SPEECH BY GEORGE YEO, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND MP FOR ALJUNIED GRC, AT THE UNVEILING OF THE
BERLIN WALL AT BEDOK RESERVOIR ON 8 JANUARY 2010
AT 6.45 PM
- We are gathered here on the shore of Bedok Reservoir this evening for a simple but meaningful ceremony, which is to unveil four panels of the Berlin Wall on the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Wall.
- In a highly symbolic way, the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. If Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of the Soviet Union at that time, had been a different person, the dismantling of the Soviet Union might have involved considerable suffering and bloodshed. For this alone, if nothing else, history will judge President Gorbachev kindly. Russia itself became a willing partner in the turning of a chapter in international relations. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's participation in the 20th Anniversary celebrations on 9 November last year showed a magnanimity and a largeness of spirit worthy of the leader of a great nation.
- German Chancellor Helmut Kohl worked with President Gorbachev during those fateful months before and after the fall of the Wall. When Chancellor Kohl visited Singapore in 1995, I was his minister-in-attendance and was enthralled by his personal account of that dramatic period in history. The German people will always remember him for his role in German reunification. In response to my request, Chancellor Kohl penned a few words to mark our event today.
- In the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms, we learn in the first line that empires wax and wane. The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the eastward expansion of the European Union and the rise of Asia. Determined to put an end to the endless wars on the European continent, the leaders of Europe strove to create a new kind of community, where tribal nations could work together in peace for the common European good, subscribing to common values and laws, while at the same time respecting the diversity which is such an important part of Europe's heritage and contribution to the world. This is a new social and political model never seen before.
- Far away in Asia, the end of the Cold War saw the steady re-emergence of China and India on the global stage, together making up a third of the world's population. The globalisation which the end of the Cold War accelerated has benefited them hugely, enabling hundreds of millions of their citizens to join the global marketplace.
- In the week the Berlin Wall fell, 12 economies of the Asia-Pacific launched the first pan-Pacific institution, APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in Canberra. The 20th anniversary of that event was celebrated last month in Singapore during the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting. The founding principle of APEC is that the Pacific should never be split down the middle, meaning that the US must be an integral part of the Asian revival. Pointedly, US President Obama was not in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with other Western leaders but in Singapore for the 20th anniversary of APEC's establishment with Asian-Pacific leaders.
- Thus in a manner not easily forseen twenty years ago, the world has become multi-polar, with blurred boundaries. Everywhere, walls have come down and bridges built.
- The piece of the Berlin Wall we unveil today is therefore an icon of the age we live in. It reminds us of the past that we have left behind, of the mistakes that we should vow never to repeat. During the Cold War, mutual fear and distrust between two sides fed on one another to a point when the only deterrent left was mutual assured destruction, aptly coined MAD. The fall of the Wall also reminds us of the opportunities that become abundant when barriers are breached, leading to mutually-beneficial exchange of goods and ideas. But it also reminds us of the human condition. Throughout history, societies have built walls and bridges, and torn them down, and the future will be the same. Even as we speak, there are parts of the world where walls and fences are being erected and strengthened. Let us learn from the follies of the past and try to do better. When we demonize others, we reduce ourselves; when we see each other as fellow human beings sharing the same fragile planet, we are more likely to act sensibly and work to achieve win-win outcomes.
- On the Wall we unveil today, there are the pictures of two kings, one smiling, one sad, drawn by grafitti artist Dennis Kaun in the weeks following the fall of the Wall. This motif of the two kings has been repeatedly painted and repainted on the Berlin Wall long before it fell. They express the yin and yang of human society.
- Dennis Kaun called the two kings ‘the Kings of Freedom’. It was a name quickly embraced by a group of young men and women from the Youth Empire who did most of the work for this project. Freedom, like peace, is a great blessing which has to be treasured and safeguarded. It does not always come about naturally. Freedom carries with it responsibility and, to quote Friedrich Engels, the recognition of necessity.
- That this Wall should appear in Bedok Reservoir Park is the result of happy coincidences. My old friend, Robert Hefner, secured these four panels shortly after the Wall fell. He then had them shipped to Oklahoma City where it was exhibited, then safely kept in a warehouse. 7 years ago, Robert married MeiLi, a Singaporean, and started visiting Singapore regularly. A few years ago, he offered to bring the Wall together with some of his Chinese oil paintings for exhibition in Singapore at one of our museums. As the museum was not interested in the Wall, I suggested exhibiting it at Bedok Reservoir instead, near Temasek Polytechnic, so that it can inspire young Singaporeans who study there. After visiting the site twice, Robert and MeiLi decided to loan the Wall to us on a long-term basis. National Parks Board which owns the land has been an enthusiastic partner. From beginning to end, hundreds of people were involved in design and construction, in fund-raising and publicity, and in organising this evening's event. I thank all of them and would like to acknowledge in particular Far East Organisation and Frasers Centrepoint for their major donation.
- We were conscious from the start that the Wall should not only be a dry relic from the past from a faraway place, but a living heritage, an icon which draws people to it, provoking thought and discussion. It should also be an attractive spot in the park for people to meet or to limber up before a run. Near here, a bistro will be built as an extension to the Berlin Wall installation.
- This evening we have two special guests, the Foreign Minister of Estonia Urmas Paet and US Senator Christopher Bond from the state of Missouri. For Estonians, the fall of the Berlin Wall made possible their restoration as an independent republic after many decades. Auspiciously, Minister Paet chose this date for his bilateral visit to Singapore. As for Senator Bond, an old friend, he is in Singapore for a day and accepted my invitation just this morning. We thank both of them for honouring us by their presence.