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20 years ago, East Berliners scaled the walls and pushed through checkpoints into West Berlin – an action that will get themselves shot just a day before. It was the defining moment of the most liberating month of the most liberating year in history.

One of the most important lessons here was that the freedom of movement is the most important weapon against the totalitarian and the ruthless, against state failure. The inner-German barrier started going up in 1952, and the Berlin Wall in 1961, was due to the fact that the mass influx of East Germans to the West was undermining communist rule.

But the crucial bit here is that the Berlin Wall would likely still be there if the rest of Western Europe put up barriers as well – to keep East Germans out. When 13,000 East Germans crossed the Austro-Hungarian border in August 1989, they weren’t placed in internment camps to sort out their asylum status. They were welcomed. Malaysia instead sells Burmese refugees at the Thai border as slaves and wonder why the junta remain recalcitrant.

Our humanity isn’t merely measured on the respect shown to our own, but to the most downtrodden of the others.


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