Twenty years ago this week, a wall designed to pen in oppressed East Germans was torn down by people who saw they had more in common with each other than with their government.
Two decades on, we have new walls. Some are physical others more metaphorical. But they are becoming a hallmark of a world in which money flows more freely than those who don’t have any.
For a stark reminder that governments still turn to steel barricades to control people, look no further than our American neighbour. Along their southern frontier is strung hundreds of miles of barbed wire fencing, meant to keep would-be migrant workers at bay.
But today’s Berlin is Abu Dis. The Palestinian town is cleaved by a combination of cement, mesh fence and barbed wire that runs north and south around the West Bank.
That wall's stated purpose is to provide security for those living on the Israeli side.
Yet it can’t be ignored that, just as on America’s southern border, the barrier draws a line between one side’s poverty and the other’s affluence.
That is what the walls of today share in common: they keep the poor on one side and protect the wealth of the other.
The irony is that it is those very people, the poorest, who stand to gain the most from migration, but who are most often denied its benefits.
Some of today’s walls are not built of bricks, but are woven with intricate layers of law regulating who may cross borders, when and why.
Just last week, those walls got higher for refugees hoping to come to Canada as the federal government announced we would be taking 3,000 fewer next year.
Moreover, in the eight years since 9-11, Canada’s border guards have seen their powers expand and their budgets improve. Meanwhile, bodies concerned with due process, like the refugee boards, remain chronically under- equipped.
Those guards enforce what the United Nations Human Development Report calls “paper walls;" the legal, financial and social barriers to migration. Again, these walls affect the poor most severely.
What might seem like little more than bureaucratic annoyances can push the most desperate into a world of “illegal” migration.
This is a world more akin to Cold War Berlin.
It’s a world where movement across borders brings with it the multiple threats of abuse, exploitation and imprisonment.
Worse, for those who squeeze into shipping containers on China's coast, or who set out into Arizona’s parched Sonoran Desert, it’s a world that daily threatens death.
Less than two years after Berlin, the Iron Curtain was falling across Europe.
As it crumbled, the elder Bush stood in the American House of Representatives and spoke of a new dawn, one in which the Cold War world of “barbed wire and concrete block” would be replaced by a new world in which, “the principles of justice and fair play … protect the weak against the strong.”
It’s a world we have yet to achieve.