HAVANA TIMES — Twenty five years ago, the Berlin Wall fell under the blows of the sledge hammers and pent-up longings of the people. The wall, an expression of the diabolical mentality of Soviet leaders, had been built between 1961 and 1968. I have to acknowledge that the new world that began to flourish after the fall of that shameful wall has engendered other terrible ills and that other walls that will take long to demolish have been built since. We continue to live in an explosive world marked by increasing inequality, an inhumane world that is full of uncertainty.
That said, it is also true, as Willy Brandt said that fateful 9th of November of 1989, that “nothing will be like before. Berlin will live, and the wall will fall.”
It all began at a live press conference offered by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Politburo spokesman Gunter Günter Schabowski, who read out a communiqué with no knowledge of its contents. “Travel outside the GDR will be authorized with no previous conditions,” he said. A German journalist interrupted him and yelled out a question: “When?” “As I understand it, immediately,” the official improvised. That last phrase sufficed to put an end to the GDR in a matter of minutes. All of the citizens of East Germany had their television and radios on and took to the streets en masse, putting an end to the “Cold War.”
The GDR President Erik Honecker had no choice but to seek refuge at a military hospital operated by the Soviet army. He travelled to the Soviet Union when East Germany had not yet collapsed and tried to avoid being tried by German authorities. Once in the USSR, Honecker requested protection from the Embassy of Chile, a country that had granted asylum to many Germans – particularly Nazi officials who had fled the country – some decades before. Honecker was taken in as a personal guest of the Chilean ambassador, Clodomiro Almeyda, something which led to diplomatic tensions between Germany and Chile.
After several months, Honecker left the Chilean embassy. He was extradited in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which spelled the disappearance of the so-called “Socialist Bloc.” The former GDR leader was imprisoned between 1992 and 1993 and tried for the deaths of the 192 people who perished while trying to cross the wall during his leadership. Owing to his serious health condition, he was released and emigrated to Chile. In the 70s and 80s, hundreds of Chileans had sought asylum in the GDR, fleeing Augusto Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship. Honecker had opened the country’s doors to all those Chileans. Honecker died in Chile at age 81 on May 29, 1994.
During the heyday of the GDR, Erik Honecker travelled to Cuba several times, and I was able to see him and listen to his speeches in favor of a better world and in defense of world peace. He was decorated and welcomed with high honors. Like many other young people at the time, I admired him and thought I was in the presence of a very kind and generous man who represented the loftiest of humanist principles.
After the wall fell, I found out that he was one of the people who had helped create one of the most efficient, sinister and criminal control and interrogation apparatuses the 20th century ever knew. The GDR’s secret police, or Stasi, had more agents and informers per citizen than any other totalitarian state in history.
The night the wall fell, members of that fearful secret police committed suicide, fearing they would be lynched by the immense crowds that took to the streets to tear down the “wall of shame,” a night in which no one, no mad person with a hammer or a sickle, went out in defense of the achievements of the socialist revolution. At any rate, German citizens were not thirsty for revenge or blood – they were thirsty for freedom, longing to open the country up to the world and make Germany an even more prosperous nation. The unification of the two Germanys took place with a festive spirit.
The Stasi kept millions of files and dossiers on East German citizens. These not only kept tabs on so-called “dissidents”, “disaffected persons” or “pariahs who sold out to imperialism, on the CIA’s payroll,” but also on entire families of workers, poets, artists, rockers, secretaries, filmmakers, writers, model farmers, house-wives, television directors, composers, astronauts, electricians, members of the Young Communists League, orchestra conductors, vanguard workers, heroes of the homeland, jugglers, tractor drivers, editors, scientists, athletes who had won international championships, clowns and lion tamers, dancers, doctors, streetcar drivers, firefighters, academics, actresses, pharmacists, journalists, homosexuals, believers, prostitutes and even members of the Communist Party – as it turns out, the country’s leadership and absolute power did not even trust its own people. The files were so many that, if we were to place them next to one another in a row, they would make a line long enough to cover the entire length of unified Germany.
I came across these childhood photos, from the time I lived in Prague with my parents and siblings, part of my “Soviet years,” yesterday. In one of the pictures, I am standing next to my mother at the Brandenburg Gate, on the GDR side. It must have been around 1966. I was very young, still a little a kid, and spoke Russian and a few words of Spanish. There I am in Berlin and Dresden, when the scars of the Second World War were still fresh and the world was divided by an iron curtain and on the brink of nuclear annihilation.
After several decades, I recently returned to Berlin and, at that same Brandenburg Gate, was able to celebrate the defeat of fascism and the fall of Stalinism with the same intensity, for both represent the worst things that have happened to humanity. Despite the celebration, one cannot forget those who lost with the reunification, those who were left without jobs or became hermits, seeking to set a new course to their lives. In all battles, the losers ought to have the right to a dignified life also.
The new Germany is proud of its most recent past and most of its citizens have benefitted from reunification, particularly the young. The rest of the world, however, seems to be moving ever closer to the edge of the precipice, suffering everything from severe climate change, famines, wars and epidemics that could spread beyond control in Africa, through devastating wars in Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya, the dark and nefarious Bush era, the economic collapse of Spain, to permanent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the extremely volatile situation in the Ukraine and the unstoppable emergence of savage jihadists in the Middle East.
All of this is coupled with the rapid emergence of nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments in Russia, Austria, the former Baltic republics, Poland and other formerly socialist countries, where it is already difficult to tell who are most dangerous: the right-wing fascist radicals who would relive the criminal legacy of Hitler or the new types of nationalist radicals, the so-called “communist fascists”, mired in the most atrocious form of ignorance and hoping to resuscitate the monster of Stalinism.
Something also smells rotten on our side of the world, and not precisely in Denmark. The landscape of injustice, social inequality and extreme poverty continues to be infernal. The permanent threat of drug-trafficking has led to a whole range of derived phenomena, such as drug scandals, drug executions, drug stars, drug songs, drug mansions, drug religion, drug cemeteries, drug farms, drug novels, drug economies, drug politics, drug retailing and, the most serious of all, drug states, which are pretty much the same thing as “failed States”, where people have taken gang justice to heart.
An avalanche of crime, impunity and unprecedented corruption is stifling many Latin American societies, where both the Left and Right take part in the egotism, the lies, the ineptness and the excessive corruption and are directly responsible for this terrifying and catastrophic panorama, which could well lead to a social upheaval of grave consequences.
The most dispossessed continue to be the most vulnerable in this cruel reality, having neither complaints nor hopes of any kind, caught in the new war raging in Latin American nations like Mexico, where innumerable and barbarous killings take place with the complicity of the police, the army and state officials, where delinquency has reached extremely violent levels, poisoning many institutions. The recent and horrendous murder of 43 students in Mexico’s state of Guerrero is a case in point.
Over this bed of corpses, the Party of the Left Democratic Revolution (PRI) offered support to the criminals and the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who chose to travel to China and offered his people false promises about the investigations into the incident during a speech, surrounded by wealthy supporters.
The beheaded, the incinerated, the disemboweled, the gunned-down, the mass graves full of young people, women and children, have already become one of the identifying seals of that marvelous nation. To the same or to a lesser extent, this also happens in Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, true world champions in the violation of human rights.
Despite this, we must continue to strive for a better world for our children and grandchildren, as this is the only concrete and real world we have as human beings. There is probably no other world for us but, unfortunately, humanity has not yet understood this and ours is becoming ever more dangerous and uninhabitable. Much of what lies ahead on the horizon is not very encouraging, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
(*) Jorge Dalton – Cuban-Salvadoran filmmaker. Former student of Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birri and Cuban documentary filmmaker Santiago Alvarez, Dalton was a founder of the International Cinema and Television School at San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. He worked at the Cuban TV Institute at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s. Dalton currently lives in El Salvador where he is the director of the Cinema and Audiovisual division of the Cultural Secretariat of the Salvadoran government.