Europe celebrates 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
On 9 November, it will be 20 years since the East German authorities finally gave in and allowed their citizens to travel freely between communist East Berlin and West Berlin.
Back in 1989, the news was met first with disbelief – quickly followed by jubilant street parties, long queues to visit the ‘other side’ and emotional reunions. The day marked the culmination of movements – often underground – against eastern Europe’s communist regimes.
Cultural events across Europe will commemorate the tearing down of the Iron Curtain. In the UK, iconic posters from 1989 will be projected onto major buildings, while the EU office in Dublin, Ireland, will stage an exhibition.
The Berlin Wall had divided East and West Berlin since 1961.
The first signs of change had appeared as early as 1988, when, after a wave of strikes, the Polish government agreed to talk to the opposition movement, Solidarity. The waves of dissent soon spread to the rest of eastern Europe.
Hungary opened its borders with Austria in May 1989, creating the first crack in the Iron Curtain. In August, two million people in the three Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – held hands to form a 600 km long chain between the capital cities to draw attention to their calls for independence.
On 3 October 1990, East and West Germany were formally reunified and the old East German territory became part of the EU. As other communist regimes crumbled and were replaced with new, freely elected governments, plans were drawn up to help them meet the criteria for EU membership. This included establishing stable democratic institutions, the rule of law and protection for human rights, as well as a functioning market economy.
Since then, 10 former communist countries have met these requirements. In 2004, the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia all became EU members. In 2007, Romania and Bulgaria also joined.
EU citizens now travel, work and study freely across 27 countries, businesses profit from an increasingly integrated EU market and Slovakia and Slovenia have even met the conditions for joining the EU's single currency, the euro.
All of this has contributed to the continuing peace and stability in Europe, which the EU strives to preserve.