Tag Archives: Ukraine

GERMAN REUNIFICATION – 25 YEARS AGO

WE’VE COME SO FAR – WE MUSTN’T TURN BACK

I am shaking off the stupor caused by house-related renovations to comment on a breath-taking event that took place 25 years ago. Throughout the spring and summer of 1989, the situation in the German Democratic Republic escalated. East German “tourists” went on holiday to Czechoslovakia and Hungary – just about the only places they were allowed to travel. But they did not return home. They ended up camping on the grounds of the German embassies in Prague, Budapest and even Vienna, while behind-the-scenes frantic diplomacy was deciding their fate.

Back in East Germany, while the powers-that-were were gearing up to celebrate the up-coming 40-year birthday of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in October, activists in Leipzig and Dresden and other eastern cities continued their weekly Monday Demonstrations. The meetings and marches were non-violent and centered around the Protestant Church, an institution just about tolerated by the government. Plenty of “unofficial” Stasi operatives took part, to be sure.

What did these people want anyway? Just everyday things really. Like being allowed to travel unhindered and not be walled in. Like the freedom to speak their minds without fear of arrest. Like not being spied on by neighbors and “friends” who had been enlisted for this purpose by the Stasi – the secret state security police. Just simple things really, things we in the West have always taken for granted.

Of course on the west side of the wall, West Germans watched expectantly, fearfully. There was no telling where it would all end. And from past experience, there was a good chance it would not end well. But bit by bit, the regime granted concessions. And then, almost by accident, on November 9th the wall opened. People turned up at various Berlin border crossings, demanding to be let through. East German border guards who were not able to get any clear orders from above, raised the barriers. Thank heavens, they had no desire to fire on their own.

And my husband and I watched this spectacle, wide-eyed and incredulous, from the comfort of our West German living room, along with most other “Wessis” (West Germans). From one day to the next, separated families could be reunited, ordinary “Ossis” (East Germans) could suddenly go where they pleased. And over the following months the road taken in Trabis and Wartburgs would lead to what became an inevitable destination: reunification.

Those were heady days, weeks and months. We became addicted to following the news reports on TV and radio, anxious to hear of the next unbelievable milestone in the journey to once again becoming one Volk. And 25 years later a generation has grown up that did not know the sorrow of a Germany rent in two by the post-World War II settlements. Those young people can’t imagine what it means not to be free.

And although the east of the country still lags behind economically, huge strides have been made, billions have been invested in infrastructure. BMW builds cars in Leipzig, VW in Dresden. Berlin is now, once again as it should be, the capital of the country. Both the Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Federal President, Joachim Gauck, hail from the east.

Of course, the fall of the inner-German border was just the beginning. Along with it, the entire Iron Curtain came crashing down and the Soviet Union dissolved. Voila, the end of the Cold War and the commencement of a new world order.

Unfortunately, black shadows loom overhead. Need I list the crises that dominate the news every night? The new world order has not brought world peace but new instability. One of the crises in particular seems to me to be so stoppable. That would be the Ukraine.

Why, dear Mr Putin, do you want to go backwards rather than forwards?
I wish he’d give us an answer.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Beginnings, Cities, Endings, German History, Remembering

The Warsaw Pact Takes on New Meaning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we were visiting Warsaw a week ago, I had no idea we were just missing Barak Obama’s arrival. After five days there, spent delving more deeply into the history of Poland in general and Warsaw in particular, I appreciate the President’s confirmation of the resolve of the US and NATO to defend, if necessary, Poland and the other former Soviet satellite states which are, indeed, now members of NATO. For the Ukraine crisis has certainly given the countries at our eastern outposts a mighty case of the jitters. And for good reason: Promises are one thing, carrying through can be quite another.

Warsaw is a city resurrected – by its own strength and resolve – from the ashes of World War II. Although under Soviet dictatorship, the citizens immediately started to rebuild their city, not a modern incarnation of it, but as it had been, as they had loved it before 1939.

Before / After

Before / After

After a visit to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which presented blow-by-blow the city’s last-ditch struggle to survive, I came away realizing that it wasn’t just the Germans and the Russians who raped Poland. In September 1939 when the country was invaded first from the west by the Germans and then from the east by the Russians, Poland’s allies – Great Britain and France – did not lift a finger. They were powerless; they could only let the invaders have their way.

With its low plains, Poland had always been an easy target for armies to march across. Napoleon certainly took advantage of that. And its geopolitical location between three greedy empires (Austro-Hungary, Russia and Germany) made it a tempting target. Thus in 1795 Poland became the tragic victim of its geography and topography. It was divided into pieces, like a cake, between Austria, Germany and Russia. Only at the end of the First World War did it reappear on the map as a sovereign nation.

In 1939 the German National Socialist regime was determined, once and for all, to quash Polish identity. One element of that was leveling Warsaw. In their perception, that would destroy their national identity. By 1945, 90% of Warsaw had been bombed and burned out. But they underestimated the will of the people to stay Polish, as evidenced by their final uprising in the summer of 1944. They went down but they went down fighting.

 Warsaw reborn_0002

Aerial view of a city devastated

 

During the war, the Polish government was in exile in London; Polish troops fought side-by-side with the British, French, Americans, Canadians and others. What remained of their airforce flew with the RAF. They fought bravely and believed when the war was won that they would get their country back.

At Yalta, a seaside town in then (and now once again!) Russian Crimea, in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin set the framework for the post-war political landscape of Europe. Poland was already occupied by Russia. The western allies, again, did not have enough strength to counter Stalin’s drive to secure his sphere of influence. Poland was left to Stalin. The rest is, obviously, history. My conclusion: Poland was f***ked, repeatedly, not only by her enemies but also by those she thought her friends.

Let’s hope and pray that the USA, within the scope of the NATO alliance, does in fact, this time, defend Poland and the other former Iron Curtain countries from Vladimir Putin’s latest version of Russian egomania and paranoia, should this become necessary. The rest of western Europe must move on from its tentative measures and show more backbone. For with one eye on 20th century history, it is easy to understand the nervous twitch from which Poland and her eastern neighbors are lately suffering.

4 Comments

Filed under Cities, Fiction and Other Truths, German History, Great Britain, Holocaust, Politics, Remembering

A WORLD GONE MAD

In the month since I abandoned my writing career for a job as painter, decorator and general housekeeper in a futile attempt to ameliorate the neglect I’ve lavished on my home for the last few years, it became perfectly clear to me why my writing career began so late. Instead of a head full of ideas that I longed to share with my readers, instead of rushing through pesky morning tasks to at long last reach my desk, my thoughts have been dominated by “to-do” lists, cataloging every little outstanding chore. And those lists just keep getting longer. Thinking back, it’s no wonder that during my years as a mother of three children, my brain was more than occupied with daily necessities related to soccer teams and school parent-teacher councils rather than novel plots.

Although the projects here are far from finished, I am determined to stretch my writing muscles this afternoon, lest they completely atrophy from disuse. For during my time-out, the world has not stood still.

  • Italy has a new government,
  • Germany has a new political scandal
  • and in Great Britain the temperature of the debates concerning Scottish independence is rising steadily.
  • Most astonishingly, the people of the Ukraine have succeeded in jettisoning their unloved president.

That’s a lot to cover in a blog post. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. Let’s start with Italy.

So the mayor of Florence turns up in Rome, uninvited and unelected, and tells Enrico Letta that he’s going to run the government now. In some such fashion that is how Matteo Renzi became the new Prime Minister of Italy. In Florence his record – and reputation – as mayor is controversial. Apparently he cared more about keeping the city cleaned up and safe for tourists than about the needs of the populace living there on a permanent basis (i.e. voters!). However, although he’s a center left politician, he has not been too easy on labor and its interests. Will he have the wherewithal to pull off the reforms necessary to turn the country around? I sure hope so. But of course, a cynical reaction would probably be more understandable. For so far, no one since World War II has emerged on the political scene with the power and gumption to clean up Italy’s Aegean Stables.

In Germany, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, Sebastian Edathy, laid down his mandate and left the country. Why not? Nothing wrong about that. Except evidence had  turned up showing Edathy had in the past purchased pornographic photos of children from a Canadian website. He, of course, denied the whole story. They aren’t porno, he claims, because the children aren’t posed in sexual acts. They are only naked. Uhhuh. So why did he quit and leave the country?

As if child porno wasn’t bad enough, the real scandal for Germany is that the then-minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Socialist), informed the top ranking SPD politicians – Gabriel, Steinmeier and Oppermann (now major players in the current CDU/SPD coalition government) about their fallen angel. Friedrich, who had become agricultural minister in the new government, was forced to step down and now faces charges of disclosing classified information that allowed Edathy to flee.  And the other three SPD grandees? I wonder who they informed…and what will happen to them…

Then there is Britain. And Scotland. In coming September the Scots will be going to the polls to decide if they want to stand on their own feet rather than be a part of the United Kingdom. The Scots leader, Alex Salmond, is a lovable kind of guy. However, he seems to live in a world of his own. And I don’t just mean Edinburgh. After David Cameron and the Bank of England had declared that if the Scots secede, they will NOT be allowed to continue using the pound Sterling as their currency, Salmond still happily insisted they will. It’s just posturing, surely. “Why wouldn’t they want to share their beloved pound with us?” he muses.

Oh yeah, the EU. If they declare their independence, Scotland will no longer be a member of the European Union. What? says Salmond, that’s absurd. But the leadership of the EU has raised its collective fingers in a no / nein. You will have to apply, just like any other country who would like to join. While the Scots in favor of independence believe that their dwindling supplies of North Sea oil will fuel their new status, the population north of Hadrian’s Wall would be well advised to make a reality check before taking what looks like a plunge into the deep end.

Of course, the most exciting – and scary – story in the news at present is Ukraine. Who of us doesn’t want to see these people freed from the yoke of tyranny as embodied in the persona of Viktor Yanukovich? The good news is that he’s gone – even if he also needs to do a reality check after hearing him say he is still the rightful president of the Ukraine. So much potential for the progression of the country to a democratic and prosperous nation is evident. But it has to happen first. The Orange Revolution didn’t bring the desired results. Will this one?

Located as it is, between Europe and Russia, it is an endangered species. How far is Putin willing to go to keep the Crimea under his power for the sake of his Black Sea Fleet? One hundred years ago when the First World War broke out, the tinderbox that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire supplied the match that set off an unspeakable conflagration. Now in our 21st century, Ukraine could become a bridge to reconcile the differences between the east and the west. Or it could be a box of matches.

As citizens of the world, we have a lot on our plates. So keep reading – Stay informed. It is the only world we have.

And speaking of bridges, this is the road to the one I’ve built:  www.dchubbard-writes.com

 

1 Comment

Filed under Great Britain, Italy, Politics, Writing