ON Sunday, Germans celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with pomp and happiness. The anniversary also brings back sad memories of those who died trying to escape from East Germany, the Soviet Union’s most important satellite country standing face to face against the West in the Cold War between Communism and Western democracy.
It was a confrontation in which the United States took the lead to rally Western Europe against the Soviet Union through its military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and through economic blockades against the Russians to weaken their economy.
These punishing measures were accompanied by overt and covert propaganda, not only through national agencies, but also through private initiatives, such as journalists, non-governmental organisations, church evangelists and citizens, all working separately and sometimes individually to reach the people and democratic activists in the Soviet territories and support them in their struggle for political and personal freedoms.
Malaysians must be aware of these pivotal moments in history, because we can appreciate democracy and personal freedom more if we understand how other countries suffered under totalitarian regimes.
Today, there are many Muslim countries where their people are denied basic freedoms, like freedom of expression and association.
In conservative Muslim countries, it is worse. Women and girls are not free to pursue their education and career dreams and do not enjoy equal status with men because of cultural restrictions, legislated under the name of Islam to give the draconian measures official authority.
These countries close their society to the outside world for fear of their people adopting Western values of liberalism and pluralism. Museums, architectural monuments and heritage buildings are not allowed, let alone Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Oktoberfest.
Again, they use Islam and the threat from infidels to justify their restrictions, just like the Communist Soviets who defended their repressive laws by blaming Christians and Jews for collaborating with the Americans to subvert their culture and motherland.
Today, the ideology of hatred for liberalism and openness has become extinct in former Communist countries.
It, too, will become extinct in Islamic countries in 10 or 20 years from now.
Even Communist China has abandoned this ideological fear of foreign influences after the Cultural Revolution.
Speak to ordinary Chinese about the Mao Tze Tung era, and they will say: “Never again.”
The lesson from the recent history of Russia and China is that it is futile to control the rights and aspirations of the people for freedom, because, as their experience has shown, no government is powerful enough to stop the will of the people to be free of ideological restrictions.
The people will not allow the authorities to prevent them from realising their desires for economic, social and religious freedoms.
This, to me, is the most important lesson from the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
Long live freedom.