30 Years Ago, A Moment of Joy and Hope


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December 13, 2019

30 Years Ago, A Moment of Joy and Hope

  • Democracy
  • History
  • Poland
  • Politics

Democracies are not going to defend themselves. It is we, the citizens who have to defend them. I believe it is not too late. And I am convinced that while no victory is ever a final one, no defeats along the way are definitive either. The biographies of dissidents from my part of the world provide the evidence you need.


I clearly remember that November evening.

In my country, Poland, events of great importance were taking place. Poland’s first non-Communist government had already been operating for three months. The prime minister was Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a broad-minded catholic intellectual and long-standing advisor to Lech Wałęsa. Just at that time, a delegation from the Federal Republic of Germany was making its first official visit to Poland — Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard Weizsacker, and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. While I was in a meeting with Minister Genscher, an associate of his entered the room and handed him a small piece of paper. Genscher read it, looked at me, and said, “The Berlin Wall has been opened.”

With a cry of joyful amazement I quickly said goodbye, ran to the editorial office of Gazeta Wyborcza, and wrote these words which were published on the front page the following day:

Nobody knows what the consequences of the actual collapse of the Berlin Wall will be. However, something irreversible has already happened: gunshots at people have ceased. In Berlin, in the heart of Europe, in the dispute between freedom and barbed wire, freedom has won.

It’s still hard to believe that this happened by accident. After all, the government of East Germany could still resist, could still close its borders. But they did not. Instead, as Günter Schabowski, a leader of East Germany’s communist party, stated on television: “We made a decision today. Any citizen can leave through any border crossing.” And this decision, he said, was going into effect immediately.

It seems to me now that Schabowski himself did not realize what he was announcing, as thousands of Berliners immediately rushed towards the wall and, brick by brick, began to dismantle it.

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