This month 59 years ago – on 13 August 1961 – Berliners woke up to find that a wall was being built to split their city in two. To say it was a huge shock is an understatement.
It was not until 28 years later – in November 1989 – that Berliners ripped the wall down, using their hands and hammers.
It was a momentous moment in our continent’s history.
It led to the downfall of the Soviet communist regime, followed eventually by applications to join the European Union by most of the former Iron Curtain countries, fully supported and encouraged by our UK government.
It’s an event worth remembering, celebrating and, most of all, understanding.
Because for much of the last century, it was not just a major city, but our entire continent that was split in two, brutally separating European families and friends, communities and countries.
The planet’s only two world wars both originated right here, on our continent.
For hundreds of years, Europe was a continent whose history was regularly punctuated by the most vicious and nasty conflicts, wars and political oppression.
Between 1914 and 1945, around 100 million people in Europe needlessly lost their lives as a direct result of those wars, conflicts and oppression – including millions murdered on an industrial scale as a result of genocide.
It’s a shocking, despicable history of violence and subjugation, for which no one can be proud or nostalgic.
The second, and hopefully last, world war came to an end in 1945.
But then, instead of celebrating Europe’s liberation from Nazism, half of Europe’s countries found themselves consumed and subjugated by another totalitarian regime, Communism.
It was only 44 years later, as the Berlin wall began to crumble, that those countries could begin to see and feel freedom at last.
This was Europe’s gruelling and arduous road to peace and liberation that we should surely reflect upon.
When I recently visited Amsterdam, my Dutch friend said to me:
“Why are you doing Brexit? Europe is integrated now!”
Maybe this is something we, as islanders, simply don’t understand as deeply as those who live on the mainland of our continent.
Europe has suffered profound pain on its path to find peace and ‘integration’, following centuries of wars.
For many, the Second World War only ended in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the half of our continent that was hidden from us behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ was liberated at last.
We saw the fall of the oppressive Soviet Union, and many of the countries that had been trapped in its sphere then re-joined our family of countries through the European Union.
Following our continent’s long and harrowing journey, we have found peace between each other, and yes, integration at last.
And yet, in response, Britain is on a rapid road to an unharmonious Brexit, snubbing our friends and neighbours on our own continent, and putting at risk Europe’s profound and remarkable accomplishments of recent decades.
We may not be building a brick wall between our country and the rest of our continent, but Brexit is a wall nonetheless, that needlessly separates and divides us from our European family, friends and neighbours.
Do we really know what we’re doing?
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