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Wallpapered over

While the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some myths need to be demolished and some facts exposed, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2009 21:21 IST

I witnessed the euphoric celebrations in Europe marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was attending the Congress of the Spanish Communist Party and addressing the Communist University in London during the first weekend of November.

Amidst declarations of a future for ‘liberty and freedom’, the real history that led to the division of Berlin post-World War II is obfuscated — a classic case of the victor scripting history. The defeat of fascism was symbolised by the hoisting of the Red Flag over Hitler’s Reichstag, not the flag of the United States, France or Britain. Following the war, the four allied powers decided to jointly administer the city of Berlin. While East Berlin was under the Soviet Red Army administration, West Berlin was jointly administered by the US, France and Britain. All appeals by the Soviet Union for a joint administration of Berlin as a whole were rejected by the Western powers fearing the absorption of the city in the newly formed socialist German Democratic Republic.

For decades, Berlin was kept divided and West Berlin remained an entity, separate and distinct, from both East and West Germany. This territory was used by the Western powers as the fountainhead of the Cold War attacks against socialism. It was only in August 1961, after 16 years of continuous attempts to subvert socialism that the Warsaw Pact countries decided to erect the Wall to protect themselves against such insidious attacks. There was no Berlin Wall in the first 16 years of the Cold War. This history is now being distorted to project the Soviet Union and socialism as responsible for the division of Berlin.

Surely, sometime in the future, real history will be put back on its feet instead of standing on its head. However, the need to distort this history is important for the Western powers in the current conjuncture where its impregnable wall — Wall Street — has collapsed. It has not collapsed because of any external assault. It has collapsed because of the very internal dynamics of capitalism that have brought about the current phase of imperialist globalisation which was simply unsustainable.

For the vast majority of the world’s people, it is the collapse of global capitalism’s Wall Street that is impacting grievously on their lives. During this year, since the current global recession has begun, not only has the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) seen an absolute decline, but for the first time since World War II, the largest number of people have been pushed into hunger and destitution all across the world. The number of people suffering from hunger has crossed 1.02 billion — one among every six persons on earth is suffering from hunger. During this period of recession alone, 102 million additional people have joined the ranks of the
hungry.

For the former socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics, the situation is much worse. For their
people, such euphoric celebrations must be sounding weird and surreal given their growing misery. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the fall in the GDP of these countries averages -6.2 per cent in 2009. This ranges from a decline of 18.4 per cent in Lithuania, 16 per cent in Latvia, 14 per cent in Ukraine, 13.2 per cent in Estonia, 7.8 per cent in Slovenia, 6.5 per cent in Hungary, 6 per cent in Slovakia to a decline of 4.3 per cent in the Czech Republic. So much for the ‘prosperity’ of the ‘free market’.

Notwithstanding this stark reality, these euphoric celebrations also seek to conceal the manner in which capitalism is seeking to emerge from this crisis at the expense of imposing greater burdens on the people. The massive bailout packages — according to one estimate, totalling over $14 trillion — have helped the financial corporates as per the admission of two major banks bailed out with public money, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. They have declared billions of dollars of profits in the last quarter and are ‘celebrating’ it by doling out ‘bonuses’ to their executives. This is a clear case of how capitalism acts, putting profits before people.

Contrast this with the growing unemployment worldwide. An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report states that more than 57 million people have joined the ranks of the unemployed during this period. The unemployment rate in the US has officially touched double-digits — 10.2 per cent. Unofficially, this is estimated to be around 20 per cent, as the official statistics do not take into consideration those people who have stopped looking for jobs in the past three months as they have lost all hope of finding one. The poverty rate in the US is standing at 13.2 per cent, which represents 40 million people suffering from poverty.

Such euphoric celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall are aimed at diverting the people’s attention away from the existing realities. These cannot stem growing popular protests against the imposition of additional burdens by which capitalism is seeking to emerge from its current recession.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.The views expressed by the author are personal.