Colleagues, Generals, Admirals,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A warm welcome to all of you at this commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago.
The 9th of November 1989 was one of those defining moments in history which changed the world.
That is why watching footage of that night, when the Wall fell, is still so moving for all of us today. Probably very few of us who lived with the Wall as a hard political reality would have thought that it would be torn down within our own lifetimes.
But that one night, thirty years ago this Saturday, it actually happened. East German border police opened crossing points in the Berlin Wall, allowing East Berliners to stream through unhindered to West Berlin. They crossed the border with incredible joy, amazement and tears. They danced on, below and beside the Wall. It was the beginning of the single most dramatic and positive transformation of the political map of post-war Europe. It marked the beginning of the end for the division of Germany and Europe as well as for the Communist regimes.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was unexpected, but it did not happen without reason. It would have been unthinkable without the decision of the Hungarian government to open its border to GDR refugees in September 1989. And it is essentially thanks to courageous people in the GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe that the barriers at the border between the two German states were finally opened. On the 10th of November 1989, a day after the Wall had fallen, then Secretary General Manfred Wörner said in a statement,
”We look to a process of peaceful, evolutionary change consistent with the overwhelming desire of people throughout Europe and indeed the world. These events once again demonstrate the persuasive power of the democratic ideals for which this Alliance stands.“ And, indeed, in contrast to 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and 1981 in Poland, people’s longing for freedom and self-determination could no longer be crushed – neither in East Germany nor anywhere else in Europe. The human desire for freedom turned the division of Europe and the Cold War into things of the past.
On this special anniversary, we remember all the victims of this Wall and the political system it stood for, all those who were killed trying to escape to West Berlin as well as those who were captured and ended up in jail in their longing for freedom.
We should also not forget that November the 9th condenses yet more German history of the 20th century. It was on that day, in 1918, that the German Empire ended after four terrible years of the First World War. In 1938, on the 9th of November, the Nazis set fire to synagogues, plundered Jewish homes and businesses, detained and murdered Jewish fellow citizens. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Wall, did November the 9th become also a joyful date in German history.
Many of us enter this building every day by passing this memorial consisting of two original blocks of the Wall. Along with the 9/11 memorial, it is a symbol of what this Alliance stands for, a symbol of Alliance solidarity. NATO Allies opposed the Berlin Wall from the beginning. In December 1961, just a few month after construction of the Wall had started, NATO’s foreign ministers “(…) re-affirmed their determination to protect and defend the liberties of West Berlin, and ensure to its people the conditions for a free and prosperous life”.
We all still recall President Kennedy’s famous: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” one year later. During all those years of the Cold War, NATO kept up the vision of a peacefully united Germany and Europe. It was thanks to the solidarity of our allies that West Germany and West Berlin were safe and able to prosper. For this, we remain eternally grateful. It could, therefore, not be more fitting to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall together, among allies, here at NATO Headquarters.
Today, more than 900 million people in the Euro-Atlantic area of 29, soon 30 allied countries live together in freedom and peace under the security umbrella of NATO. We will need to stand together if we want to preserve for future generations the promise of democracy and freedom – the promise of that day, thirty years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell.
Thank you for being here. I will now hand you over to the Secretary General.