I have been watching the various celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall from the unusual vantage point of Accra. I have no mixed feelings over the fall of Soviet communist control over Europe. I don’t think Reagan’s use of the phrase “Evil empire” was wrong. The Americans have of course embarked on a new enthusiasm for their own evil empire since.
The euphoria of the spread of freedom seemwd to usher in an era of hope when I was 30. I still recall the images of the people on top of the Berlin wall, of Mandela’s walk from jail, and of the puzzled look on the face of Ceaucescu as he realised the crowd was booing him. It was a time to lift the heart.
But having worked in Poland’s transition from Communism in the mid 1990’s, I also know that much of Eastern Europe “lost” a generation of then middle aged workers who could not adjust from the communist system, and there was terrible economic hardship alongside the yuppie glitz. Life expectancy plummeted. It is not for nothing that Walesa and Gorbachev, who were the star guests in Berlin now, plunged to depths of political unpopularity in their own countries that make Gordon Brown seem adored.
But my main thought is that people must realise that the wall did not come down for everybody. Uzbekistan is still a totalitarian state and still does indeed lock its people in. Uzbeks still need an exit visa to leave – and only three weeks ago I was contacted over the most recent case of an Uzbek resident in the UK, who had been arrested travelling in Russia and deported back to Tashkent because they had no valid Uzbek exit visa.
Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and even the Ukraine have all with increasing frequency been deporting Uzbeks – who were legally in those countries – back to Tashkent, very often because their Uzbek exit visas expired, or because they were political dissidents wanted by the Uzbek authorities.
The original evil empire is not quite dead yet. The wall did not fall for everybody.