The Public Relations behind Demolishing Walls (more specifically the Berlin Wall)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall—

Robert Frost

While Frost’s poem Mending Wall was one written around WWI, its central theme is related to boundaries. This poem, though, is one that is a timeless work that probably speaks to a number of historical events when boundaries are created to avoid conflict.

And this is the case with the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall….

What was the event that sparked the conversation regarding the Berlin Wall?

The conversation started years before the wall’s historic removal. Every now and then, previous to the end of the Cold War, you would hear about defections from Eastern Bloc countries and the many miseries of living in a society that controlled many of its citizens’ freedoms.

Years previous to the Wall’s fall, several conversations began that would open the door to removing the wall, beginning with one conversation in the Soviet Union, namely about a doctrine that would allow Eastern bloc countries to decide the fate of remaining behind the Iron Curtain.

However, like the wall in Frost’s Mending Wall, the conversation about removing the wall would come as a result of minor maintenance needed to fix the fence….

The Hungarian prime minister, at the time, decided, months before, the wire fence that separated Hungary and Austria would be dismantled. You would never guess that such a trivial event would be the beginning of the end of one of the greatest superpowers on the Earth at the time.

Unofficially, this event was important because, although people had been travelling between Hungary and Austria secretly, the wire cutting ceremony heralded in free passage between Hungary and Austria, and then further into the west, or to freedom.

…There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across [a]nd eat the cones under his pine, I tell him. He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

—Frost

The conversations leading up to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall were similar, conversations regarding the need of physical boundaries.

The final blow to the Berlin Wall happened in, and around, German cities. Starting with small demonstrations, groups of people exchanged ideas regarding dismantling the wall and regarding freedom. As their protests grew louder, the number of people grew in to the thousands in opposition to the wall. At some point, students (intellectuals) who lived in East Berlin began to protest for reforms. By the height of protests, the number had increased to 500,000.

How did public relations play a role in this historic event?

Public relations played a role at every stage of the game. Because protesters engaged in demonstrations as a movement at the grassroots level, the communities that made up socialists countries behind The Curtain not only invested in the idea of freedom but publicity was almost through word of mouth.

The event that led to the eventual dismantling of the Wall and the reunification of Germany happened in August 1989 when hundreds of East Germans walked through the unstable wooden fence that ran through Hungary and into Austria, walking west and toward freedom.

This single event is credited as being the reason and the force behind the eventual removal of the Berlin Wall, a wall existing hundreds of miles away. These events in Germany and Hungary, referred to as the Peaceful Revolutionled to free elections and the Unification Treaty in Germany.

Why is this event important to us in 2018?

From a public relations standpoint, this movement is another example of the power of mass groups of people affecting change on their own without the aid of social media or the internet or any of today’s tools which make disseminating information much faster.

On the individual level, these events speak to the kind that frees nations but also frees individuals like you and me from bondage that is created when autocratic governments interfere in personal freedoms.


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