BERLIN • Germany yesterday marked 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall that ushered in the end of communism and national reunification, as the Western alliance that helped secure those achievements is riddled with divisions.
Last Thursday, two days before the date that brought epochal change, French President Emmanuel Macron dropped a bombshell, declaring that transatlantic alliance Nato was suffering from "brain death" and that Europe itself was "on the brink".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with uncharacteristic sharpness, saying, "I do not think that such sweeping judgments are necessary", and the ensuing storm over Nato laid bare the growing differences among traditional allies.
The bad-tempered prelude to the festivities stood in sharp contrast to celebrations five years ago, when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and then Polish President and freedom icon Lech Walesa were present.
This time, leaders of former Cold War powers will be absent, as US President Donald Trump's America First policy, Britain's Brexit struggles and Russia's resurgence put a strain on ties.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's Berlin visit ended last Friday, while Mr Macron is planning only a flying visit today, leaving the actual anniversary yesterday without globally prominent figures.
Mr Pompeo also left behind a stark warning: "As we celebrate, we must also recognise that freedom is never guaranteed. Today, authoritarianism is once again rising."
Carrying a similar message, incoming European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen noted that the euphoric optimism over liberal democracy and freedom that characterised Nov 9, 1989, has dissipated.
"Today, we have to admit that our complacency was naive," she said.
Russia is "using violence to shift established borders in Europe, and is trying to fill every vacuum that the US has left behind".
And hopes that China would develop closer to the Western liberal democracy model have not been fulfilled, Mrs von der Leyen said.
Mr Gorbachev, whose decision not to send the Soviet army to prop up the East German regime was seen as crucial to preserving peace during the Cold War, told Spiegel magazine in an interview last week that there is "no nostalgia" for that period of division. But "we have to admit that after the end of the Cold War, new leaders failed to create a modern security architecture, especially in Europe".
"As a result, new lines of divisions have emerged, and Nato's eastward expansion... shifted these lines to the Russian border."
Beyond the cracks surfacing in the global arena, a new chasm is opening up within Germany, with the far-right gaining a strong foothold in former communist states.
Underlining the problem herself, Dr Merkel said last week, those who earlier thought the differences between the former communist East and the capitalist West could be ironed out now see "that it would take half a century or more".
Debate has also opened up more intensively over the differences between the East and West as "nationalist and protectionist trends have gained ground worldwide, thereby fuelling more discussion too from a national perspective", Dr Merkel told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Amid the sombre mood, a serious political programme was planned yesterday, with central European presidents set to headline the official ceremonies. They were to join Dr Merkel and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to mark their countries' "contribution... to the peaceful revolution" that led to the collapse of the communist regime.