Reagan's 'tear down this wall' speech turns 20

14th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

14 June 2007, BERLIN (AP) _ When Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," few believed it might someday happen.

14 June 2007

BERLIN (AP) _ When Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," few believed it might someday happen.

Two decades later, the speech has passed into history as one of the "great communicator's" most stirring moments. Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, proclaimed this week that "Reagan's great speech changed the world."

At the time, though, it received a muted reception.

Reagan delivered the challenge standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate _ the symbol of Germany's post-war division _ and the wall that had divided Berlin since 1961.

On an overcast June 12, 1987, most people in Germany and elsewhere saw no realistic prospect of the heavily fortified barrier opening.

"We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness," Reagan said, referring to Gorbachev and his policies.

He challenged Gorbachev to prove his policy of perestroika was not just for show: "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, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

The speech "was a clarion kind of statement that President Reagan thought that change was coming," George Shultz, Reagan's secretary of state from 1982 to 1989, said last week.

"At the time it was a hotly debated question and Reagan and I were criticized greatly for being naive and thinking that change was coming," Shultz said.

"We were all a little more skeptical than American politicians _ the significance and the chances of tearing down the wall, there we were skeptical," West Berlin's then-mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, recalled in an interview Tuesday with Deutschlandfunk radio.

"I think that Ronald Reagan was addressing not just Gorbachev with his speech, but also hesitant spirits in the Western camp," Diepgen added.

Less than 2 1/2 years later, on Nov. 9, 1989, East Germany opened the Wall, its communist regime undermined by the vast changes sweeping the Soviet Union under its leader, Gorbachev.

"All of a sudden, within weeks after the wall came down, people were talking about the speech," said John Kornblum, the senior American diplomat in Berlin at the time.

"It emerged out of the dust, so to speak, and people were saying, 'Look at that. Ronald Reagan foresaw this. He was the one to give it its last push,"' Kornblum said.

The speech was originally intended as a ceremonial speech marking the 750th anniversary of Berlin. It came at a politically charged moment in the history of the Cold War, and many Germans used the occasion to protest Reagan's international policies.

On the eve of Reagan's visit, 25,000 protesters marched though West Berlin, smashing windows, looting stores and battling with police.

The speech itself did not impress East Germany's hardline communist rulers.

"We were of the opinion that it was an absurd demonstration by a cold warrior _ but also a provocation that fundamentally weighed on Gorbachev's willingness to reform," former Politburo member Guenter Schabowski said on Deutschlandfunk.

"Aversion toward Gorbachev and his policies, as someone who carelessly juggles his principles, already was being aroused in the (eastern) bloc and East Germany," said Schabowski, who in 1989 announced the opening of the wall.


Subject: German news

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