The Legacy of Walls

What were the economic and social consequences of the Berlin Wall?

November 10, 2009

What were the economic and social consequences of the Berlin Wall?

What is one way of conveying the importance of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

"The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was the defining economic event of our lifetime. It marked the end of the largest controlled experiment in the history of social sciences — the division of Germany into two economic zones, one centralized and planned, the other a market economy. After 40 years, the gap in living standards between the two was so extreme that the experiment was terminated."

(John Kay, Financial Times columnist, November 2009)

How did the fall of the Berlin Wall mark a new beginning?

"Our history did not end the night the wall came down — it began anew."

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, November 2009)

Has Germany successfully met the challenge posed by reunification?

"The fear was that this thing in the center of Europe, if it were allowed to become unified, was going to be a cancer once again and lead to Act III of the great European tragedy. Instead, the German problem, which emerged with the unifying of Germany beginning in the 1860s, is one of the few problems in modern history that has been solved."

(Robert E. Hunter, senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and ambassador to NATO under President Clinton, November 2009)

Why does the significance of the Berlin Wall's fall extend beyond Germany?

"The fall of the Berlin Wall made history, but that history was made by countless men and women over many decades who longed for a world in which their rights would be protected too. Those impatient dreamers are still out there today, in Iran and Cuba, Zimbabwe and Burma and beyond."

(U.S. Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona, November 2009)

When states build walls and fences, what is the impact?

“Walls divide — they do not unite. Walls give concrete expression to hatreds and prejudices, establishing them as artifacts not of the mind, but of the landscape.”

(Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist, April 2007)

Metaphorically and literally speaking, why are walls so dangerous?

"The time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue — and to vote against the interests of their own people. They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek."

(U.S. President Barack Obama, September 2009)

What must we do about this?

"The time has come for those walls to come down. Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides — coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east, west, black, white, and brown."

(U.S. President Barack Obama, September 2009)

What is the source of the urge to build walls?

“People often build walls for the same reason that dogs leave trails of urine: To mark out territory. Protection is usually a secondary concern.”

(Ian Buruma, author and professor, April 2004)

Are new walls being erected?

“In a world that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall with joy, new walls are being built between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and city, nation and nation.”

(Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, November 2006)

Is this view widespread?

“The fall of the Berlin Wall was expected to open possibilities for building a world of peace, free from the stigmas of the Cold War. It is sad, though, to see other walls going up so fast.”

(President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, September 2008)

For example?

“The 420-mile physical barrier that now separates Israel and the Palestinian territories is designed to be Israel’s permanent border. The barrier, in many places, is actually a wall that is taller than the old Berlin Wall.”

(Arnaud De Borchgrave, United Press International editor-at-large, January 2006)

Why did Israel’s politicians feel forced to act?

“When there are 70 dead Israelis, you can resist the fence — but when there are 700 dead Israelis, you will not be able to resist it.”

(Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, March 2004)

What is Israel’s official stance on the barrier?

“The fence is a temporary security measure with no political meaning and can be removed.”

(Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, January 2004)

And Palestinians’ perspective?

“The fence is going to suffocate our village. The fence will turn us here into a prison.”

(Bajis Sheikh, mayor of the Palestinian town of Biddu, February 2004)

How does Mexico react to the border fence between itself and the United States?

“To us, this wall is a disgrace. It is inconceivable that we are building walls in the 21st century between two countries that are neighbors, brothers and partners. It’s a terrible signal that doesn't speak well of a country that prides itself on being democratic.”

(Vicente Fox, then-President of Mexico, 2006)

What's one metaphorical wall worth noting?

“Many now just want to build a wall against Islam.”

(Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist, September 2006)

And finally, is there hope for a wall-free world?

“Violence creates walls, peace creates bridges.”

(Shimon Peres, then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, July 2005)

Takeaways

"Walls divide — they do not unite. Walls give concrete expression to hatreds and prejudices, establishing them as artifacts not of the mind, but of the landscape." (Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist)

"Violence creates walls, peace creates bridges." (Shimon Peres, then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister)

"The fall of the Berlin Wall made history, but that history was made by countless men and women over many decades who longed for a world in which their rights would be protected too." (U.S. Senator John McCain)

"The time has come for those walls to come down. Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides — coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east, west, black, white, and brown." (U.S. President Barack Obama)

"In a world that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall with joy, new walls are being built between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and city, nation and nation." (Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace)