Who Deserves Credit for the Berlin Wall's Fall?

by Tim Drake

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 

Taking a look at the vast majority of stories commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there’s one pivotal person missing from the majority of the mainstream coverage: Pope John Paul II.

Is this lack of inclusion an accidental oversight or an intentional act? If the previous Pontiff played no key role worth remembering, then why did the KGB want him dead?

There’s no question about the role that Pope John Paul II played in the collapse of the wall and communism in general. President Ronald Reagan talked about it. George Weigel wrote about it. Professor Nick Hayes has written about it. And Lech Walesa said something on it.

“The truth is that 50% of the fall of the wall belongs to John Paul II, 30% to Solidarity and Lech Walesa and only 20% to the rest of the world. That was the truth then and is the truth now,” said Walesa.

Polish-born Pope John Paul II called on the peoples of Europe “to change the face of the world, and his message liberated the people who then forced politicians to sanction changes,” added Walesa.

Not only did Pope John Paul II appoint anti-communist bishops in the Eastern Bloc, but he also publicly visited Krakow, Warsaw and Auschwitz, giving the Polish people the support they needed to oppose communism. Let’s demand that the mainstream media give credit where credit is due.

Acknowledgement to:  National Catholic Register.

Please also see below.

Don't Forget Church Role in Fall of Wall
by Cardinal Meisner

By Gerard Knowles

A GERMAN cardinal said various commemorations of the collapse of the Berlin Wall ignore contributions by the Catholic Church.

"It is simply untrue, as many critics maintain, that the Church was introverted - just the opposite," said Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, who served as Bishop of Berlin from 1980 to 1988.

"Throughout these years, Christians formed a living protest against this inhuman system," said the cardinal.

"Yet in the many declarations, speeches, interviews and books appearing for the 20th anniversary, the Church's role is being evaluated and covered only very superficially, even by Catholics."

Tomorrow, Germans will commemorate the 1989 fall of the wall, which divided West Germany from the communist-ruled East Germany for 28 years. The anniversary will include a Festival of Freedom in Berlin, during which 1,000 giant foam dominos will be toppled along the route of the wall.

In an article in
Die Welt newspaper, Cardinal Meisner said that under communist rule the Berlin Diocese never adjusted its boundaries, and Church officials refused to participate in state ceremonies. Berlin became an archdiocese in 1994.

"The complete absence of our bishops on such occasions was always seen as relativising the system," said Cardinal Meisner. "Diplomatic representatives in East Berlin repeatedly emphasised their admiration for the Catholic Church's stance."

Cardinal Meisner said most commentaries had focused only on the final steps in Germany's reunification, without mentioning "the 999 steps taken earlier", in which Catholics played a key role.

The cardinal said the Catholic Church had been viewed as a "tolerated subtenant" of East Germany, but had managed to provide "an annoyance, a protest against the unified mass and an actual testimony for Christ".

He added that lay Catholics had offered a "biblical testimony of non- participation" by boycotting communist institutions, such as the Jugendweihe youth enrolment, and by continuing daily social and charitable activities.

Cardinal Meisner said some commentaries recalled the role of Lutheran churches as gathering places for protesters, while ignoring key events such as a 1987 Catholic
Katholikentag festival that brought 100,000 people onto the streets of Dresden.

"My words to the main Mass at that festival, that we would follow no other star than the Star of Bethlehem, were clearly understood as a political signal," the cardinal added.

"I think today of the many people who helped bring about the events of Novemebr 9, 1989, through unspectacular resistance along the way. They deserve their own monument, or at least to be included in the historical record," he said.

The 124-mile Berlin Wall, separating the German capital, was completed on August 13, 1961, after 3.5 million East Germans, a fifth of the population, fled to West Germany. The wall later was strengthened with guard towers and a mined "death strip".

Crossing points in the wall were opened by East Germany's communist regime during a wave of revolutionary change in Eastern Europe, paving the way for Germany's formal reunification in 1990.

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Times, November 8th, 2009.

* * *

Some Cold War Truths


On Christmas Day, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev transferred the Soviet nuclear codes to Boris Yeltsin, called President George H.W. Bush to wish him a happy Christmas, and picked up a pen, intending to sign the document that would dissolve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, created by Lenin seventy-four years before.

The pen wouldn't work. Gorbachev had to borrow a replacement from a CNN crew covering the story.

The Cold War was officially over, which was a very good thing. Yet as we prepare to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- the symbolic centerpiece of the Revolution of 1989, which made the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 virtually inevitable -- there seems to be a remarkable lack of interest in a struggle that dominated world politics for forty-three years, threatening nuclear ruin to North America, Europe, and the USSR, devastating Korea and Southeast Asia, and embroiling the Third World in proxy wars from which many developing countries have never really recovered. Something that large and consequential, you would think, would merit considerable and ongoing attention. Yet, to take but one example, modern history classes in Polish schools today stop at 1939 (or, in some cases 1945). Things are not much better in the United States, I fear.

Americans are traditionally good winners who don't hold grudges. There was no gloating over the collapse of the USSR. There were no equivalents of the Nuremberg Trials, or the Allied military tribunals in post-war Japan, to bring the murderers of the KGB to book. There wasn't even a VC Day -- Victory Over Communism Day -- to parallel VE Day and VJ Day in 1945. Perhaps many Americans thought it would have been unsporting to declare victory. We quickly put the Cold War behind us.

Worse than today's lack of interest, however, are those interpretations of the Cold War that suggest it was all a terrible misunderstanding, or that Stalin was "provoked" into hostility toward the West, or that the West could have comes to terms with the Soviet Union long before 1989. With an eye toward the twentieth anniversary of the wall coming down, let me propose a few truths about the Cold War and its ending, with special reference to the Catholic Church and its roles under, and against, communism:

Moral equivalence is moral idiocy. The United States and its western allies during the Cold War were imperfect democracies that sometimes did wicked things. Throughout the Cold War (and long before), the Soviet Union was a pluperfect tyranny that did terrible things as a matter of course, murdering millions of innocent people in cold blood. Any suggestion that the U.S. and the USSR were "two scorpions in a bottle" (as one Carter administration nominee famously put it) reflects a fundamental moral obtuseness about the situation.

Communism might have collapsed of its own economic incompetence, but why did it collapse in 1989?. . . Our premier Cold War historian, John Lewis Gaddis of Yale, has the answer: the moral revolution launched by John Paul II during his first pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979 was the key to all the rest.

The Ostpolitik of Pope Paul VI did not ease the situation of the Catholic Church behind the iron curtain. Pope Paul's openness to dialogue with communist regimes can claim one genuine (if unintended) accomplishment: it created openings that a Polish pope (who viewed his predecessor's Ostpolitik with considerable skepticism) could exploit (often against the counsel of Vatican diplomats). On the ground, the Ostpolitik of Paul VI was a disaster in Hungary (where most bishops from the mid-1960s on collaborated with the regime), in Czechoslovakia (where the underground Church felt betrayed), and even in Rome, where Soviet bloc intelligence agencies used the new diplomatic contacts necessitated by the Ostpolitik to penetrate the Vatican in a quite striking way.

Moral power was the key to success. Communism might have collapsed of its own economic incompetence, but why did it collapse in 1989 rather than 1999 or 2009 or 2019? And why did it collapse without violence (Romania excepted)? Our premier Cold War historian, John Lewis Gaddis of Yale, has the answer: the moral revolution launched by John Paul II during his first pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979 was the key to all the rest.

There were winners and losers in this epic contest. Be grateful that we won. Be grateful for all those who sacrificed blood and treasure for the victory.


George Weigel. "Some Cold War Truths ." The Catholic Difference (September 30, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.

George Weigel's column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3123.



George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action, God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring, The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored.

George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.

Copyright © 2009 George Weigel

Version: 17th June 2010