Explain why Khrushchev ordered the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. There were several reasons why Khrushchev built the Berlin Wall in 1961, the first of which was the economic effects of free movement in between West and East Berlin. Since the division of the city, East Germans had been able, with enough money, to leave the GDR through Berlin which was described as a “gap in the Iron Curtain”. Between 1949 and 1961 in fact, up to 4 million had fled to the Western Germany, around 20,000 per month by 1960.
Most of these were skilled workers, educated professionals and scientists attracted to the wealth and prosperity of the west as well as dissatisfied with the political conditions at home. This greatly affected the economic potential of the GDR with a reduction in productivity as well as less people to tax for income. This mass migration not only hurt the USSR economically, but politically as well. The Soviets had always prided itself to the world and used propaganda to depict the union as a “worker’s paradise”, superior to the capitalist West in every way.
This was helped by the recent advances in technology including the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1959 quickly followed up by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1960, making Western technology seem left behind and outdated. As a result, the migration seemed to contradict the happy nature which the Soviets claimed existed, undermining the image of a prosperous East in the process. Another reason the wall was built was because of the belief that the West would do nothing to prevent it anyway. This was believed mainly as a result of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
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The US had failed to respond to calls of help from the Hungarians when the USSR re-invaded the country mainly for fear of war, only condemning it through the UN. Also, the fact that Allied rights to enter West Berlin hadn’t been encroached due to the wall not going the whole of the city meant that the West were not in any valid position to argue against its building. Also, diplomats and military personnel could still get through to East Berlin for any needed negotiations. The building of the wall was also a purposeful show of power from the USSR trying to show that they are indeed the stronger of the two nations.
This was particularly because of the U-2 incident in May of 1960, when the USSR shot down an American spy plane. Despite demands from the Soviets, President Eisenhower never apologized for the incident. This directly led to Khrushchev walking out of the Paris Summit, straining even relations further. Not only that, Khrushchev was also annoyed by the new President Kennedy’s attitude at the Vienna Summit meeting in June of 1961, with Kennedy not wanting to talk Berlin during entire Summit. Khrushchev also felt he could “bully” Kennedy due to his inexperience, having been much younger than him.
This belief was particularly backed up by the huge failure of the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion of Cuba for the US, in which Kennedy had failed to provide adequate air support for the uprising. In summary, Khrushchev’s ambition to rid Berlin of Western Influence was a result of West Berlin’s position as a shining example of the advantages of capitalism deep within Soviet-controlled territory. The wall would solve many of these concerns such as preventing East German citizens from fleeing to the West and was perfect in trying to show that they were more powerful than the West.
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