Was Gorbachev a key player in the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Gorbachev has been praised for his role in the fall of the Eastern Bloc, however he was not directly on the scene in East Germany so his impact was indirect, on how the East German government and people acted and reacted to his statements. Does he deserve to be seen as a key player in the fall of the wall, as opposed to the Eastern Bloc as a whole?
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'General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'
By the late-1980s Eastern Europe was in a mess, months of refugee crises had led Moscow to give Hungary permission to open its border with Austria, with Czechoslovakia later following suit. According to Svetlana Savranskaya the fall of the Berlin wall was a relief.
While this could indicate that Gorbachev was not involved in the fall, without his reforms in the Soviet Union the iron grip on the eastern bloc would have held strong. When Ronald Reagan addressed Mikhail Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate he said:
By this time, June 1987, Gorbachev had already implemented the policy of openness, Glasnost, and had set the Soviet Union on the path to it's demise. The opening up of borders had a knock on effect in Eastern Europe, and when the Wall fell Gorbachev was not even awoken by his advisors[[http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120188545]], reflecting the relaxation in policy. The measurement of his importance, to consider him as a key player, is the fact that without Gorbachev releasing the Soviet grip, the wall would not have been allowed to fall.
If the wall came down because of the end of soviet-type communism, then Mr Gorbachev certainly ended it.
He did not stand by the sidelines, he 'trusted his eyes'.
Gorbachev's lack of direct action was not due to cowardice or a feeling of powerlessness by late 1989, as early as 1985 he had told the soviet satellites that he would not interfere in their affairs[[http://www.economist.com/node/14793729]]. He was a man who had faith in socialism, that in the changing world the Soviet state needed to change to survive alongside democracy, rejecting the isolationism of the past but still a man of the system. He was not a violent man, had no 'siege mentality' and this is why he took no direct action, but was a key player in why the world changed in 1989.
Gorbachev did not tear down the wall.
None of the political 'key players' could control the speed of events in the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Russia in the late 1980s. The inevitable decline of soviet communism, the refugee situation and the economic stagnation in the eastern bloc all served to move forward events at an alarming pace. It was not Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev or Erich Honecker who tore down the wall, it was the people. While the western world wondered if Gorbachev's political reforms were genuine, reformers in the eastern bloc were emboldened by the opening up of borders. It was positive action by the people, not the leadership that brought down the wall, as Gorbachev, according to Andrew Bast, 'largely watched events unfold while sitting on its hands'[[http://www.newsweek.com/id/221194/page/2]].
What do you think?