Video Commemorating 1989 Revolutions Creates Controversy
The European Community has produced a short (if slightly saccharine) video to commemorate the fall of communism across Eastern Europe in 1989. The video, just under three minutes in length and entitled ‘1989-2009: 20 Years of Liberty’ begins by showing images of oppression in communist Eastern Europe: the crushing of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and the 1981 declaration of Martial Law by General Jaruzelski in Poland. The video then shifts focus to 1989, covering anti-communist demonstrations in the Baltics and Romania before showing the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Footage of the wall crumbling is interspersed with the birth of a baby, representative of the birth of a ‘free Europe’. The rest of the video covers important landmarks in post-communist Eastern Europe: the last Soviet troops are shown leaving Hungary in 1991 along with the first democratic elections in independent Lithuania, and the removal of internal border controls in the EU in 1995. As the child grows, he is presented with birthday cakes marking pivotal years in the twenty year period since 1989 and for one birthday he receives a camera, which he then uses to record other momentous developments, such as the enlargement of the EU in May 2004, when the slogan ‘Europe Reunited’ and the number ‘25’ is flashed up on screen alongside images of celebrations in some of the countries joining the EU. The video ends in the present day, when the boy born in 1989 (now grown to adulthood), snaps a photograph of the Brandenburg gate in a (now united) Berlin – at very same the place where US President Ronald Reagan famously entreated Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall!’ in 1987 – before celebrating with friends.
The EC Website had this to say about their short video:
“The Fall of the Berlin Wall was a unique event that mobilised public opinion across Europe. It inspired strong emotions, including optimism for change. The 20th Anniversary of this event marks the coming of age of a generation, which has grown up in a Europe that is whole and free. This is also the 5th anniversary of EU-10 Enlargement, and with this enlargement, Europe became truly re-united in peace and security”.
However, the video has provoked something of a backlash in some former communist states. In Poland, the video has been roundly criticised for its lack of focus on events there in 1989 with no mention of the Polish round table talks and the election of the first non-communist government in the Eastern bloc, or any reference to Polish-born Pope John Paul II who inspired opposition to communism. In addition, footage purporting to show a Polish demonstration against Martial Law in 1981 has been revealed to actually be a clip taken from a reconstruction of the original demonstration which was filmed in 1993, organised by the Civic Responsibility Foundation in Warsaw, with students acting the parts of both the demonstrators and the riot police.
Jan Tombinski, the Polish ambassador to the EU, has written a strongly worded letter to Margot Wallstrom, the EU communication policy chief, demanding changes to the video and alleging that the ‘simplistic image’ of 1989 presented in the video could ‘introduce needless controversies during the European Parliamentary elections this June’, while Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, the Chair of the Polish Committee for European Integration, has stated that the video’s lack of focus on the role played by Solidarity in the events of 1989 is ‘like showing France’s history with no mention of the French Revolution’. Controversy over the video’s content has even reached the upper echelons of Polish politics, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk describing the video’s inaccurate portrayal of events in Poland as a ‘stupid blunder’ by the European Commission.
Bulgaria are also unhappy, as they are the only EU member from the former East Bloc not included in the video, which lacks any reference to either events in Bulgaria in 1989, or the most recent EU enlargement including Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.
An EC spokesman responded to criticism of the video with the claim that it is an ‘artistic video’, adding that ‘this is not a historical programme, this is not a documentary’ – which seems rather a naive view, given the historical weight and meaning that the events of 1989 still hold for many across Central and Eastern Europe today.
Sunday 31 May – UPDATE
The European Commission have now edited the original video, making a number of changes to the content in response to some of the criticisms raised. Bulgaria still isn’t featured at all, but the clip showing the re-construction of Martial Law era demonstrations has now been replaced with genuine clips from the original 1981 protests, while some footage related to the Solidarity movement has also now been added, so that ‘Solidarnosc’ banners are prominent. The title of the video has also been changed to reflect the primary focus on events in Germany, and so the film is now called “1989 – 2009 The Berlin Wall: Symbol of a Divided Europe”.
You can view the edited and updated EC video here:
And, if you are interested in comparing this with the original video, which created the initial controversy, it is still available here (with some independent commentary added at the beginning):
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