Primary Sources

Margaret Thatcher discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall

Description

Margaret Thatcher held an impromptu press conference outside of her official residence, No. 10 Downing Street, on the morning following the initial opening of the Berlin Wall. In her remarks, it is clear that she is hesitant to reply directly to the idea of a unified German state. Instead, she expressed a desire to move slowly and to facilitate the internal growth of democracy from within East German society. This hesitant approach by Thatcher would continue throughout the year until she finally agreed to allow German unification as a result of the Two Plus Four Talks in Ottawa during the summer of 1990.

The reporters also raised issues concerning how the revolutions in Eastern Europe would pressure the European Community to either expand or adapt to the new situation. Here, it seems that Thatcher is more open to pursuing new levels of cooperation between the EC and Eastern Europe, reminding the reporters that countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland have always been a part of Europe.

Source

Margaret Thatcher. "Remarks on the Berlin Wall (fall thereof)," speech, No. 10 Downing St., London, England, November 10, 1989, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Question

Can I ask you what your reaction is to the events in Berlin?

Prime Minister

I think it is a great day for freedom. I watched the scenes on television last night and again this morning because I felt one ought not only hear about them but see them because you see the joy on people's faces and you see what freedom means to them; it makes you realise that you cannot stifle or suppress people's desire for liberty and so I watched with the same joy as everyone else and I hope that they will be a prelude to the Berlin Wall coming down.

...

Question

Are there dangers in a possible reunification of the Germanys?

Prime Minister

I think you are going much too fast, much too fast! You have to take these things step-by-step and handle them very wisely.

They say now that they want a genuine democracy in East Germany. It is one thing to say it, but you really have to apply yourself to build it. You have to build up the parties, you have to build up an election system and bring it into effect. That is the first stage—they are also doing that in Poland and Germany [sic].

Poland and Hungary are poorer countries and, of course, as well as the political reform they have to bring about the economic reform. That does not just happen, you have to work for it, so let us go one step at a time. The task now is to build a genuine democracy in East Germany.

It is a great day for liberty!

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Question

Is a united Germany an idea you could live with within your lifetime?

Prime Minister

I think you are going much too fast.

The first thing is to get a proper, genuine democracy, a multi-party democracy, in East Germany. That is what will keep people rebuilding East Germany and staying there, and I hope that that movement will spread to the rest of Eastern Europe.

Question

Are you worried in a sense that things are going just too fast?

Prime Minister

I think when things go very fast it does require great steadiness to deal with them. That is why when some of the questions come they are sort of instant questions and one must not give instant answers. The joy has happened and it is great joy. We do not realise what it is like to come to freedom not having had it, but we must be immensely grateful to those people behind the Iron Curtain who never lost their faith in liberty. But now it is the hard work, the practical work of building the democracy and then we have to see what happens.

It does remind me very much of what I did say at the beginning of the Bruges speech—that Europe is not just the Community, that Warsaw, Prague and Budapest were just as much European cities and therefore the Community must not be inward-looking, must not be an enclave, but must be outward-looking, and I think that we shall all have to discuss this very carefully indeed and we shall have to adhere very firmly to NATO because it is that which has safeguarded our liberty until this happened. This could never have happened if we had not way back before many of you were born, in 1948, stood firm and had a Berlin Air Lift, stood firm and created NATO, and we must adhere to those things which have kept liberty.

How to Cite this Source

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "Margaret Thatcher discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall," Making the History of 1989, Item #70, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/70 (accessed July 24 2014, 7:01 pm).