It’s hard to believe it’s 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall fell.
I had the curious opportunity to view it from a Hotel Suite in the Four Seasons in Washington, D C, where I was in my 10th year of “peculiar service” as a CIA officer. I’d served previously in Warsaw and Moscow during the height of the cold war, but on November 9, 1989 I was in Washington with the Philippine delegation accompanying then president Corazon Aquino on her state visit to the US — the one in which members of Congress wore yellow Cory buttons as she gave a speech to a joint session of Congress.
I had spent most of the previous ten years playing the “spy vs spy” chess game that characterized the cold war. I was a Soviet affairs specialist; my two assignments in Eastern Europe — Warsaw and Moscow — had given me a chance to exeperience not just life in the Soviet Bloc, but life under the 24/7 scrutiny of the security services in the Soviet Bloc. I had worked with Soviet and Polish agents who risked everything to work with us; more than one had died as a result of his willingness to work for something that I honestly believe neither they nor I really expected would happen – the end of the Soviet regime and its satellite’s in Eastern Europe.
I had landed in the Philippines in September 1986, five months after Aquino had been swept to power by a “People Power” revolution in which millions of Filipinos came out into the streets and tested the will of the military who ultimately refused to follow commands to engage ‘the people”. Result: Marcos fled and Aquino (who had won the election anyway — fraud had taken it from her).
It was the Filipino revolution, and the images flashed across the world of soldiers refusing to fire on their countrymen, that Filipinos with some justification believe inspired the subsequent Velvet Revolution in Czechoslavakia, and eventually the fall of the Berlin Wall. Surely before the Philippine event, the idea that the sheer will of he people could defy a dictator and win the hearts of the military and security apparatus was an idea that, at least in my experience, didn’t really exist. After March 1986, that idea did exist, and it played a role in emboldening those in Eastern Europe to pursue the path that ultimately led to the end of the Soviet Bloc.
On the night the wall came down, I was watching it with Aquino’s speechwriter who was struggling to find a way to construct Aquino’s toast at the State Dinner that night in such a way as to remind of the role of the Philippines in inspiring the incredible events unfolding before us — without seeming to take too much credit. My pal was writing, I was watching CNN, a bottle of rather good scotch was emptying, and I may even have contributed a line or two to the toast.
Meanwhile — as we recognize and celebrate the demise of the wall, I’d also like us to remember what had happened in the Philippines three short years before, events that truly changed the world and set the stage for the end of Soviet Communism.