Radio Address to the
Nation on the 26th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall
August 8, 1987
week the world will mark a dark anniversary. Twenty-six years ago on Thursday,
at one minute after , thousands of East
German troops marched out of their barracks and, in the dead of night and
backed by Soviet forces, built the Berlin Wall. Today's Berlin Wall is very
different from the crude strip of barbed wire that the people of Berlin woke up to the
following morning 26 years ago. Changes have included the addition of guard
towers, tank stops, razor-sharp metal fences, floodlights, ditches, and dog
runs. The wall itself is now 12 feet high, concrete, and painted white so that
anyone climbing it will make an easy target.
over the years, one thing hasn't changed. It is this: Although the wall
it is not West Berliners who are its prisoners. As one West German newspaper
put it the morning after the wall went up: ``Yesterday, East Berlin was officially
transformed into one immense concentration camp.'' But it takes more than walls
and guns to imprison the human spirit. In the last 26 years, almost 5,000
people have broken through this barrier and fled to freedom. Some tunneled
under the wall. Some rigged ropes and pulleys to glide over it. Some ran trucks
through checkpoints. Some simply ran on foot across what officials in the
Soviet bloc call a ``modern border'' and the people of Berlin call the ``death
strip.'' At least 74 men and women have died in that race for freedom.
June, on my way home from the economic summit in Venice, I visited Berlin and saw the wall once
again. And I saw, as I have before, that people have put up small crosses on
the free side of the wall -- memorials to those who were killed trying to get
over. On one side, the ``death strip;'' on the other,
memorials to those who fell crossing it. No place on Earth can you see
more clearly the contrast between the prison that is communism and the spirit
of liberty that lives in all of humanity.
recent months, we've heard a great deal from the Soviet world about something
called glasnost. Glasnost is a Russian word that, we're told, means openness.
But does it mean genuine openness to speak, to write, to travel, even to buy
and sell? Or is it more of a publicity show? As I said in Berlin in June, the way for
the Soviets to demonstrate their dedication to true openness is to tear down
the wall. That's not all they could do. At the end of World War II, the Soviets
promised free elections in Eastern Europe. Openness should mean
fulfilling that promise. Openness should also mean freeing political prisoners,
refuseniks, and other prisoners of conscience. It
should mean an end to Soviet imperialism, whether it's in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Angola, Cuba, or Nicaragua. It should, in short,
mean openness in all the nations subject to Soviet domination.
Berlin this June, I said that
we in the United States were ready to join with
the Soviets in bringing true openness to that divided city. I suggested
starting discussions on four proposals. The proposals were: first, to look for
ways to expand commercial air access to Berlin so that one day it might be the
hub of central European air traffic; second, to bring more international
meetings and conferences to Berlin -- for example, United Nations meetings;
third, I encouraged a program of exchanges so that young East and West
Berliners could more easily visit and come to know one another; and fourth, I
proposed holding, in some future year, the Olympic games in Berlin.
all of these proposals would bring a new openness into the lives not only of
Berliners but of people throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well. We should keep
in mind how important this is for each of us, as Americans, as a people who
want peace among nations. Because of our renewed strength, we've made great
progress in the last several years toward peace, particularly in the area of
arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union. But encouraging though
this has been, we should not let ourselves forget the warning of the Czech
dissident writer Vaclav Havel, who some time ago
cautioned us that: ``Respect for human rights is the fundamental condition and
the sole genuine guarantee of true peace. A lasting peace,'' he said, ``can
only be the work of free people.''
on this 20th [26th] anniversary of the Berlin Wall, let us resolve to do all we
can to hasten the day when the wall is down and Berlin has become a symbol not
of confrontation but of cooperation among the peoples of Europe and of the
next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.