Fall of the Wallby Peter ColemanNews Weekly
, December 4, 1999
10 years on
The collapse of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago was the stuff of worldwide rejoicing. Many witnesses still treasure bits of the Wall they took away as souvenirs of the historic event, which symbolised the end of communist enslavement.
But when the Berlin prison wall was built on that relaxed Sunday morning of August 13, 1961, many communists around the world and certainly many Australians among them rejoiced at this brilliant coup, which had taken the West by surprise just like Pearl Harbor 20 years before.
One Australian, Norman Freehill, actually took away a piece of the newly-erected wall as a souvenir of communist efficiency and clever planning! This repulsive fact is documented in the archives of the Soviet Writers Union in Moscow, which I consulted on a recent visit.
Freehill's wife, the communist novelist Dymphna Cusack, also joined in the celebrations at the erection of the wall by allowing the East German radio to broadcast triumphantly a chapter from her novel, Heatwave In Berlin.
The communists even turned her ridiculous propaganda novel into a play to be inflicted on the long-suffering Russians. Watching it one night in Moscow, an observer from Melbourne said it made him proud to be Australian!
At the time these intellectual atrocities were grim and even threatening. Now they take on a comic aspect. Indeed, someone should compile a collection of such absurdities while the memory of them is still fresh. It should attract a generous grant from the Literature Board!
Take Stalin, for example, who slaughtered millions and relentlessly persecuted the mildest non-conformists, especially writers and artists.
When he died in 1953, Australian communist novelists and poets vied with each other to pen the most sickening tributes. Katherine Susannah Pritchard said she would never forget Stalin's 'whimsical smile', his 'tenderness' and his love of laughter no doubt when he was signing the countless death sentences.
Frank Hardy wrote that the passing of 'our beloved Leader' filled him with determination 'to work even harder for the triumph of socialism'. He also took the opportunity to hint to the Moscow Writers Union that he wouldn't say no to another free trip to Russia.
A number of writers could only express themselves in verse. One woman in Melbourne thanked Stalin for taking her by the hand in the troubled night and guiding her to the dawn. Another in Sydney found that, even when dead, Stalin was still as vital 'as the wheatfields sprung from Arctic cold'.
An anthology of communist follies would do more than document absurdities. It would also remind us of the crucial role played in the long decades of the Cold War by people who have no literary or intellectual pretensions. No strategy, no policy of deterrence, no exposure of communist lies would have had a hope of success without the common sense, loyalty, phlegm and the straightforward idea of right and wrong of the ordinary man and woman.
Sometimes it is character, not brains, that triumphs in the end.