a physical barrier. It symbolised the Cold War and all the suspicion and hatred it stood for. The fall of the Wall, therefore, did more than ease the way for East Germans wanting to travel to the West; it paved the way for the reunification of the two Germanys and more importantly, it set in motion a series of events that resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union and brought to an end the Cold War. The fall of the Wall was perceived as emblematic of the triumph of capitalism over communism. It gave a giant boost to the spread of capitalism.

While the role of the Wall’s fall in encouraging democratic struggles the world over must be celebrated, its part in the rise of unrestrained capitalism calls for a sober rethink. The collapse of great banks and financial houses, and the ensuing economic turmoil in the last couple of years indicates that the triumph of capitalism marked by the fall of the Wall lasted less than 20 years.

Western leaders who have assembled at Berlin to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall have been patting themselves on the back for their role in ‘liberating’ East Germans and the Communist world. But their rhetoric regarding their respect for rights and freedoms rings hollow. Since 2003, Israel has been constructing a concrete and steel barrier around the West Bank — in fact it runs into Palestinian territory — in brazen violation of UN resolutions. This is a wall that is far more oppressive than the one at Berlin. Still, the West, which so determinedly backed the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, has done little to bring down the West Bank wall. On Monday, even as the world was preoccupied with celebrations at Berlin, dozens of Palestinians assembled at the wall near Ramallah and broke down a small segment. The international community must come out to support them as they did 20 years ago in Berlin. The rights of Palestinians are as important as were those of the East Germans.

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