Nov. 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an iconic physical representation of the Iron Curtain. The event led to the reunification of East and West Germany and the eventual collapse of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The Iron Curtain was an ideological and physical separation of communist Eastern Europe from the West following World War II.
The term “iron curtain” was popularized after it was used by former British prime minister Winston Churchill in a landmark speech in the US in March 1946. “From Stettin [now called Szczecin] in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” declared Churchill, then leader of the opposition Conservatives. His comments were seen as an opening salvo in the Cold War that pitted the Soviet Union and the West against each other for more than four decades.
The term had been coined earlier. Russian writer Vasily Rozanov, in his 1918 book The Apocalypse of Our Time, wrote “an iron curtain is being lowered, creaking and squeaking, at the end of Russian history.”
The ideological barrier between Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe and the West gradually became a physical one spanning thousands of kilometers. To stop citizens from fleeing to the West, Soviet-dominated Eastern European countries began erecting various forms of barriers using barbed-wire, ditches and concrete walls. The separations were controlled by alarms, watchtowers, mines and soldiers.
Socialist Hungary put up the first section in 1949, building a 260km barbed wire fence along its border with Austria.
The Berlin Wall was an icon of the Iron Curtain. In 1952 Soviet-satellite East Germany constructed a 10m-wide barbed wire buffer along the entire length of its border with West Germany.
However, people were still able to get across in the divided city of Berlin, with about 3 million fleeing the East via this route between 1952 and 1961. To stop this important loss of manpower, East Germany in 1961 began constructing a wall. Made of reinforced concrete and wire mesh, the Berlin Wall stretched for 155km.
Eastern European citizens were only allowed to visit the West under strict conditions and those who tried to cross over without permission did so at great risk. About 600-700 people died trying to escape East Germany, about 140 at the Berlin Wall.
The first crack in the Iron Curtain appeared in May 1989 when Hungary decided to start opening its border with Austria. On Aug. 19 the frontier was to be symbolically opened for a few hours for a Pan-European Picnic. More than 600 East Germans holidaying in Hungary took advantage and fled to the West. It was the first mass exodus since the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall.
Soon afterwards Eastern Europe’s communist regimes started to tumble.
East Germans began to demonstrate, and on Nov. 9, 1989 the regime unexpectedly granted them the right to travel to the West freely. Thousands flocked to the wall, and disoriented border guards opened the checkpoints. Throughout the night, euphoric Berliners celebrated. Perching on the wall, they used pickaxes to knock out chunks.
Within two years the Soviet Union had imploded; the Iron Curtain falling with it.
(AFP with staff writer)
True or False
1. The term “Iron Curtain” was coined by former UK prime minister Winston Churchill.
2. The Berlin Wall was heavily controlled by guards, watchtowers and deadly traps to prevent people from fleeing East Germany. ?
3. The Berlin Wall was not the first physical manifestation of an “Iron Curtain” built by the East European communist states.
4. The Berlin Wall divided capitalist East Germany and communist West Germany.
5. The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered the collapse of East European communist regimes and the Soviet Union.
(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)
1. Iron Curtain phr. 鐵幕 (tie3 mu4)
2. ideological adj.
意識型態的 (yi4 shi4 xing2 tai4 de5)
3. communist adj.
共產主義的 (gong4 chan2 zhu3 yi4 de5)
4. Cold War phr. 冷戰 (leng3 zhan4)
5. barrier n.
界線；隔閡 (jie4 xian4; ge2 he2)
6. flee v. 逃離 (tao2 li2)
7. frontier n. 國界 (guo2 jie4)
8. demonstrate v.
示威 (shi4 wei1)
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