BERLIN (AFP) -- Germany on Saturday marked 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall that ushered in the end of communism and national reunification, as the Western alliance that helped secure those achievements is riddled with divisions.
Two days before the date that brought epochal change, French President Emmanuel Macron dropped a bombshell, declaring that trans-Atlantic partnership NATO was suffering from "brain death” and that Europe itself was "on the brink.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with uncharacteristic sharpness, saying Thursday "I don’t think that such sweeping judgments are necessary,” and the ensuing storm over NATO laid bare the growing differences among traditional allies.
The bad tempered prelude to the festivities stood in sharp contrast to celebrations five years ago, when former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-Polish leader and freedom icon Lech Walesa were present.
This time, leaders of former Cold War powers will be absent, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s "America First” policy, Britain’s Brexit struggles and Russia’s resurgence put a strain on ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit ended Friday while Macron is only planning a flying visit Sunday, leaving the actual anniversary on Saturday without globally prominent figures.
Carrying a similar message, the EU’s incoming chief, Ursula von der Leyen, noted that the euphoric optimism over liberal democracy and freedom that characterized Nov. 9, 1989, has dissipated.
"Today, we have to admit that our complacency was naive,” von der Leyen said.
Gorbachev, whose decision not to send the Soviet Army to prop up the East German regime was seen as crucial to preserving peace during the Cold War, told Spiegel magazine in an interview that there is "no nostalgia” for that period of division.
But "we have to admit that after the end of the Cold War new leaders failed to create a modern security architecture, especially in Europe.”
"As a result, new lines of divisions have emerged, and NATO’s eastward expansion … shifted these lines to the Russian border.”
Beyond the cracks surfacing in the global arena, a new chasm is opening up within Germany itself with the far-right gaining a strong foothold in the former communist states.
Underlining the problem herself, Merkel said those who earlier thought the differences between the former communist East Germany and capitalist West Germany could be ironed out now see "that it would take half a century or more.”