I’m still relishing the vivid memories of Berlin last Nov. 9 when 100,000 of us stood out in a cold drizzle to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There aren’t many experiences to match that, although one of the events during the month-long celebration, dubbed the Festival of Freedom, came close.
That was seeing how a bunch of creative Germans put together a website called Berlintwitterwall (www.berlintwitterwall.com) and invited people from around the world to tweet about other walls of oppression that must come down. You can still see a sample of the tweets by going to that site, and some are extremely moving.
The site had more than100 tweets posted in the first 24 hours. Then momentum really picked up and, before long, there were thousands. The site pictures the East Side Gallery, a famous stretch of the wall that still stands and is painted with murals. Against this wall, the messages appear as they stroll in a continuous stream from right to left.
Visitors can also click on photo icons to see pictures of pieces of the Domino Wall, about 1,000 pieces of 8-foot tall styrofoam painted with messages of peace by students, celebrities and politicians. The Domino Wall snaked nearly a mile along the old wall line and were toppled during the celebrations on Nov. 9.
China Bans Site
So popular was the site to people in countries with oppressive policies, that some of these governments — China’s in particular — wound up blocking its citizens from logging on to Berlintwitterwall. But not before many Chinese citizens risked a lot to post their protests against their own government
The twitterwall site was the brainchild of the Kulture Projekte Berlin, the non-profit arts organization that was called upon to add their creative minds to this Festival of Freedom, 20 years after the fall of the big wall.
“We got a lot of worldwide attention, so naturally the Chinese people have seen it as a way to voice their opinions about internet censorship in their own country,” Carsten Hein, the project coordinator, told German newspaper, The Local.
Particularly troublesome to Chinese authorities was the request by the Berlin Twitter Wall for users to describe, “which walls in the rest of the world should, in their opinion, now fall.”
I’ve been a journalist for a lot of years, and I have never understood why anyone can still think that censorship does more good than harm. Doesn’t the very idea of censorship infer strongly that government leaders are insecure about their own program, and/or that they have something to hide, and/or they think the people are too stupid to figure it out for themselves?
So kudos to this application of the social media which allowed the world, in this case, to voice its opposition to oppression of all kinds.
A Sample of Tweets
Here are some of the actual tweets from the cyberwall at this site which is still up and running:
* “One day China will see their walls of oppression come tumbling down, just as the Berlin Wall did.”
*”Some people think that the U.S.-Mexican border is another wall of oppression.”
* “The Berlin Wall is a symbol of how far some societies will go in dividing themselves from tolerance.”
* “The Berlin Twitter Wall has been great-firewalled in China.”
*”The 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Wall shows the struggle that freedom of thought faces.”
* “Without the fall of the Wall, I would have never found my friend in the East.”
So a lot of pent-up frustrations by everyday Chinese citizens managaed to get out before the government clampdown. But China isn’t the only country attempting to restrict access to the Web.
A Dirty Dozen
In a report released last March, called “Enemies of the Internet”, the group listed 12 nations that it said have systematically restricted their populations from accessing online news and information deemed “undesirable.”
The nations cited were Burma, North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Tunisia, and China.
The report asserted these countries not only restrict access to Web sites, but also persecute some computer users for what they post online.
Despite these attempts at censorship, one of the great advantage of the Internet is that oppressive governments around the world find it harder to keep messages of freedom like these away from their people who are so hungry to read, hear, and see them.
Often, as in the case of China and Berlintwitterwall.com, some protests reach the rest of the world before the government is able to shut the door.