Little Bits of History

June 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 12, 2017

1987: US President Ronald Reagan gives a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. Between 1961 and 1989, a barrier wall was part of the Berlin landscape. Construction began on August 13, 1961 by the German Democratic Republic. The Berlin Wall separated West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. The wall grew with time until it stretched 96 miles and was 11.8 feet high at the concrete segments. Guard towers were included and looked over the “death strip” – an area patrolled to keep anyone from exiting from the Eastern Bloc into the free west. Before the Wall went up, 3.5 million East Germans escaped across the border between Eastern and Western Germany.

Reagan, President from 1981 to 1989, addressed the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and later President of the Soviet Union on this day. But this was not Reagan’s first request to bring down the wall. In June 1982 while visiting West Berlin, he first posed the question as to why the wall was even needed. In 1986, after the Wall had stood for a quarter of a century, a West German newspaper posed a question to the President and asked for a timeline for dismantling the Wall. Reagan answered, “I call upon those responsible to dismantle it [today]”.

On June 11, 1987, about 50,000 people had demonstrated against Reagan and his presence, once again, in Berlin. While he was there, large portions of the city were closed off to prevent more anti-Reagan rallies. But it wasn’t just Germans upset with the outspoken President. Within his own administration, there were several senior staff members who were against his bringing up the Wall issue again as it might worsen already tense East-West relations. It was thought Reagan might offend
Gorbachev after years of attempting to create a better relationship between both the leaders and the countries they led. Speechwriters were told to leave the now iconic phrase in the speech.

Reagan arrived in Berlin earlier in the day. He and Nancy Reagan were taken to the Reichstag where they could see the wall from the balcony. At 2 PM, while standing in front of two panes of bulletproof glass, Reagan challenged his Soviet opponent to tear down the wall. The speech also called for an end to the arms race between the two nations. While it received little press at the time and was considered to be “absurd” or “openly provocative, war-mongering speech”, the Wall did eventually fall. Little if any credit goes to Reagan or this speech, but rather it was a series of political changes which allowed for the dismantling of the wall as well as what it stood for.

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. 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!

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’

Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. – all from Ronald Reagan


It Is Finished

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2011

Mikhail Gorbachev

December 25, 1991: The dissolution of the USSR is complete. Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary on March 11, 1985. The Soviet economy was stagnant and his primary goal during his time in power was to revive it. His first step was to try to reorganize the economy. But when he attempted to do that, he noticed it would be impossible without also upgrading the political and social structure. He began his reformation process on April 23 with changes in personnel. His sweeping changes were given the name of glasnost or perestroika.

The dissolution began with Gorbachev taking office and took over six years to establish fifteen separate Post-Soviet states from what was once the USSR. Direct elections were introduced and the ban on political parties was lifted. Even so, in March of 1991, a large majority of citizens voted to retain the Union. On December 22, 1991 the presidents of the Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met secretly and agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union. All this took place after much dissention including an attempted military coup in August of 1991.

The fifteen states established is alphabetical order are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The largest and predominant area is Russia, which is by far the largest region of the former Union. Kazakhstan is the next largest in area. Armenia is the smallest new state, comprised of 11,484 square miles or slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. In comparison, Russia covers 6,592,800 square miles or almost twice the area of the US or China. It is the largest country in the world.

During the early hours of December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned from office and handed all powers over to Boris Yeltsin, who had received 57% of the votes on June 12, 1991. Later that night, the Soviet Union flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time. The next day, the Council of Republics formally recognized the dissolution of the USSR, done by and to itself. By the end of the year, the few Soviet institutions which had not given control to Russia previously were under its auspices or had ceased to function. Individual republics took over self government. A poll taken in 2006 indicated that 66% of Russians regretted the collapse of the USSR, while in 2005, half of those in the Ukraine also lamented the passing of the Union.

“I am a Communist, a convinced Communist! For some that may be a fantasy. But to me it is my main goal.”

“I believe, as Lenin said, that this revolutionary chaos may yet crystallize into new forms of life.”

“If not me, who? And if not now, when?”

“If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.” – all from Mikhail Gorbachev

Also on this day:

Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.