Why the Left has no right to celebrate fall of Berlin Wall
Published 13/11/2009 | 05:00
There has been something just a tad galling about some of the coverage of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this past fortnight. You would think, to judge from the coverage, that opposition to Eastern European communism was uniform throughout the Western world, including Ireland, when it was anything but.
In fact, many politicians, many commentators, and many academics were actively sympathetic towards the Soviet Union when it was still in existence. In this country, that included just about everyone in the old Workers Party.
Even the soft Left was ambiguous about communism. They didn't like some of the things done in its name -- the mass killing was slightly embarrassing -- but they quite liked its egalitarian ideals.
You could count on the soft Left to criticise communist regimes every now and then but they would almost always add that America was just as bad, if not worse.
This was the pernicious doctrine of 'moral equivalence', a doctrine that was somehow able to make out that a democratic country like the United States was as immoral as a blood-soaked totalitarian state like the Soviet Union and that capitalism had as many victims as communism.
RTE has been dutifully covering the anniversary of the fall of the wall and Tony Connolly's reports from Eastern Europe have been excellent.
But this shouldn't blind us to the fact that back in the day, and to this day, there is much more anti-Americanism out at Montrose than anti-communism. For crying out loud, this is a station that still romanticises Cuba and Fidel Castro.
Anyone over the age of 40 should have no difficulty recalling that the Irish media was always much more hostile to anti-communists than it was to communists.
If you doubt this, then consider the attitude of our media, indeed the Irish intelligentsia and a large part of our middle class, to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.
These three, along with Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev, did more than anyone else to bring about the fall of European communism and yet they were regularly excoriated in our media, and by many of our politicians.
Michael D Higgins was superb at waxing indignant about American involvement in Central America. He was ferociously critical of Ronald Reagan, but his ferocious indignation would always diminish to a fluttering breeze when talking about, say, Leonid Brezhnev or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Or what about Soviet treatment of its Jewish population? Proinsias de Rossa once had the audacity to stand up in the Dail and explain that the Soviet Jews didn't really have it so bad, even though they were doing their utmost to leave the USSR and they were overrepresented among the ranks of imprisoned dissidents.
Margaret Thatcher, of course, holds a special place in our gallery of villains.
Given her policy in the North, there is some justification for this, but the Irish Left also hated her foreign policy which was decidedly anti-communist and earned her the nickname of the 'Iron Lady' from the Kremlin.
The 1970s and the 1980s were also the era of detente, the campaign for the unilateral nuclear disarmament of the West, mass protests against the basing of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe, nuclear freeze, the campaign against the neutron bomb, etc, etc.
Never in those days were there mass protests in the West against the Soviet Union or in favour of tearing down the Berlin Wall. That says it all.
The pivotal figure in the events that led to the fall of the wall has rated hardly a mention this week, and that is John Paul II. John Lewis Gaddis, the man described by the 'New York Times' as the "Dean of Cold War Historians", has said that when Pope John Paul II went to Poland and kissed the ground, it marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
What objective observer could possibly say otherwise? The election of a Polish pope coincided almost precisely with the rise of Solidarity and Solidarity could not have succeeded without the Polish pope.
Without Solidarity, European communism might have survived for several more decades. Certainly few in the West, least of all anyone on the Left, was predicting its imminent demise when John Paul was elected in 1978.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland our media and intelligentsia are content only to gloat about how much Catholicism has waned in Ireland since his fateful visit here in 1979.
In their blind anti-Catholicism, they miss John Paul's world historical importance, his titanic status, the fact that he is a figure for the ages. They miss this fact because, deep down, the Left still harbours a more than sneaking regard for communism's egalitarian ideals.
It is why, to this day, they get more upset by anti-communism than by communism, and it is why they are still much more angry about capitalism and free markets than they ever were about the Soviet Union or the Berlin Wall.
They have no right to celebrate its fall.