Correspondent in Berlin
Speaking without saying anything is one of the tools with which power bypasses the control of the media and a skill in which politicians train thoroughly, to neutralize any uncomfortable questions based on verbiage. And if it happens in democratic regimes, in dictatorial regimes that same practice acquires the solidity of reinforced concrete.
But there was a day, on November 9, 1989, when a journalist raised his hand and asked a question that would change the story. He did not do more than his job: to ask for the specification of a single piece of information, and with that exclusive question he introduced a wedge in the speech of a government spokesman who did not
only opened a rift in the communist dictatorship of the GDR, but precipitated the end of the regime and the international geopolitical order that kept Europe divided and the population of the GDR prisoner. If there has been a journalistic question with notable consequences, it was Riccardo Ehrman’s.
On November 9, the night the Berlin Wall fell, the GDR government spokesman appeared at one of their soporific press conferences. Günter Schabowski had not even been to the tense Politburo meeting where there had been talk of changing travel regulations, to end the incessant flow of East Germans who had been on the run since the summer through Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
He spoke from memory and He pulled taglines such as “everyone who has a passport and a valid visa», Which was like lying openly because in the GDR citizens did not agree to such luxuries. The announcement, in fact, had been pending due to the difficulty of its practical application. But that’s where Riccardo Ehrman, the Berlin correspondent for the Italian agency ANSA, asked for a clarification. Schabowski drew from his pocket the paper that a junior had scribbled for him and deduced that a decision had been made and that it would apply to East Berlin as well. “When does it come into force?”Ehrman wanted to know.
The spokesperson flipped the paper over, looking for an answer that he lacked, and finally said: “This will take effect, according to my information, immediately.” East Berliners, a population trapped by the Wall since 1961, heard that ‘straight away’ as a long-awaited opening and they made their way peacefully towards the border crossings leading to West Berlin. The Vopos, border guards, lacked the orders and the bullets to shoot so many people at once. And that is how a question precipitated the fall of the Wall, but it was not a casual question, as Ehrman defended to the end of his days.
“I had been in Berlin for eleven years and had established sources with whom I spoke openly about what was happening, such as Klaus Gysi, then Secretary of State for Church relations, or Günter Pöetzsche, director of the ADN agency. I had precisely been eating with him and he had told me: ‘ask about the freedom to travel’ “, Ehramn himself related in his last conversation with ABC about the role of correspondents, in which he also insisted that” I would not like that remember me for asking the question, yesino for having understood the answer, I understood instantly and ran to transmit to the newsroom, and that is the only credit that is owed to me.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism