Two segments of the Berlin Wall which polarised Germany for close to 30 years now stand sentry at NUS University Town Sculpture Garden. The historical artefacts were officially unveiled by Guest-of-Honour Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs (MFA); Professor Tommy Koh, Rector of Tembusu College at NUS; and Dr Michael Witter, German’s Ambassador to Singapore, on 18 October.
The two remnants of the Cold War are a gift from Mr Elmar Prost, Managing Director of Lagerhaus KW GmbH to Singapore in 2015 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Singapore. They have been loaned to NUS through MFA.
At the unveiling ceremony, Dr Balakrishnan urged everyone to think about the lives that were sacrificed as people tried to break out of the Wall. “You could almost imagine it being bathed in blood, and that gives it extra poignancy and extra power,” he said. He linked the Wall segments to a comment which Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made recently. Mr Lee had said that 50 years on, there were two possible scenarios for the world — one consisting of self-sufficient countries or blocs of countries erecting walls and engaging in rivalry with people on the other side, or an interdependent world without borders which was open to ideas, trade and services.
“I hope these two artefacts will continue to inspire the next generation to reflect on the meaning behind these and to realise that, in fact, the same profound questions confront us for the future,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
Prof Koh, who is also Chairman of the Centre for International Law at NUS and Ambassador-at-Large for Singapore, declared that the Cold War represented the most important geopolitical reality in the second half of the 20th century. He hoped that students at NUS and Yale-NUS College would be moved by the Berlin Wall segments, and “bring home to them the historical and political significance of the Cold War”.
A Tembusu Forum titled “The Historical Significance of the Cold War” moderated by Prof Koh was held in conjunction with the ceremony.
The first speaker, Provost’s Chair Professor Theodore Geoffrey Hopf from NUS Political Science, said that despite East Germany’s construction of the Wall, many of its citizens managed to flee the country. He also spoke of the devastation around the world as a result of the Cold War, where close to 20 million people lost their lives.
Dr Witter then recounted Germany’s post-World War II history, followed by Associate Professor Joey Long from NUS History, who noted the various conflicts throughout the world, saying that although these began as internal conflicts, the interventions and supply of resources by the Cold War powers broadened the scale of those conflicts.
During the question-and-answer session, a number of thought-provoking issues were raised, including the future of communism. In response, Prof Koh pointed out that the Cold War did not spell the end of communism as five countries today are still ruled by a communist party, including China. However, Assoc Prof Long felt that governments would come up with policies to deal with societal pressures, rather than return to the communist system.
Nguyen Manh Tri, a Year 3 NUS Arts and Social Sciences student who attended the event, felt it was important to learn from past mistakes. “Topics such as the current US-China economic rivalry or Russia-Western political tension are interwoven into the history lesson of the Berlin Wall collapse, highlighting signs that are worrying in the political climate of the near future.”
A flagship event of Tembusu College, the Tembusu Forum is convened once or twice each semester. Spearheaded by Prof Koh, it aims to raise awareness and engage undergraduates on global, regional and local issues in a conducive setting that encourages the sharing of ideas.
See press release.