German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged Europe to defend democracy and freedom as the country marked 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall and warned that such gains must not be taken for granted.
During a solemn ceremony in a church standing on the former “death strip” that divided East and West, Merkel said that the Berlin Wall reminds “us that we have to do our part for freedom and democracy”.
The wall had separated Soviet-controlled East Berlin and capitalist West Berlin during the Cold War.
Its fall in 1989 was seen as a victory for liberal democracy and led to Germany’s reunification a year later.
“We stand stripped of any excuses and are required to do our part of freedom and democracy,” she added in a ceremony at the Berlin Wall memorial.
There has been a rise in the far-right in many European countries, while the governments of EU countries such as Poland and Hungary have been accused of undermining the rule of law.
Merkel further said that the past must serve as a lesson, noting that the collapse of the Berlin Wall is “history and teaches us that no wall that keeps people out and limits freedom is so high or so wide that it cannot be broken through.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to Germany’s neighbours while speaking to the ceremony and said, “Without the courage of the will to freedom of the Poles and Hungarians, the Czechs and Slovaks, the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe and Germany’s reunification would not have been possible”.
On November 9, 1989, East German border guards, overwhelmed by large crowds, threw open the gates to West Berlin, allowing free passage for the first time since the Berlin Wall was built.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not at the ceremony but visited Berlin.
On Friday, during a speech, he warned that “freedom is never guaranteed”.
Saturday was also the anniversary of the Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass – when thousands of Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses were attacked in Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938.
About 200 people joined a far-right protest in Bielefeld in northwest Germany in support of a Holocaust denier, while thousands of anti-fascist and left-wing groups held a counter-protest, according to local media.
(With inputs from IANS)