Friday, 6 November 2009

The Wall and the Roundabouts

The Wall and the Roundabout

6th November 2009

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Alfred Mifsud

Next Monday the world will commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. On 9 November 1989 Communism in Eastern Europe crumbled to the extent that it no longer had the energy to enforce the separation of the Eastern soviet satellites from the western democracies and in particular it had no longer the will to enforce the separation of Berlin.

Twenty eight years after it was constructed to remove the allure of crossing over to enjoy the economic prosperity and personal freedom on the democratic Western side of the Berlin controlled by the then West German government with the help of NATO allies, the Wall was torn down with bare hands of the population seeking re-unification and freedom.

During a revolutionary wave sweeping across Eastern Europe which had started with the Solidarnosc movement in Poland, the East German government announced on 9 November, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that all East German citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans climbed onto and crossed the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the following few weeks, parts of the Wall were chipped away by a euphoric public and by souvenir hunters; industrial equipment was later used to remove almost all of the rest. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for the re-unification of Germany which was formally concluded on 3 October, 1990.

A seminal moment in the years preceding the fall of the Wall was US President Reagan’s unforgetable speech at the Brandenburg Gate on 12 June, 1987. While commemorating the 750th anniversary of the founding of the city of Berlin, Reagan challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to liberate the Soviet bloc nations, saying:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation, come here to this gate. Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
As it happens he could just as well have told Mr Gorbachev to dismantle communism. Because the Berlin Wall in particular and the iron curtain in general symbolised the existential need for communism to deny personal liberties in order to maintain the State as the body and soul of the whole nation.

During the Wall’s existence a disputed figure of about 200 persons were killed while attempting to cross it.

What about the roundabout? The Berlin Wall could not survive more than 28 years even though it was erected and guarded with the military might of a super-power that for a period during the Cold War was suspected as capable of overcoming the West through its military machine and nuclear capability. However the Kappara roundabout, better referred to as the one near the no longer existing tank tal-gass has survived longer, much longer.

In this regard this week we had a damascene conversion and a revelation of biblical proportions. We were told that the government is shelving the project for a by-pass at Ghadira Bay and instead will use the EU funds to construct a multi-level traffic junction at this crucial intersection which wastes so much time, fuel and energy and causes so much aggravation to commuters every morning and every evening.

I don’t know by what stretch of imagination government has ever considered that the Ghadira Bay by-pass should have higher priority than the necessary infrastructural investment necessary to ease traffic in crucial intersections. I am not just referring to the Kappara one; we need as well urgent solutions to the l-Iklin, Marsa/Santa Lucija, and Msida intersections among others.

We are one of the most under-invested countries in so far as road networks are concerned and government should have used these recessionary times to launch a massive programme for upgrading our major traffic intersections.

We have probably got used to such low standards that we got to accept even the sub-standard as normal. Only this explains that we have not been showing the same determination that East Europeans have shown to overcome communism and tear down the iron curtain; the same determination that East Berliners have shown to overcome their insulation through tearing down of the infamous Berlin Wall.

Our walls and iron curtain are the roundabouts that waste so much of our time and put our nervous system a notch higher than it ought to be every morning and every evening. High time government gives us what we need, stops dreaming about mega projects which do not improve our everyday life and focuses its energies on upgrading our road network which by all measures can hardly be considered even third world standard.

Dr Gonzi tear down these roundabouts! They have far outlived the Berlin Wall and that’s not a record to be proud of.

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