| A German smashes the Berlin Wall in this November 11, 1989, file picture. (Reuters)
Berlin, April 15 (Reuters): Many East Germans who helped topple the Berlin Wall are rising up again — this time to angrily reject comparisons by US leaders between the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq and Communist East Germany.
German government leaders, historians and even ordinary Berliners who danced on top of the Berlin Wall as it cracked open in November 1989 have dismissed as absurd analogies with Iraq drawn by US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld.
“There were no dead bodies lying on the ground nearby when we celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall,” said Wolfgang Thierse, president of Germany’s parliament and a former dissident in Communist East Germany. “When East Germans and other eastern Europeans knocked down the statues, the people did it by themselves and not with the troops of a victorious belligerent,” said Thierse, second only to President Johannes Rau as Germany’s titular head of state.
Rumsfeld had said last week that the television images of Iraqis celebrating as US soldiers helped pull down giant statues of Saddam in Baghdad reminded him of the joyous scenes of Berliners jumping onto the Wall that locked them out of the West.
“The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the centre of Baghdad are breathtaking,” Rumsfeld said. “Watching them I cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Iron Curtain.”
His remarks in Washington have stirred up strong feelings in Germany, which has been overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and millions have taken part in anti-war rallies in recent months. Thierse and many Germans said they were offended by his parallel of the Berlin Wall with Baghdad. Others countered that such objections were not only petty but revisionist for overlooking the “yearning for freedom” issue at the heart of the US drive to oust Saddam.
The Germans have argued that the collapse of Communist East Germany in 1989 was brought about peacefully and as the result of an internal uprising — and not triggered by the invasion of an outside army.
Not one shot was fired as hundreds of thousands of East Germans demonstrated for freedom of travel in the autumn of 1989. Encouraged by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s moves to open up Communist society and poorly coordinated moves by a weakened East German government, many thousands appealed to Berlin Wall border guards to open the barrier on November 9, 1989.
“It was an absurd comparison (by Rumsfeld) and most eastern Germans can see there were spectacular differences between Berlin in 1989 and Baghdad now,” said Heinrich August Winkler, a leading German historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University.
“There was a widespread civil rights movement in East Germany that uncorked powerful forces in East Berlin which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately forced the Communist East German regime onto its knees,” he said. “It was a liberation from inside and not the outside. In Baghdad the regime was brought down by external forces,” said Winkler.