Editor’s note: The secondary headline that accompanied this story in the Nov. 6 print edition mistakenly read that the event celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s destruction. The event in fact celebrated the 25th anniversary. We regret the error.
Twenty-five years ago, people all over the world watched as German citizens from the east and the west sides of the Berlin Wall chiseled away at the barrier, which had divided them for nearly 30 years.
Cal State Fullerton’s European Studies Program and The Division of Politics, Administration and Justice commemorated and discussed the legacy of the Berlin Wall as the physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain, and as a reference point for politics today during a Monday symposium.
Approximately 100 people attended the event, which was held in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where some of Nixon’s presidential papers regarding the Cold War and a segment of the Berlin Wall are housed.
“It was a nice way to connect (students) to tangible history,” said Cora Granata, a professor whose research focuses on culture and nationalism in the former German Democratic Republic. She and Alexi Shevchenko, who teaches U.S. Foreign Relations, had their afternoon classes bused over from campus.
Granata and Stephen Stambough, chair of the division, started planning this event with the help of various student organizations last spring. The pair wanted to marry the study of applied world politics and academic study of world events, Stambough said.
As such, they chose Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and former chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, as the keynote speaker.
Royce, a CSUF alumnus, was elected to congress in 1992–not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall. He shared with the audience some insights regarding the reunification of Germany and applied history to current political tensions in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Royce shared anecdotes about witnessing an arm wrestling match between two former agents of rival international intelligence agencies. At a bar in the early ‘90s, a show of bravado between Jack Wheeler, a friend of Royce, and future Russian President Vladimir Putin became much more when Wheeler and Putin sniffed each other out as members of the Central Intelligence Agency and the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency.
Royce described Putin as aggressive and suggested his foreign policy was a reflection of his nature.
The collapse of the Soviet Union lulled the world into believing that Europe was finally at peace, Royce said. He claimed that Putin’s aggression in Ukraine was proof that Europeans and the U.S. should be be more concerned about defense.
Russell Dalton, a political science professor at UCI who has written extensively on German politics, reiterated Royce’s assertion that Cold War politics still affects politics today.
After reunification, former East Germans were frustrated and disappointed with their new democratic government, Dalton explained. Those east of the wall had been idealistic, expecting an open and honest government and were surprised by the West German sense of cynicism, Dalton said.
Today, 80 percent of Germans who live in the east still believe socialist ideals. This is sometimes reflected in European Union social policies, Dalton said.