Monday, November 9, 2009
Pictures of a Vanished Country
The Lessons of 1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall is a reminder of the duty of solidarity.
By Christopher Hitchens | Updated Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, at 6:59 AM ET
This 20th anniversary has seen yet another crop of boring articles about how so many people, especially in former East Germany, are supposedly "nostalgic" for the security of the old Stalinist system. Such sentimental piffle—which got a good airing in that irritating movie Good Bye Lenin!—would not long survive a reading of another new book: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Victor Sebestyen. Making effective use of archives opened since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Sebestyen describes the day in late October 1989 when the head of State Planning in the German Democratic Republic, Gerhard Schürer, presented the party leadership with the unvarnished economic news. "Nearly 60 per cent of East Germany's entire economic base could be written off as scrap, and productivity in mines and factories was nearly 50 per cent behind the West." Even more appalling was the 12-fold increase in the GDR's national debt—a situation so grotesque that it had been classified as a state secret lest loans from Western creditors dry up. "Just to avoid further indebtedness," wrote Schürer, "would mean a lowering next year of living standards by 25 to 30 per cent, and make the GDR ungovernable." So the wall came down just before the hermetic state that it enclosed would have imploded. I doubt that there would have been much "nostalgia" for that.
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