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1989 and the march to integration

Summary:
The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was a victory for liberal values over socialist ones. As the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Kristian Niemietz points out, East Germany was a huge socialist experiment. Western socialists argued that Russia, being largely rural and backward, was never a promising ground for socialism, which explained why its brand of socialism seemed so far from the ideal. East Germany, however, despite the wartime damage, was an industrial state with technological know-how and an educated middle class—a much better proving-ground.During the Cold War it was very hard to see what was actually going on behind the Wall. Western experts pointed out that the official statistics emerging from the East could not be trusted. Despite ‘record grain harvests’ there were

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The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was a victory for liberal values over socialist ones. As the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Kristian Niemietz points out, East Germany was a huge socialist experiment. Western socialists argued that Russia, being largely rural and backward, was never a promising ground for socialism, which explained why its brand of socialism seemed so far from the ideal. East Germany, however, despite the wartime damage, was an industrial state with technological know-how and an educated middle class—a much better proving-ground.

During the Cold War it was very hard to see what was actually going on behind the Wall. Western experts pointed out that the official statistics emerging from the East could not be trusted. Despite ‘record grain harvests’ there were still famines (often because the distribution system was so hopeless that what grain there was simply rotted in the field). And if we believed Romania’s year-on-year tractor production figures, they would have had to have started with negative tractor production. When the Wall fell, the dire and dismal nature of life behind it became all too apparent.

The ripping down of the Iron Curtain revealed something else too. It showed just how strong the national affiliations that the Second World War had disrupted. Germans rushed to reunite; while Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, countries created by forcing others together, started to fragment again. This mostly happened peacefully: no force was necessary, again illustrating the strength of national ties and the fragility of coerced confederation. 

The French, under President Mitterand, were alarmed at the speed of the changes, especially Germany’s rush to reunify. And the economic strain of millions of East Germans heading West was a problem for Germany too. To defuse matters, Kohl agreed to an inter-governmental conference on European currency integration, and then on deeper political integration. By 1993 the Treaty of the European Union propelled member states towards the EMU, common foreign and security policy, cooperation in justice. The requirement for unanimity on such measures gave way to Qualified Majority Voting, with opt-outs for those, like Denmark, who could not keep up. The ‘project’ of ever closer union thus took a huge leap forward.

There was pressure to expand the union as well as deepen it. France and other member states were doubtful about admitting a group of economically backward Eastern countries. But those countries looked to the West, not to Russia, for their salvation and were in general internationalist, even siding with Britain and America in conflicts. The UK, for its part, wanted to bring in the Eastern countries, and others like Malta and Cyprus, as a way of diluting the planned political and monetary union that it felt no part of (the UK also worried that it would end up bankrolling many of the resulting policies). There was a moral case, too, for supporting near neighbours, many of whom, like the Baltics, were very European in character even after forty years of Soviet socialism.

It is interesting how, thirty years on from 1989, the political structure of Europe is still shaped by the events in Berlin. The EU remains firmly integrationist—an integration that the UK (mostly) continues to struggle against. National identities have restored themselves back from the artificial boundaries drawn up by the Allied powers, and nationalism has become stronger in many places. The case against socialism still has to be made, over and over, just as it always had. After all, anyone under 40 is unlikely to remember the Berlin Wall and the horrors behind it—socialism holds no terror for them—while the socialists over 40, who should know better, continue to blame other factors for the failure of their ideology, whether in Russia, East Germany, or now in Venezuela. The world is better without the obscenity that was the Berlin Wall; but the world’s liberals still have a vast job to do.

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Dr. Eamonn Butler
Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute, rated one of the world’s leading policy think-tanks. He has degrees in economics, philosophy and psychology, gaining a PhD from the University of St Andrews in 1978.

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