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Statement on the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall

August 13, 1986

Twenty-five years ago one of the world's great cities was torn in two, its people divided and a unity that had lasted for more than 700 years brutally destroyed. Overnight a wall was thrown up around the western sectors of Berlin by East Germany in collusion with the Soviet Union. As thousands of persons desperately sought to flee, fences of barbed wire and armed men blocked the exits and turned them back. Often the soldiers, themselves, threw down their weapons and vaulted over the first crude barriers, choosing freedom in the West at the risk of their lives.

After 25 years, the Berlin Wall remains as terrible as ever: watched night and day by armed guards in towers, the ground between barriers floodlit and patrolled by dogs. Those seeking freedom still attempt to cross the death strip in a burst for liberty. The Berlin Wall is tragic testimony to the failure of totalitarian governments. It is the most visible sign of the unnatural division of Germany and of Europe—a division which cruelly separates East from West, family from family, and friend from friend.

The horror of the wall can easily overwhelm us. But this anniversary reminds us, too, of the Berliners who, in resisting tyranny, proved and still prove their courage and their passion for freedom. They have made Berlin a thriving metropolis, a showcase of liberty which will invite the world to join in its 750th anniversary next year. The United States is proud to fulfill, with its British and French allies, its solemn commitment to the Berliners and to their great city. Western strength and cohesion protected Berlin in the past; they are the only basis on which future improvements are possible.

Those who built and maintain the Berlin Wall pretend it is permanent. It cannot be. One day it—and all those like it—will come down. As long as the wall stands, it can never be porous enough for free men and women in the West, and freedom-loving men and women in the East, to tolerate it. Freedom, not repression, is the way of the future. Dividing Europe, defying the will of its people, has brought tension, not tranquillity. True security for all requires that Europeans be able to choose their own destiny freely and to share their common heritage.

Berlin's division, like Europe's, cannot be permanent. But our conviction must be more than a distant hope; it must be a goal toward which we actively work. Let us rededicate ourselves to new efforts to lower the barriers dividing Berlin. Before another anniversary has passed, I hope that this problem can be the subject of renewed thought and serious discussion between East and West.

Ronald Reagan, Statement on the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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