Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall's Fall and the walls that still remain

Prague 1989 and Havana 2009

"To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that the one that must be loved is not a friend. There is no merit in loving an enemy when you forget him for a friend."
- Mahatma Gandhi

November 1989 in Prague

November 2009 in Havana

This past week in Havana, Cuba on the corner of 23 and G the spirit of November 1989 erupted in a small demonstration against violence by young Cubans. At the same time bloggers and activists were abducted by plainclothes Cuban state security in broad daylight beaten and later released to prevent them from attending the demonstration. When the victims cried out for help and attracted the attention of bystanders the government agents responded: “Don’t get involved, these are counterrevolutionaries.” This is the part that is troubling the bystanders did not get involved and allowed these innocent people to be kidnapped in broad daylight. This is why the dictatorship is still operating in Cuba. It is the same mindset that operated in East Berlin for more than three decades. It is the type of mindset that went along with martial law in Poland and fired on unarmed workers.

The names of 171 people murdered by their fellow citizens for trying to cross a barrier called the Berlin Wall between August 13, 1961 and November 9, 1989 are known. There are probably many more that remain unknown and memorials throughout Berlin in their memory. It is important to celebrate the end of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany amidst a rebirth of freedom, but what of all those lives lost? As we celebrate the wave of freedom that changed the face of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union we must not forget that 1989 had another date June 4 that marks a massacre of students and workers demanding reforms and freedom in China. Freedom that is still denied today.

Twenty years have passed since the Berlin Wall's fall and the world is a better place for it today but we must not forget what took place there and the other Walls that remain intact today in places like North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and China. What lessons can activists in these nations take from the movements that achieved liberation in 1989? In Poland the workers movement led by Lech Walesa was called Solidarity and in Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel wrote important essays on the power of the powerless and living in truth where the word solidarity also arose within the context of anti-political politics:
When Jan Patocka wrote about Charter 77, he used the term 'solidarity of the shaken'. He was thinking of those who dared resist impersonal power and to confront it with the only thing at their disposal, their own humanity. Does not the perspective of a better future depend on something like an international community of the shaken which, ignoring state boundaries, political systems, and power blocs, standing outside the high game of traditional politics, aspiring to no titles and appointments, will seek to make a real political force out of a phenomenon so ridiculed by the technicians of power—the phenomenon of human conscience?
The sign that change is in the process of taking place is when you see bystanders not sitting idly by when the state security agent arrives to abduct a fellow citizen off the street. To demonstrate solidarity with the other and live in truth are great risks to take in a totalitarian dictatorship where fear is an important factor of control, but once that decision to take a risk for a fellow person is made by a large enough number of people the regime will begin to tremble and freedom will be on the horizon.

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