Remembrance in the shadow of the Berlin Wall

On the 9 November 1989 the Berlin Wall was breached. For the previous 28 years crossings had been made, and many more attempted and failed, with those fleeing from East to West shot as they sought freedom. The line that stood between East and West crumbled that night as guards looked on bewildered as their commands to fire never came, as families cleft apart for a generation were reunited.

In the weeks and months leading up to that symbolic ending, the façade of the Cold War slipped and the decayed state of the Eastern Bloc became visible for the world to see. The Soviet Union refused to send tanks into Poland to support the communist government. The Hungarian leader told Soviet leader Gorbachev that his border with Austria would be neglected and unguarded if he didn’t get the funds to reinforce it.

Gorbachev was a communist but his actions and inaction hastened the decline of the Soviet empire and brought the Cold War to an end. It was an economic decision as much as anything, the cost of maintaining an empire was one that could not be afforded. Gorbachev reasoned that dispensing with the satellite states might give the Soviet Union scope to prosper. Instead it gave permission for collapse. Those countries that attempted to maintain a one party communist dictatorship soon fell, the crowds took impetus from the revolutions across the border, in Czechoslovakia peaceful protest led to the Velvet Revolution. In Romania Nicolae Ceausescu desperately tried to cling onto power but after his security forces fired on protestors violence erupted, he was ousted, charged with genocide and killed by a firing squad on Christmas Day, just six weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I was five when the wall came down. All I have ever known is a world in the shadow of the Cold War. We did not watch the fall of Soviet states in Eastern Europe in my primary school classroom (but I do remember my year one teacher switching on the TV just two weeks later for the first televised parliamentary debate). Continue reading

Syria: Prayer is not a weapon of last resort

Last night Threads hosted a gathering to discuss Syria and what we can do in response to it. It also involved a broken chair which I was unfairly characterised as having ‘brandished’, but the less about that the better.

The need acutely highlighted by articles such as ‘9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask‘. A meme spread a few weeks ago where you had to pin point on a map where Damascus is – I was relieved to only be about 80 miles out, apparently better that most other users.

That the situation is complex is a statement so obvious it borders on meaningless. Neither side are angels (are they ever?), the crimes committed are disputed, the efficacy of military action disputed.

Complexity can blind us. Imperfect options can ground us. Fear can stall us. Fatigue can make us turn away.

I put the case last night that while there is a just cause and a moral case for intervention, we should still not take military action. I made the case that without a good prospect of success, or a clear idea of what that success looks like, the moral weight behind military intervention would be scuppered. Continue reading