Germany’s parliament paid tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev on Wednesday, holding a minute of silence for the former Soviet leader who paved the way for German reunification 32 years ago.
Flags at the parliament’s Reichstag building in Berlin were lowered to half-staff as lawmakers opened the day’s session, one of the first since Gorbachev’s death last week, with the tribute.
“He made possible what for decades seemed impossible — ending the Cold War peacefully and overcoming the division of our country and our continent,” speaker Baerbel Bas told lawmakers. “We Germans have much to thank Mikhail Gorbachev for.”
“He changed the history of our country and the lives of millions of people,” Bas said. “His courage and his stance were decisive in the recovery of our unity.”
Gorbachev’s drive for reform and increasing openness set the scene for the peaceful collapse of communism — and one of its key moments, the fall in November 1989 of the Berlin Wall. Less than a year later, Germany was reunited as member of NATO and with a promise that Soviet troops would be withdrawn.
Gorbachev remained enduringly popular in Germany, a contrast with how he was viewed in Russia. As they remembered Gorbachev last week, German leaders pointed to the contrast with today’s relations with Russia, which are icy following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Germans for too long “overlooked, or perhaps didn’t want to believe, that Russia under (President Vladimir) Putin had long since and radically turned away from Gorbachev’s aims,” Bas said.
“Today, a deep rift gapes between Russia and Europe where, according to Gorbachev’s vision, a common European house was supposed to arise with Russia and with a common security architecture,” she added.
“It is Russia that has broken with this spirit under Putin, and that is a tragic mistake.”