Walls are symbols of imprisonment – so tearing them down has served us well over the past three decades. Now we are confronted with the construction of another wall. One that is designed, they say, to protect our values.
Ukraine is reinforcing its border with Russia. The new wall is going to divide Europe again, merely a few thousand kilometers from its toppled predecessor. And it doesn’t even have to be physically built in order to exist in the peoples’ heads. Michail Gorbachev’s speech from last year now seems almost helpless: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he said we “cannot allow a new wall to arise” and the trust we have gained to be eroded.
The former president was so involved in both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union that many Russians still blame him for it. That might be why Gorbachev decided to remain silent on the topics of Ukraine and Crimea. This time, it’s Gorbachev who is too late and who is misinterpreting the signs of the times. The wall in Ukraine is built on a different premise: not to oppress the people living in its confines, but to protect them from an external aggressor. The country is unstable and needs this wall to consolidate itself, to protect itself from civil war. To do so, it is sacrificing the country’s east, where Ukrainian troops have been unable to assert themselves.
Competition of systems
Walls have a price. The German division cost at least 274 people their lives and compromised the liberty of millions of others. But when tanks faced one another at Checkpoint Charlie in October 1961, no shots were fired. A total ceasefire would be a success for Ukraine as well: So far, more than 6000 people have lost their lives in the fight between Kiev and the separatists – a high price to pay for the question of whether the country should align itself with Russia or with the EU.
Walls offer opportunities. With the EU’s support, Ukraine could show that the spirit of freedom can bring about more change than Putin’s “New Russia” propaganda ever will. Putin forces the West into a new competition between systems: democracy, freedom, and rule of law versus autocracy, censorship, and the rule of the strongest. We don’t have to stand by idly. So let’s make no mistake about it: Any country that builds a wall isolates itself and makes its own values into an absolute. But, as we know, the meek cannot even rest peacefully unless it suits their wicked neighbor.
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