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20th Anniversary of Fall of Berlin Wall; Most Illegal Game of Volleyball

Aired November 09, 2009 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Tonight, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union. Has the promise been fulfilled?

Good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And welcome to the program.

Twenty years ago today, four decades of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe came to an abrupt end and Germany became a united country again for the first time since World War II. Unification seemed a distant prospect when the wall went up in the dark days of the Cold War, August, 1961. With the barriers of concrete and steel, the guard towers, tank traps and minefields, at least 136 people were killed trying to cross the border between 1961 and 1989.

But the iron grip of communism was no match for a new generation of East Germans. With hammers in bare hands, they tore down the wall as border guards stood aside and the Soviet army stayed in its barracks.

It was a celebration that few could have imagined when U.S. President Ronald Reagan delivered this challenge to the Soviets in 1987...




REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.


AMANPOUR: That was in 1987, as we said, two years before the wall came down.

And with me now, the man who was U.S. secretary of state at that time, James Baker. He joins us from Houston, Texas. And Dmitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center. He's lived and worked in both the former Soviet Union and here in the United States.

And we welcome you both.

Welcome, Mr. Simes.


AMANPOUR: Welcome, Secretary Baker.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you the first question. Those words, you know, many of die-hard Reagan believers say it was those words that brought down the wall.

Does credit go to him alone?

BAKER: I think credit goes to really almost every American president since Harry Truman. All of them were steadfast in their opposition to communism and to the reach of the Soviet Union, and to the totalitarianism and the subjugation of the people of Central and eastern Europe. So I think almost every American president since Harry Truman deserves some of the credit. Certainly a lot of it goes to Ronald Reagan, but a lot of it also goes to George H. W. Bush, who managed the end game very effectively and very adroitly.

AMANPOUR: I was going to ask, actually, about whether credit went to the other side as well, Dmitri Simes. Mikhail Gorbachev -- without him, could it have happened?

SIMES: Well, no question it wouldn't, because you just mentioned an iron grip of communism. There was no iron grip of communism at that time anymore, and that was because of Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika and because Gorbachev making quite clear in advance he would not use force in Central Europe.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, Mr. Simes, he had any idea what he was unleashing when he said that?

SIMES: I think that originally he expected communism with human face and a new generation of East European leaders who would be little Gorbachevs. But he discovered, of course, that when people of Central Europe were given the choice, the choice was communism no more, Soviet empire no more.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Baker, do you think Mr. Gorbachev had any idea what he was unleashing?

BAKER: No, I really don't. I think, as Dmitri said, he was trying to change the face of socialism. But let me say that I agree 100 percent with what Dmitri said about credit as far as Mikhail Gorbachev and, for that matter, his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. I think history will really treat both of those individuals very well because they were, after all, at the top of the Soviet hierarchy when the decision was made not to keep the empire together by force. I mean, the Soviet troops didn't come out of their barracks, but that was because they didn't get any orders to come out of their barracks.

AMANPOUR: Tell me on a person note, Secretary Baker -- you went to former East Germany, as it was then, about a month after the wall came down. What was it like in Technicolor for you?

BAKER: Well, it was very drab. It was like going into a third-world country where the infrastructure was all decaying and drab. I mean, the contrast between East and West Germany at the time was really quite stark. I think I was the only -- I was the -- I'm proud of saying I was the first American secretary of state to visit East Germany and the last, because I was the only one.

AMANPOUR: And Mr. Simes, today, in Germany, former and last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev walked across the symbolic divide, along with Angela Merkel, who was East German and was one of the masses who crossed Checkpoint Charlie that day 20 years ago.

SIMES: Well, Merkel is, of course, a truly remarkable person. She's tough as nails. She's a German patriot. She's no communist, to say the least, but she knew how to build a pragmatic relationship with the new Russia despite many differences.

I need to say something about Secretary Baker, who also deserves enormous credit. And the reason he deserves enormous credit, in addition to being a very skillful diplomat, because the secretary built a special relationship with both Shevardnadze and Gorbachev. And as Gorbachev told me much later, talking to Secretary Baker, he got a great feeling that the United States would not take unilateral advantage of the Soviet collapse.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean, Secretary Baker? Mr. Simes has just paid you tribute. What is it that you negotiated and discussed with your counterpart? And did you promise not to take advantage of them?

BAKER: Well, I don't recall specifically saying, "We're not going to take advantage of you," but there was -- we were not proceeding in that way at that time. You know, we and the George H. W. Bush administration took some great pains to not press the Soviet reformers.

We saw Gorbachev and Shevardnadze as true reformers. We wanted them to succeed. Whenever anybody in the administration suggested that they might not succeed, they were cut off at the knees by the White House because we wanted them to succeed.

And you will recall, Christiane, that President Bush received quite a bit of criticism when the wall came down for not being sufficiently emotional about it. After all, here we saw something we had been seeking for the full 40 years of the Cold War, it was happening before our eyes, and many people, in the press particularly, were saying he's not emotional enough, he needs to do more. After all, this is a transformational event.

Well, we knew it was a transformational event, but we also knew we had a lot of business that we still had to accomplish with the leaders of the Soviet Union. And one major piece of that business was German unification, which really wasn't accomplished for another year.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to ask you about that in a minute, but carrying on this theme of what was said to the Soviet Union or not, did the U.S. ever give Gorbachev or other USSR officials assurances that after Germany joined NATO, no other East European country would join NATO? Did you give those assurances?

BAKER: Never. Never.

AMANPOUR: Were they ever asked, sought?

BAKER: No. No. Well, I don't know whether they were sought of others. They were not sought of me particularly.

There was discussion early on about whether or not if Germany was permitted to unify as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whether there might not be any extension of NATO eastward. But that was only in the context of East Germany and then, subsequently, that position changed, Gorbachev agreed to it expressly on at least two occasions, one with President Bush and one with Helmut Kohl. And the Germans paid the Soviets 12 billion deutschmarks for their commitment to let Germany be a member of NATO, with an agreement on our part, by the way, that there would not be foreign troops on the territory of the GDR, only German troops.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Simes, what did Gorbachev understand about this whole NATO thing? I mean, I've heard he didn't even ask for a NATO treaty.

SIMES: Well, Gorbachev, personally, clearly was quite disillusioned because he was hopeful that there would be no NATO expansion. But the secretary is absolutely right -- he was hopeful without good reason.

AMANPOUR: Why didn't he ask then for -- to solidify his hope?

SIMES: I will give you a remarkable answer provided by Gorbachev's then- principal foreign adviser, Natoli Chernev (ph). I assume Secretary Baker knows him well.

BAKER: Very well.

SIMES: Natoli Chernev (ph) wrote in his memoirs, how could we ask for legal guarantees on German unification and on Central Europe? That would not be like new thinking. That would be old thinking.

That would suggest that we don't trust our partners. So it never occurred to us to ask for formal guarantees.

AMANPOUR: Fast forward 10, 15, 20 years, and this is a point of great contention.

We'll follow this up right after a break.

Stay with us. And we'll be back after this look at the impact of the wall's collapse on the entire Soviet bloc.



JANN CHRISTOPH ZELLS, OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: It was a very dark, saucy (ph) night. I was one of the first few hundred people who made it at the checkpoint (INAUDIBLE). We had been together as a group of opposition people to prepare some leaflets and process for the next day. We arrived there when several hundred people debating (ph) there and shouting, "Open the wall! Open the wall!"

(INAUDIBLE), and we were there in West Berlin. We (INAUDIBLE) West Berlin (INAUDIBLE) and partied. The next morning my friend took me back to work. I arrived late. My boss welcomed me and said, "The fall of the wall is not a reason to come late to work." Then I knew I had to change jobs.


AMANPOUR: That was Jann Christoph Zells (ph), an opposition activist in East Germany. He was talking to us over Skype about his experiences that night in 1989.

Joining me again is the former U.S. secretary of state, James Baker, and president of The Nixon Center, Dmitri Simes.

Mr. Baker, you were talking about unification and how various people were looking at it. I think what's sort of extraordinary, perhaps people don't remember, is how (INAUDIBLE) opposed Margaret Thatcher was to it, and also the French.

BAKER: Well, that's right, Christiane. They were both opposed to it, and I think it was the close coordination and cooperation between the United States of America and Germany, West Germany, that overcame that reluctance. But let me say one more thing about the subject you were talking about before the break, this question of extending NATO.

You know, there was a discussion about whether the unified Germany would be a member of NATO, and that was the only discussion we ever had. And the Soviets signed a treaty acknowledging that the unified Germany would be a member of NATO. So I don't understand how they can have these ideas that somehow, now, we promised them there would be no extension of NATO. There was never any discussion of anything but the GDR.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because, apparently, also, Mr. Simes, President Gorbachev told the White House that the countries which were freed would be free to join whatever alliance.

SIMES: That's true.


So that is correct, right, Mr. Baker?

BAKER: Right. Right. That's absolutely right.

AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Simes, what is it then with the current leadership in Moscow, whether it's Vladimir Putin, whether it's the current president, Medvedev, why are they so allergic to the idea of NATO around the former Soviet Republic?

SIMES: Well, to be fair and square, it is clear that Gorbachev was never promised that there would be no NATO expansion. But he thought there would be a totally different European security architecture, that it would be totally different later. He even had the hopes that NATO would disappear. So he did not expect there would be hesitation when there would be a new Europe built around later, and on the other side, to the east, there would be Russia.

That is not what most people, including reformists in Russia, have expected. And it came to them as a very unpleasant surprise.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Baker, I want to play something that you said shortly after the wall came down about unification. Take a listen.


BAKER: Hopes for a Europe, whole and free, are tinged with concern by some that a Europe undivided may not necessarily be a Europe peaceful and prosperous.


AMANPOUR: You were referring there to, what, France, to Britain? What were you referring to there?

BAKER: Well, I can't remember when I made those comments. Some time during the course...

AMANPOUR: You look very, very young.

BAKER: Yes, that's probably true -- during the course of the 11 months that it took to unify Germany and peace and freedom as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But one thing we obviously did not want, and that those remarks might have been directed toward, was a neutral German in the heart of Europe. We thought at the time and I think now that that would have been a force for great instability in Europe.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Simes, there have been all sorts of documents from the Kremlin, official records that have been smuggled out and have now been unearthed. I want to ask you about this -- Margaret Thatcher, the famous iron lady, apparently told President Gorbachev two months before the fall of the wall that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it. That, in fact, the West would not push for de-communization.

SIMES: Well, de-communization, that's a different story. I think it was very clear that Margaret Thatcher was adamantly opposed to communism, but clearly, as Secretary Baker just said, there were (INAUDIBLE), in particularly London, about unification of Germany, about Germany being NATO (ph). And I'm sure Gorbachev was referring to this concern.

Let me say, however, we're celebrating quite properly this historic event, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Let us not forget, however, that one problem is that Europe is still divided. And the secretary just talked about that in a different context. And we have a huge country named Russia which still remains aside and actually in opposition to this process, creating serious, serious potential problems.

AMANPOUR: And also, just to follow up, a Russia that has major problems when it comes to respecting human rights, democratization and all that.

Did you expect it to take this long for Russia to get with the democracy picture, so to speak?

SIMES: Well, there is no democracy picture. I think there is a retreat from democracy in Russia, and that is partly because of Russian tradition, because of Russian circumstances, but, frankly, also because we did not do as much as they think we were supposed to do to bring Russia into a big European family. The big European family was build (ph) Russia without Russia and, to some extent, in opposition to Russia.

AMANPOUR: Would you say...

BAKER: Let me agree with that, if I might, Christiane. I really agree with what Dmitri just said. And in fact, you might find this surprising, but I wrote a piece for "Washington Quarterly" in 1994, in the first year or so after I left office, in which I said that Russia should be eligible for membership in NATO.

Right after German unification, we did modify NATO significantly. We changed a lot of its character. We gave it -- we enhanced its political missions. We didn't diminish its security mission, but we emphasized more its political nature.

We formed the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Russia joined that as a member of it, so did some other Eastern European states. And in 1994, I said, you know what we ought to do is we should amend the NATO charter in a wan that any country on the Eurasian continent that fully embraces democracy and free markets would be eligible to join.

Now, I got a lot of criticism for writing that from some quarters. I still think that would have been a good thing to do if we had done it back there in '93 or '94.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to reflect also on the current state of affairs in the United States? It was clear that when the wall fell, the Soviet Union was collapsing anyway internally under the economic weight, under the weight of what had happened in Afghanistan, committing its soldiers. Do you find it ironic or worthy of comment that today, 20 years later, the U.S. is facing two hot wars, struggling, that it's facing a financial collapse, that it's facing a crisis in its health care? Did you imagine that the U.S. would be at this point 20 years later?

BAKER: Are you asking me or Dmitri?



BAKER: Well, not really. I don't think I sat there 20 years ago and said, boy, America is going to have two very difficult wars and go through an economic tsunami much like the Great Depression, or the worst since the Great Depression. I certainly wasn't thinking that, but I wouldn't compare the United States today to the Soviet Union 20 years ago, before it imploded.

There are many, many differences. And the United States is just one heck of a lot stronger. We're still the economy that represents 25 percent of the world's gross national product. We're the de facto reserve currency of the world.

A lot of things don't get done when there's no U.S. leadership. Those things were not the case back there.

AMANPOUR: All right.

BAKER: We have a lot of things going for us that the Soviet Union didn't have, not least of which is our political stability.

AMANPOUR: Well, thank you so much.

And on that note, I'm afraid we have to end.

Secretary Baker, Dmitri Simes, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

And next, we have our "PostScript" from Berlin to North America, people who are proving they can overcome the barriers that still separate them today.



WINSTON CHURCHILL, FMR. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and eastern Europe -- Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia.


AMANPOUR: That was Winston Churchill in 1946, predicting the Cold War. But barriers remain in other parts of this world, in places such as Korea, Jerusalem and North America.

A film from our Global Dispatch Project notes just one example. "Walleyball" documents the most illegal game of volleyball in the world at the barrier between the United States and Mexico.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the (INAUDIBLE) since the Vietnam War has (INAUDIBLE). They have heat sensors, motion detection systems. They have different night-scope visions.

They use military-issued weapons, military-issued vehicles. They have big screens, airplanes, helicopters. They have horse patrols. They really put themselves in a war zone.

Basically, you know, this is that mentality. This ordinary existence inside of us, it's a prison mentality border (ph). We have to see our neighbors through those kinds of slats (INAUDIBLE).

You know, it costs, like, about $500 for each wood (ph) of this wall.

How many of you have played volleyball (INAUDIBLE)? There's a lot of walls here away from the border. I think that you have -- to go to break that wall in Mexico, you have to (INAUDIBLE). You have to reach through those slats.

You know that (INAUDIBLE)? And this could be...


AMANPOUR: So that was just one stark example of some of the absurdity of separating peoples just across a wall. That was part of the barrier being built between the United States and Mexico, two volleyball teams, one on each side.

Please send us your videos with your unique and uncommon perspective on our world. Go to our Web site,, for details.

We'll have much more on the Berlin Wall anniversary at the top of the hour in "CONNECT THE WORLD." Becky Anderson will host the entire show live from the Brandenburg Gate.

That's our report for now. And we leave you with the music of the celebrated Russian cellist, Mitzlav Rosoprovich (ph), giving an impromptu concert at the remains of the wall in Berlin two days after it fell.