Thirty years ago this month the Berlin Wall was brought down, echoing the plea of one president who said, “Tear down this wall!”. Thirty years later a different kind of leader is ranting: “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 for a brief moment the world basked in a spring of refreshing air of a more promising future. Since then erecting all kinds of walls and fences has become a paranoid fashion. A false sense of security is being sold at the expense of liberty.
In the summer of 1986 I learned with enthusiasm what it looked like when countries were not fenced off with walls or barbed wire. I hiked a mountain trail between Sweden and Norway. It was an inspiring moment of freedom. No walls, no fences, no checkpoints, no surveillance cameras, only few markers letting you know where one country ended and another began.
My firsthand experience with the walled off communities that lived next to each other happened a few years later when I visited a divided Belfast in Northern Ireland. The same, warm and friendly people were divided between themselves by a lasting sectarian conflict. The picturesque wall graffiti that decorated many houses on both sides demonstrated clearly how they hated each other. I hope Brexit will not resurrect the long-gone walls and tensions again.
Then in 2013 I stood next to the wall separating Mexico from the US. It was there even before a new leader promised to build even a “better, taller, longer, stronger” wall. It was a sad experience as I looked through the metal bars into the river, trees, houses, half of the city on the other side. On both sides of the wall lived the same people, divided families, who spoke the same language, played and listened to same kind of music.
And then in 2015 and 2016 I saw the barbed fences put up between Hungary and Serbia, and Slovenia and Croatia. Hungarians and Slovenians argued that they wanted to “keep their countries safe from the invasion of refugees”. They said that they wanted to keep their “Christian values, heritage, history, traditions” protected, so by twisteding the command of Jesus they “did to others what they didn’t want others do to them”.
More fences of all kinds have emerged since: fences and walls in the minds and hearts of mesmerized crowds that seem to enjoy yelling ugly statements of hysteria, hatred and division: “Go back home! You don’t belong here!”
And some are promising even more fanciful walls. Only a few days ago our President promised to build a big wall in Colorado (!?!) “that really works. You can’t get over. You can’t go under it” – promised he.
November 1989 brought an end to the Berlin Wall, but a fresh and promising breeze of a better world born at its ruins did not last for too long. The builders of walls, fences, and all kinds of barriers and obstacles are busier than ever. But the writing on the Berlin Wall continues to prophetically declare: “Walls are not everlasting!”