Image: Gorbachev, Bush and Kohl
Herbert Knosowski  /  AP
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met Saturday in Berlin for the start of celebrations marking the 20 anniversary of the Berlin Wall's collapse.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/31/2009 12:06:06 PM ET 2009-10-31T16:06:06

Three statesmen who oversaw the fall of the Berlin Wall that led to the collapse of communism in Europe gathered Saturday in Germany's capital to reflect on the changes they helped usher in 20 years ago.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush; the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev; and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were honored at a ceremony in Berlin. It recalled how the three leaders carried the hope that had built on East Germany's streets and turned it into a political reality — the end to more than 40 years of animosity and division reflected in the concrete barrier that snaked across Berlin.

Kohl, 79, who went on to become the first chancellor of a reunited Germany, appeared the most visibly moved by the moment, recalling the heady days that led up to the Nov. 9, 1989, collapse of the wall and Washington's and Moscow's willingness to let it fall.

"We achieved reunification together, with peace and freedom and with the support of our neighbors," recalled Kohl.

"We don't have many reasons in our history to be proud," Kohl said. "But those years when I was chancellor ... I have every reason to be proud. I have nothing better, nothing to be more proud of than German reunification."

'God-given rights'
In his speech, Bush, 85, praised his fellow statesmen for their cooperation and for seizing the moment, but noted that the historic events that paved the way for the wall's collapse took place not in capital cities but "in the hearts and minds of the people who so long had to strive for their God-given rights."

Bush had initially been criticized in some U.S. circles in 1989 for not rushing to Berlin to celebrate the opening of the Wall. By contrast, Reagan had delivered a hard-hitting speech just west of the Berlin Wall two years earlier in 1987.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall," Reagan had said.

On Saturday Gorbachev brought that up and said: "We knew the first specialty of a president is that he has to be an actor."

Gorbachev added: "We've got to understand that the European project cannot be completed, that there won't be any triumph if it's built upon an anti-Russian or anti-American sentiment."

Bush was full of praise for Gorbachev on Saturday.

"I have no doubt, zero, that historians will recognize Mikhail for his rare vision and unfailing commitment to reform and openness despite the efforts of those who would resist change and ignore the call of history," he said.

"Today we have a fuller appreciation of the tremendous pressure Mikhail faced in that pivotal time. And through it all he stood firm, which is why he'll also stand tall when the history of our time in office is finally written."

Reconciliation
Gorbachev also recalled the efforts of the many statesmen who fought throughout the decades of the Cold War for reconciliation between Russia, Germany and the West in small steps and tiny concessions.

"How difficult it all was!" the 78-year-old Russian said, noting that even the initial working relationship between him and Kohl was thorny.

Gorbachev also looked to the future, calling for economic and governmental reform in the United States similar to that which he brought about in the mid-1980s during his tenure as head of the Soviet Union.

"America also needs a perestroika," Gorbachev said, noting the push for change with the election of President Barack Obama. "A lot will now depend on America. ... Leadership will have to be proven."

He even went out of his way to say he thought "it's a good thing he (Obama) won the Nobel Peace Prize" this year despite misgivings in the United States.

The ceremony ended with the playing of Germany's national anthem — a rarity at public events in this nation, which for decades after the end of Nazism shunned overt displays of nationalism.

More on: Berlin Wall

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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