The World Reacts As The Wall Comes Down Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other guests join Neal Conan to discuss the global significance of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
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The World Reacts As The Wall Comes Down

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The World Reacts As The Wall Comes Down

The World Reacts As The Wall Comes Down

The World Reacts As The Wall Comes Down

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Twenty years ago today — on Nov. 9, 1989 — crowds swelled at the barrier that divided East and West Berlin as the wall that stood as a symbol of the Cold War came down. The event had a ripple effect around the world. Tell us: How did the end of the Cold War affect your life?

Neal Conan talks with guests about the global significance of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War:

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and currently chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group

Mary Elise Sarotte, professor of international relations at USC and author of 1989: The Struggle to create Post-Cold War Europe. Wrote How it went down: The little accident that toppled history, which appeared Sunday in The Washington Post

Howard French, longtime foreign correspondent for The New York Times, professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and author of A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa

Louis Perez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Twenty years ago, yesterday, no one could have predicted that the reunification of Germany, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union would be a peaceful, often a joyous process. Of course, no one could also have predicted the horrors that attended to break up of Yugoslavia, that Afghanistan would still be at war, or the NATO forces would be deeply engaged in both of those conflicts. While the epicenter was in Berlin, the end of the Cold War was a global event that continues to resound, in Europe, yes, but on every other continent too; with political, military, economic and social implications so profound that all we can come up with to describe the last two decades since the fall of the Wall is the post Cold War era. How has the end of the end of the Cold War effected your life? Tell us your story.

Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION. We're going to hear stories and questions from members of our studio audience here in 4A. Thank you all very much for coming in.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: We'll also have several guests this hour in different places with different stories but with us throughout, Madeline Albright, who helped shape this new world as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, later secretary of state under President Clinton. She's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 4A. Madam Secretary, good of you to be with us.

Ms. MADELINE ALBRIGHT (Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group): Great to be with you. Thank you so much.

CONAN: And this is the story of your life?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: It truly is. I was born in Czechoslovakia and my father was a Czechoslovak diplomat, and as it turns out, November 11th, 1948, two days from now was when we came to the United States. And he came to the United States because there had been a coup, a communist coup in Czechoslovakia, and he did not believe in Communism and we came to the U.S. And so my life turned out to be totally different.

CONAN: The structure that emerged in the 50 years after you came to - you and your family - came to the United States seemed like permanent to many people.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: It did, and, in fact, people studied it very closely to see what kind of changes might be happening, but my parents - my father died in 1977, but my mother died only a month before the Velvet Revolution and people really did not think that it was going to go away. The world was saved from a very boring book that I was going to write�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALBRIGHT: �in 1988, I was looking at what the leadership looked like in Central and Eastern Europe and every country was run by some tired old man. And I knew they would die. I didn't think they would be ousted. And I was going to write about transitions in Eastern Europe and that - I didn't have to write it. Thank goodness.

CONAN: Transitions, well, among the many problems that those regimes had, because how to hand off from one leader to the next - it's a messy system in democracy, as we well know in this country, but extremely messy in some other countries.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, it takes place behind the scenes in other countries. And I had actually - I really - this is the story of my life. This is what I've been interested in forever, for obvious reasons. And I had written for dissertation on the role of the Czechoslovak press in 1968, during the Prague Spring. So, I could already see what the possibilities were for change but that was ended by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Or I wrote a book about the solidarity press in 1981, which was also closed down by martial law. And so, what would happen is each of these countries - the Poles would revolt every 10 years or something - but it was always shut down. And so the big surprise was that this time it wasn't, and that was really due to Gorbachev.

CONAN: And that it all evaporated, then, so quickly. The Soviet Union itself was no longer in extant, two years after the fall of the wall.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: But that was the stunning part. And I think one of the debates, and I'd be very interested in what other people think about this, we go around saying that we won the Cold War. I happen to believe they lost the Cold War. And that isn't just a semantic difference, because for me, what happened was that it was proven that their system did not work, that it was internally dysfunctional and that various parts of it were, kind of, just Potemkin villages, basically, and that they could very quickly see that unless there was terror that the place would - that it would all fall apart.

CONAN: And indeed that their own people knew that and it was just a matter of time.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Right. I mean, part of the problem always that people knew things and they passed around rumors. But it became sort of public knowledge and you could talk about things openly, that's what really made it happen.

CONAN: We - you spoke of the Velvet Revolution which then transformed Czechoslovakia, which of course, is now two countries itself, but nevertheless, we think of this as the astonishing with us to great army and all them, this was in - the bombers and the submarines and everything else. The astonishing part was that it happened with no shots being fired. Nevertheless, it had terrible ramifications for people elsewhere, including the bloodiest war in Europe since the Second World War.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, what is interesting is as you point out. I mean, there had been forced used a number of times in central Europe with the - when the Russians - the Soviets marched into Hungary in 1956, and obviously the tanks in Czechoslovakia in '68 and various threatening aspects. What did happen in central and eastern Europe was that it was a people's revolution in many ways, and taken care of by - I mean, the joyous people crossing - breaking through the wall, or in Czechoslovakia, in Wenceslas Square, where people were just -with their keys, they were making noise. But it did have an effect in other places and the one that you're talking about it Yugoslavia.

CONAN: Yeah, a place that people said had been held together by the glaciers of the Cold War.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, it was interesting, because my father, as it turns out -life is very interesting in its serendipitous aspects - had been the Czechoslovak ambassador to Yugoslavia. And so I spent a lot of time there as a child and it was very evident that Tito had held the place together in many ways, in contrast, to the tired old men that there running central and eastern Europe. He was a genuine charismatic leader and he was able to hold it together. And then, because they were playing kind of a more neutral role between East and West, it was held together from that perceptive, and then it broke apart within a very bloody way.

CONAN: Here's an Email from Frank(ph) in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be living in Europe during the fall of 1989. It was such an exhilarating time seeing communist regimes falling like a deck cards was an incredible experience. I only regret that the Romanian revolution was violent, of course that was, too. Albanians had to wait one more year and Yugoslavia failed to dissolve peacefully. Seeing all the videos from that time still brings me to the brink of tears - of joy, of course. Who would have thought that NATO and the EU would expand so dramatically into the former Eastern Block. And again, NATO - 16 nations we all thought, and now so dramatically expanded, and over frontiers that - you could not imagine that Poland and the Baltic states would be members of NATO.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, the stunning part of the out this was, you know, NATO was setup in 1949, frankly, as a result of what it happened in Czechoslovakia in February �48, because I think the West finally saw what the salami tactics of the Soviets had been. And NATO was set up and still is, the world's most powerful defensive alliance. And what happened was the Warsaw Pact was set up to counter it. And so, there was often a thought that when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved as a result of the end of the Cold War, the NATO would disappear. On the other hand, NATO still is the most powerful alliance in the world and very much a magnet for countries to want to join.

I had many wonderful moments as secretary of state, but I have to say that one of the proudest was when we brought Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO. And we did it in Independence, Missouri, because Harry Truman had been�

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: �behind the original NATO.

CONAN: And that was where the Iron Curtain Speech was, too�

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Right.

CONAN: �yes, at Fulton.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: At Fulton. Fulton.

CONAN: Yeah. Not far away.


CONAN: Let's get some callers on the line, 800-989-8255. Email us, Yes, Berlin, the epicenter of the events. We're marking 20 years ago today, but it continues to reverberate around the world and had effects all over the world.

We'll start with Andrew(ph). Andrew with us from Belvedere in California.

ANDREW (Caller): I am, indeed. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

ANDREW: Well, I was in the Hungarian uprising in �56, which, of course, was very, very bloody indeed. And we lost, unfortunately. Mercifully in �89, nobody, but nobody got hurt, either in Hungary or in Poland or in the Czech Republic or even by the Stasi. So I find the contrast absolutely astonishing and absolutely wonderful.

CONAN: The Stasi, of course, the East German secret police.

ANDREW: Indeed.

CONAN: And a ruthless bunch, they were. It turned out that all your fears about surveillance in that part of the world, at least in East Germany, they weren't anywhere near direr enough.

ANDREW: No, no, no. It was astonishing situation. And there was a great deal of fear, but may I just say that there were lot of fear in Hungary and in the Czech Republic, as well. I mean, as Secretary Albright would confirm, the secret police were a pretty ferocious bunch. And they - it wasn't a matter of not taking prisoners, they were taking prisoners.

(Soundbite of laughter)



ANDREW: �'89 was a massive relief and I think it's a fantastic step forwards for Europe.

CONAN: Secretary Albright?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, the secret police was tough. And one of the problems that is still out there, and I think something that as we talked about what has happened over the last 20 years, is - the secret police was central to the control that the dictatorships maintained, and they had files on everybody. And I can't remember now the name of that great�

CONAN: And she's not exaggerating, everybody.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Everybody. And part of the thing was that what they found out, subsequently, is that some people that you thought were your really good friends were actually reporting on you. So, there began to be kind of a distrust among people, which was very unfortunate.

The other part is that there are some who say that part of the issues now, is that it was never properly dealt with in terms of how the whole crime situation - the secret police crimes - were dealt with and whether people were really punished. And I think the part that is very hard for people that have not lived under communism - to understand how pervasive all that was and how damaging to the psyche of people and a sense of what their relationships were.

CONAN: I remember de-Nazification(ph) had to be done in Germany. It was done, to a much lesser degree, in Austria. And I remember hearing that, if we'd done it, it would have been everybody - a third of the country - in Austria. And that's the same situation you see in so many communist states too.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Right. Very hard and very hard to believe. I mean, I - I know many people in many of these countries, but I think that a great, kind of, sense of disappointment was when they found out that somebody that they had really trusted had ratted on them and sometimes because they had to protect themselves.

And I've decided the following thing. As I said, I am actually pretty much the same age as Vaclav Havel and a whole generation of people. And whenever I used to go to Czechoslovakia and kind of walk around during the communist period, I would always hope that I would have behaved well. But you never quite know what you would do under circumstances where your family is threatened or where there are all kinds of things. And I have become less judgmental, frankly, about some of those things.

CONAN: And Vaclav Havel, the great poet, playwright and politician of Czechoslovakia then, well, now the Czech Republic. Andrew, thanks very much for your call.

ANDREW: Thank you very much.

CONAN: We're talking today with former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and with you. Echoes of the fall of the Berlin Wall as they affected other parts of the world. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Twenty years ago when the Berlin Wall fell, it was widely hailed as the end of communism. But the effects went on long after the Soviet Union fell, two years afterwards, in places like Cuba, Central America and of course in the Balkans. We're talking about that ripple effect with former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Of course, we want to hear from you.

How did the end of the Cold War change your life? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation at our Web site. That's at, click on TALK OF THE NATION. For more, you can see a history of the Berlin Wall in photos in a gallery at our Web site, that again,

Mary Elise Sarotte teaches international relations at the University of Southern California. Her most recent book is "1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe." And she joins us today from the studios of Deutschlandradio Kultur in Berlin. And thanks very much for your time.

Professor MARY ELISE SAROTTE (International Relations, University of South California; Author, "1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe."): Thank you.

CONAN: In a piece you wrote for The Washington Post, you said the real story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall was not, as you put it, very tidy.

Prof. SAROTTE: No, not at all. I have to say as a preface, that, of course, there are a lot of long-term forces coming to fruition on that night. The Cold War, of course, was a competition on nearly all level of military, economic, social, and so forth. So it's a very long-term competition. But what's amazing is the way it all comes to head in what is possibly the worst press conference ever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SAROTTE: The East German Polit - excuse me, the East German Politburo had not really had much use for press conferences during the Cold War, as I'm sure you can imagine. So it was only under the pressure of the example of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union with his calls for greater openness that they somewhat hastily decided, in November 1989, that they ought to have press conferences after the Politburo meetings.

And the guy who drew the short stick on the Politburo was this hapless man named Gunther Shabowski. And so, he was very new at this. He'd had no incentive to developing media skills and it really showed. And so, he was sent out there� He was supposed to announce a relatively minor liberalization of travel rules. And he messed it up so completely that wire reporters thought that he had said the wall was open. And they ran out and reported that over the - on the wires, to the whole world.

CONAN: And timing played a large part in it, too. It was in the evening in Berlin, already pretty late at night in Moscow where everybody was asleep.

Prof. SAROTTE: Yes. The timing is very important. It's important to say that, you know, the trend at the time was clear. The arc of history was clear, that the Berlin Wall was going to become obsolete at some point. So it's clear that was coming. But it's significant the way that it happened, because it was, number one, accidental, nobody was prepared for it. And number two, when it happened, those capable of organizing military resistance were either in the Soviet Union, basically asleep because of the time difference, or in East Germany, they were locked in central committee and various other meetings.

So it was only later, when they realized what had happened, that they started to try to reseal the border - which is something people forget. There were some attempts made to reseal the border and they were partially successful. But�

CONAN: But those were East German attempts.

Prof. SAROTTE: Yes, East German attempts. Yes.

CONAN: Secretary Gorbachev had already given the orders that his troops are going to stay in their barracks. They were not going to come out.

Prof. SAROTTE: Well, yes. He had given that. It's clear that he had advocated non-violence. But in this time period, the Soviet military was beginning to despise Gorbachev. The Soviet Union did have about 380,000 troops in East Germany. They were hungry, ill-fed. They were selling their weapons for cash. They are ripping wiring out of the barracks and selling it for cash. There was a case of a tank being sold.

In other words, it's not clear that they would have obeyed an order from Gorbachev to stay in the barracks if there had been some kind of bloodshed on the ground. And I think that was actually possibility because the border guards that night were armed as on all night and there seem to have been a few or a fraction among some of the border guards that maybe use of those weapons would have been helpful.

CONAN: It's interesting�

Prof. SAROTTE: So I think it was a much closer on thing that we anticipated.

CONAN: Well, Secretary Albright is here with us in the studio. Secretary Albright, you were nodding�

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Absolutely, because I think, you know, I do think if one looks back, you say the arc of history was on the side. But at the time, it was perfectly possible that Gorbachev would be overthrown or something would happen that would undercut his capability. I think he definitely was the catalyst for a lot this happening. But I do think that there also were certain moments where this could have been pushed back. It had been previously, in '56, '68, and other times. And it just was a confluence of events. But certainly, that press conference was quite stunning.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Mary Elise Sarotte, as you look back on it and through your research, obviously, serendipity has its place, so does the arc of history. Nevertheless, immediately there afterwards, people were almost slow to react in the West, because it was a little hard to believe that the - it was an understanding, that if these states did not react, they were going to go up in smoke. That all of those people are going to lose their jobs, that this whole socialist system, the Warsaw Pact, the East Bloc, was going to dissolve if they didn't react.

Prof. SAROTTE: Yes. It's clear that there was a real collapse of political order. And that's what my book, "1989," is really about. The question that I found interesting is the one you're asking which is, when a society's political order collapses completely, what does the day afterward look like?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. SAROTTE: So my book, I actually start with the Berlin Wall coming down. It's not an end of the Cold War book. It's about how we got post-Cold War Europe. And what I saw is that the Berlin Wall coming down was basically the starter's gun being filed - sorry, the starter's gun being fired - on a very intense competition to create the order of post-Cold War Europe. And it was very disorderly, it was very chaotic, a sort of violence hung over it. Gorbachev's hold-on power was uncertain.

He was committed to non-violence, but it was not clear how long he was going to be in charge. And it was not clear what will come after him. And so, there was a really heated competition between the people who had created the revolution, the protesters in East Germany with their contacts in Poland and Hungary, basically; and also, Gorbachev - there were multiple competitors competing with the professionals in the West, competing with George H.W. Bush, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft in America; Francois Mitterrand, in Paris; and of course, Helmut Kohl with his close advisor Horst Teltschik and Hans-Dietrich Genscher in Bonn.

And in my book, I describe the various phazes of this competition, it becomes clear that the West wins. And the way the West wins is with a model that I called prefab. In other words, they basically decide to take the pre-existing or prefabricated institutions that had served the West so well - NATO, the basic law in West Germany, (unintelligible) European community - and transfer them to the East. And it works really well, but then the problem is, with prefab, is, if the, you know, the original design doesn't fit the new site, then you'll have longer term problems. I think we're seeing some of the consequences of those today in Europe.

CONAN: Well, Mary Elise Sarotte, we know you've got some other things to do on this very busy day for you. Thank you so much for your time.

Prof. SAROTTE: Yes. Thank you from Berlin.

CONAN: Mary Elise Sarotte, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, the author of "1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe." You can find a link to the piece she wrote for The Washington Post about the fall of the Berlin Wall at

And, Madeleine Albright, yes, we've been talking about Europe and that transition. But nevertheless, this was a global system. There were Soviet client states and U.S. client states around the world. There were proxy wars fought in Korea, in Vietnam, in Central America, in Africa. This was a global event.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Definitely. And I think when you think about the way so much policy have been carried on for 40 years, basically, in terms of how we gave assistance to countries. For instance, we would decide whether to support a country in a way to seduce them away from the Soviet camp. And so that all played out. Or what happened actually in countries that had been - are literal Soviet clients and how they would behave.

I think the most interesting one was really Cuba, that all of a sudden, some of the remittances and various subsidies that had been sent to Cuba were changed. And I think we're still living with various aspects of that. And the way also - for instance, Nicaragua changed and how the Contras operated. And so, I think there are many places where there was a sense of kind disorientation about what next. And, of course, then, the major parts of this come about with the disillusion of the Soviet Union, which then created a massive ripple effect.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get - there's an email from Zoren(ph). I can go on for days, but I'll answer the question directly to the point. I was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1982. My life's changed due to the civil war that ravaged that country in the early 1990s and some say the war would never have happened if the wall did not fall. And is he right, do you think, Secretary Albright?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think basically right. Though I think that part of the things that happened was when Tito died, they had kind of a rotating presidency of Yugoslavia and never had that kind of centralized power. They began to have arguments over the budget of Yugoslavia, and country like Slovenia, for instance, which was much richer, was quite different from what was happening in Macedonia or in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What happened really, and it happened again surprisingly, Slovenia declared its independence�

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: �and the Germans recognized them. And so, all of the sudden that became a totally different situation. So, it was a combination of things. I do think that none of it would've happened as in such a vivid way if it had not being for the end of the Cold War. But something was happening in terms of Yugoslavia not working as a country, even parallel to that.

CONAN: Let's get Patrick(ph) on the line. Patrick with us from Jacksonville Beach in Florida.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. My question for Ms. Albright, I have been to Eastern Europe several times over the past six years. And in 2007, I visited Croatia and Bosnia. And what struck me was in Sarajevo, the - next to the Olympic Stadium is the Junior Olympic Stadium - well, it's no longer there now. It's a cemetery. And I'm wondering if, in retrospect, do you think the United States did enough - and the Western allies did enough to intervene in what was happening in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s? And what do you think about the current situation in the Balkans, as far as the future of those states?

CONAN: We'll see if she can wrap it up in 20 seconds?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think that we did not do enough, quickly enough. It was the beginning of the Clinton administration, it was something that - we were in the middle of the war in Somalia and various parts. I was ambassador of the United Nations. And I think I spent most of my time in principles meetings arguing for us doing something early enough. But I'm very glad we intervened when we finally did. And I do think that that was the right thing to do. I am not very happy about some of things that are going on in Bosnia now. But I think that, again, they need help in terms of trying to organize themselves to actually create a state.

CONAN: There was a sense, if I'm not wrong that - thanks very much for the call - that this was a European decision for Europeans and the United States should take their lead in this.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, absolutely. This was in Europe's backyard and if you remember, also the U.S. was involved in the Gulf War and was trying to deal with that and here, all of a sudden, Western European countries were strong. And there was a major disagreement between the Bush administration and when the Clinton administration came in, Secretary Baker had actually said we didn't have a dog in the fight or some other way that he put it. But I think that it took - but I think and I've said this many times that it took us, the Clinton administration, too long to go in.

CONAN: We are talking about the repercussions of the end of the Cold War. We'd like to hear from people who were living in Central America at the time or South America or people who were in Africa or parts of Asia. How did this play out in your part of the world? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us It's an event that we think of as epical in so many places around the world. Yes, it transformed the heart of Europe, transformed that society in dramatic ways, led to the democratization of many places in Central and Eastern Europe that had not seen that for quite some time. Nevertheless, the effects elsewhere were (unintelligible) were so velvet nor so pleasant.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. For many years, Howard French covered Africa for the New York Times. He went on to write a book called, �A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa.� He is now a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

Professor HOWARD FRENCH (Author, �A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa�): Thank you.

CONAN: And Africa was a place, well, we remember most spectacularly, I guess, Mozambique, but nevertheless there were Angola, there were many proxy wars in Africa.

Prof. FRENCH: Absolutely. It's very good of you to have me and it's very good of you to have Africa be involved in this conversation because Africa is so often left out of discussions like these. It's important to remember that walls were coming down all around the continent - that continent as well during this time after a reign of real injustice and oppression that was fed by Cold War rivalries here and there, that were every bit as significant in the lives of Africans as the East-West divisions were in Europe.

And I listened with great interest to Mary Elise Sarotte's comments about the competition that the West eventually wins in Europe to establish a new order. But what's the most remarkable, I think, in the immediate post-Cold War period in Africa is the lack of competition. The United States basically turns its back on Africa the very time when there were people's revolutions and democratic movements and civil societies sprouting up very energetically in a lot of places. And one of the most famous consequences of this, of course, was a little bit after the immediate post Cold War period, but the Rwandan genocide, which we ran away from. We have acknowledged that, but then subsequently a much greater tragedy in Congo and more broadly in Central Africa that has killed several times many more people.

CONAN: And why is this the product of the post-Cold War era?

Prof. FRENCH: Well, it's the product of the post-Cold War era because a system had been maintained and nourished by virtue of rivalries between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies here and there in Africa. You mentioned Angola and Mozambique, these were two of the most famous places. This - the Cuban army actually was deployed in Angola and fought obviously on the East bloc's side in a very complicated proxy fight there. But - so the Cold War ends and the United States and all of the other players essentially pack up their bags and go home and leave Africa to its own devices with very tragic consequences here and there.

CONAN: Secretary Albright, I was wondering if�

Sec. ALBRIGHT: But let me - I agree that a lot of problems were masked by the Cold War that people didn't fully understand, all of the things that were going on in Africa. And there was kind of the sense that there were various leaders in Africa that had started as nationalist leaders, who all of a sudden found the Soviet model more attractive than the Western one. It's a very long and complicated story.

And that also some of them masked all the problems within the countries themselves. That they were basically countries that had no functioning state structures, that wasn't evident until the assistance and the competition went away. I think that part of the issue here, and I must that I sympathize with the governments today because everything got more complicated after the end of the Cold War.

It was very simple to think of things in kind of these boxes. These were ours, these were theirs. And then all of the sudden, everything opened up. So that, the various issues that Mr. French talks about, some of them, I mean, I was involved in and there were too many things going on at the same time - and very hard to deal with and they were not done within the prism of are they our friends or the Soviet friends? And so - and I think that's part of what's going on now - very, very difficult in terms of all the issues that are out there to deal with. And Africa, unfortunately, more often than not, is the forgotten continent.

CONAN: And as true today, perhaps as it was at any time in the past 20 years. Howard French is going to stay with us, Secretary Albright with as well. We're going to take a look at the effect of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Central and South America, too. If this is your story, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us Tell us the effect of the fall of the wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire on your life. Email us Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The Berlin fall - well, the Berlin Wall fell and its impact was felt far beyond Germany, all the way to the Middle East, Africa and Cuba. We're talking today with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Also with us is Howard French, a New York Times foreign correspondent for many years, long time reporter on the continent of Africa. We want to hear from you. How did the end of the Cold War changed your life? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email:

And let's bring another voice into the conversation. Louis Perez teaches Cuban and Latin American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He's the author of, �On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture,� and joins us today from a studio on the UNC campus there in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Good to be you to be with us today.

Professor LOUIS PEREZ (Professor of Cuban and Latin American History, University of North Carolina): Good afternoon.

CONAN: And this perhaps more than any event since the revolution in 1959, changed life in Cuba. No?

Prof. PEREZ: It did, indeed. And you had indicated at the start of the program that it was a joyous process and in Cuba, it was experienced as a catastrophic event in which Cuba proceeded to be forcefully disengaged from its principal trade partners.

CONAN: It had also been getting considerable subsidies from the Soviet Union and those vanished.

Prof. PEREZ: Indeed. And it was receiving petroleum imports at a - at subsidized prices and the trading relationships between both Cuba, the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc disappeared, virtually overnight.

CONAN: And that was the source of lot of it's tourism as well, many flights from Schoenefeld in Eastern Germany to Cuba in the winter time.

Prof. PEREZ: Ah, yes. And eventually that was more than adequately made up in the years that followed, but the immediate years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what in Cuba is known as the Special Period, was disruptive and destructive in many ways.

CONAN: Was there any moment of self-doubt do you think in Cuba, at that moment, as they watched the socialist system that they had grown up among collapse around the world, I guess, with the exception of China?

Prof. PEREZ: I think, in many cases the state, the government probably did not have time to think about self-doubt. Self-doubt did insinuate itself into the daily lives of people. There were religious revivals. African religions resurged, the Catholic church again became a major player in Cuban domestic life. Protestant churches became active. And so, there was absolutely a crisis of faith in communism. At the same time, these were circumstances where people were engaged in very, very active daily circumstances by which they had to figure out how they were going to get by day by day.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. We'll go to Lisa(ph). Lisa with us from Overland Park in Kansas.

LISA (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

LISA: I just had a question. I worked for the Department of the Army and was in Germany during the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And one of the questions I've always had in my mind, and maybe Secretary Albright could address this, is if the fall of the Soviet Union somehow then emboldens Saddam Hussein to feel like he could then take steps he did to invade Kuwait because supports - various people might have had in the Middle East, might not have been there any more or because, you know, the attention might have been diverted elsewhere. He just felt like he could get away with something.

CONAN: Iraq among the Soviet client states in the Middle East. Its military equipment was Soviet and, of course, it had bought quite a bit of it during its war, long and horrific war, with Iran. Secretary Albright?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Part of it also, I think, was that the U.S. had been playing with Saddam Hussein too, in terms of - that he was getting supplies from both East and West and, I think, a lot of mixed signals. I do think that it is perfectly possible that the timing in terms of attention being diverted had something to do with it. But Saddam Hussein, I believe, basically was misreading signals that were being sent. And mixed signals were being sent but I think that - I always believe, frankly, that there's a lot of connection among various aspects of it. People think of diplomacy as a game of chess. I don't think it is. It's a game of pool, billiards, where one ball knocks into another and it's very horizontal and knock-on effects. And I think one could look at it.

On the Cuba thing, can I say this?

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: One of the issues that has always�

CONAN: First, let me thank Lisa for her phone call. Appreciate it.

LISA: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Go ahead, Secretary.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: �that has always been a mystery to people is why, when all this was happening in Central and Eastern Europe, why was there not more of an infection into Cuba so that it would get rid of its leadership and be able to do the kinds of things that were happening throughout Central and Eastern Europe? And the answer sounds very simplistic but I think is true. First of all, Cuba does still have its original charismatic leader, not the tired old people that I saw in Central and Eastern Europe. And then the other is that it's an island. And if you look at the various things that were happening in the months before the fall of the wall, what you had were masses of people moving around through Hungary and then various refugees - German refugees that ended up in Czechoslovakia. And there was this constant movement plus, in fact, the existence of Radio Free Europe and a lot of context that were going on. And the fact that Cuba is still with its original leader does have something to do with that.

CONAN: Lou Perez, what do you think?

Prof. PEREZ: Well, in Cuba, there was movement of people also. There was vast immigration after the early �90s, and in 1994, was again one of those moment of immigration crisis where tens of thousands of Cubans made an exodus from the island. And there's a constant flow of people from the island. Indeed, one of the reasons that the government has been able to endure opposition is that most of the opposition leaves and comes to Florida, so that there is considerable movement of population from the island to the United States which in effect serves to relieve some of the internal pressure.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Kim(ph) in Boston. I was living in Namibia at the time the wall came down. My stepdaughter attended a German-speaking boarding school in Windhoek. Shortly after the fall of the wall, her school received about 60 teenagers from Cuba and East Germany who had been brought up and schooled there. They were the children of SWAPO fighters - either illegitimate children of soldiers, the products of soldiers' leave from border fighting or else the children of fighting couples.

These children's educations and upkeep were funded by the Cuban and East German governments. When the funding ended, the children suddenly found themselves thrust into a strange country with a strange culture, strange food and in the case of the Cubans, a strange language. It was particularly bad for the kids who had families out in the bush, completely alien situations for them from the city life of East Germany to the primitive conditions in the bush, a very interesting time. We fostered a young man right until he finished school and I believe he's a sports commentator in Bremen now.

But as we return to Howard French, former senior writer for the New York Times and a long-time foreign correspondent there, there are a lot of stories like that across Africa.

Prof. FRENCH: Absolutely. I mean, we forget the importance of the end of the Cold War to the end of apartheid in South Africa, that when the East bloc's support for various proxies ended in Africa then the apartheid regime no longer had the excuse of the threat of communism taking over in South Africa.

I would - I mentioned the Rwandan genocide earlier and you asked what this has to do with the immediate post-Cold War era, but in fact if you look back at the press coverage of the Rwandan genocide and the official responses and the pundit commentary of the time, people said, essentially, that the United States has no interest in a place like this. The United States - went so far as to say no interest in Africa whatsoever. This is an amazing turnabout from just a very short time prior, when in fact, to reprise Secretary Albright's image, the continent was a series of boxes arranged according to who's ally or proxy or client you were.

I'd like to just add one other thing, and that is that although it's very much true what the secretary said about countries that whose problems were masked by this Cold War system and that fell apart subsequently and that this was all very complicated and process of discovery for us, it is also true - and I think this is often, too often forgotten - that there really were people's revolutions and popular movements for democracy in many places in Africa during this period - places like Mali and Benin and Zambia, just to name a few, where contrary to the sort of normal notions of political science, poor and substantially illiterate societies demanded democracy and achieved democracy.

In other places like Zaire in Nigeria, civil society had uprisings of various sorts, and in the case of Nigeria, a democratic election. My complaint is that unlike the intellectual energy that was invested and other kinds of energy, peace dividend, kind of resource energy invested in Europe, we turned our back on those phenomena in Africa and we left Africans to their own devices to very tragic results.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Juan(ph). Juan with us from Indiana.

JUAN (Caller): Yeah. Thank you for having me�

CONAN: Juan, we're having trouble hearing you.

JUAN: My connection may be a little bit weak. But thank you for having me in the show. I hope you can hear me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JUAN: Well, my comment has to do with - I'm originally from Colombia. And the funding changed for what the guerrilla groups used to be back in those days in the late �80s, particularly FARC, ELN. Those were groups that obviously received money from Cuba or at least support weapons. And that went away, so they had to turn into kidnapping and drug trafficking. So that evidently created a whole new order in terms of the cartels relating to - or better using guerilla as the private defense system.

CONAN: Lou Perez, does he have a point that the leftist guerillas in Colombia previously reliant on outside aid had to turn to internal sources like the -like drugs.

Prof. PEREZ: Well, certainly, they receive moral support. The degree to which they receive material support from the Cubans really is yet to be determined.

CONAN: So it's unclear that this was part of a knock-on effect because they certainly did get involve in the drug cartels.

Prof. PEREZ: It would appear to be a cause and effect, but I'm not quite certain where the regional material support was coming in for the Colombian guerillas.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much. Juan, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

JUAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And as you look at - well, we're talking about the long-term effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall in places, well, yes, in Europe but around the rest of the world, too. We're talking with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Also with us Howard French of the New York - formerly of the New York Times, and Lou Perez, who's professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of "On Becoming Cuban." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Secretary Albright, as we look at this post-Cold War era in which we still live, is there any other determinant event that you can see that's going to define this period of history?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think that 9/11 defines a lot about this period of history, that I think you go basically from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11 in many ways. And the question is how those two now go together.

CONAN: Hmm. Interesting. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go next to - this is Roberta(ph). Roberta with us from Dunstable in Massachusetts.

ROBERTA (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hello.

ROBERTA: Hi. My question is for Secretary Albright. It's not a political question exactly. I recently, in New York, saw the exhibit of her brooch collection�

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTA: �which I appreciated a great deal because I'm a great admirer of her and her career, and think she's a wonderful example for young women, which I'm not. But I wonder what�

Ms. ALBRIGHT: An example or a young?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTA: Young. I hope I'm an example. But I wondered if you were wearing a brooch today. And if so, what meaning we might take from that.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, I do have one. If you saw the exhibit, which is actually a piece of the Berlin Wall, which is in the exhibit�


Ms. ALBRIGHT: �which I would be wearing if I could.


Ms. ALBRIGHT: It was made�


Ms. ALBRIGHT: �for me and sent to me. But I decided to wear a very large sun today�


Ms. ALBRIGHT: �because I do think that there was such an opening and brightness that came as a result of the fall of the wall, and sunlight for a lot of people that had been in the dark for a long time.

ROBERTA: Well, I so appreciated the collection because I think it's such a wonderful example of the combination of your scholarship, confidence, accomplishment and femininity. And that is what I meant about you as an example, that I think women have a lot of ways of communicating things. And I'm glad that you used your jewelry, as well as all of your other skills in the very large arena in which you were operating.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, thank you. And it's a lot of fun because I love to talk about foreign policy. But with the jewelry, it's like with a spoonful of sugar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTA: Yes. Yes. Well, thank you.

CONAN: Thank you very much, Roberta. Let's see if we can get one more caller in. And we'll go to - this is Liam(ph). Liam with us from Denver.

LIAM (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

LIAM: Yeah, I spent a good part of the end of the Cold War working both in Honduras, Nicaragua, then later Angola, and before that with the U.S. Congress. And I did some aid programs. And one thing I think is curious that people don't understand, especially in Angola and Mozambique, is everything was owned by the government or the rebels depending to what (unintelligible) on. So to try to go from that to (unintelligible) free elections, where the spoils of the election were the same as war, you know, where you'd get everything. It was very, very difficult for them to make that transition. And it was difficult for the Russians who were still there, when we lived there in '92, '91, to even understand the Soviet Union had fallen. That hadn't really yet been communicated because they didn't have the kind of modern communication we have today. They were only getting information through (unintelligible) channels.

CONAN: Howard French, is that sort of binary society that he's talking about, is that an accurate representation today?

Prof. FRENCH: Well, the caller makes a very good point. I mean, one thing you must keep in mind when speaking about Africa - and we do this insufficiently -is that Africa is, by most definitions, 53 countries. And with 53 countries, you get a whole universe of different sorts of compositions and realities and societies.

And there are, in fact, many societies that emerged from the Cold War, in precisely the state that the caller described. And the outcome, if they tried to proceed quickly toward elections with no other sort of processes involved, it would, in retrospect, seems pretty predictable. There are other societies where you didn't have these binary realities. And where, as I've said earlier, you had quite vigorous and sometimes very surprisingly vigorous civil society processes under way.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. FRENCH: And so, it required, on our part here in the United States and in the West generally, a kind of sophistication that was lacking in terms of our ability to engage across the board in Africa and to recognize states for their individual nature.

CONAN: Hmm. Well, thanks very much for the call, Liam. Appreciate it.

We just have a minute left. Secretary Albright, let me turn to you. Do you think the process in Central and Eastern Europe, which was, for the most part, so smooth - the Balkans aside - that we were fooled into thinking what could happen elsewhere?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I do think that in many ways, we - there was a euphoria about what had happened. And in some ways, it also masks the problems that are now taking place in Central and Eastern Europe itself or in various former parts of the Soviet Empire. But I also would like to - maybe a little bit in defense of having been in the government at the time is that all of a sudden, every county was heard from and that there - it was very hard to get your head around all the various issues that were going on - and some because it was a moment to celebrate what had happened.

CONAN: Well, I'm glad we settled all that out. And that's all over. Now, we understand completely. Secretary Albright, thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

CONAN: Madeleine Albright, former secretary of State, now chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group. Our thanks as well to Lou Perez, J. Carlyle Sitterson professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and to Howard French, a former senior writer with the New York Times and professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. We thank them for their time today, too.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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