It all began in Poland. This year institutions, NGOs, and the media in Poland are doing their utmost to remind Europeans, Germans included, that the post-89 transformation began with democratic changes on the other side of the Oder. Without the events in Poland, the Berlin Wall would never have come down, and Germany would never have been reunified. But we still have to put up with the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the evening of 9 November 1989, remains the universally accepted symbol of the collapse of communism. No matter if most Poles find this disagreeable, exasperating, or even unacceptable, that is the way it is — and it is for this reason that we have a national obligation to patiently inform our fellow Europeans of the Polish narrative of end of the Iron Curtain.

Events in Berlin, and not Warsaw, have come to symbolize the collapse of the Soviet communist system for several reasons. On an official level, post-Cold War Germany has done much to perpetuate the notion that reunification directly resulted from a peaceful and democratic revolution in the DDR, and the allegedly central role of this revolution has been sealed by its treatment in the media, which presents it as a unique and dramatic moment, replete with immortal images and television footage. Photographs of "wall peckers" and large sections of the wall being torn down are certainly a more vivid representation of the triumph of freedom than photographs of the 4 June elections (the first semi-free vote in Poland, which was won by the opposition), even if they did occur five months earlier.

German reunification began in Poland

That said, there is also a major historical reason for the special significance attributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall by the collective imagination, and that is the importance of the division of Germany in the aftermath of the defeat of the Third Reich, and its profound effect on world politics in the the 20th century. I know that it is not easy for us Poles to accept, but it was only after the critical change in the DDR and Helmut Kohl's ten-point plan for the reunification of Germany — proposed in late November 1989 without consultation with Moscow, Paris or London, or the German foreign minister of the time, but with the approval of Washington — that it became obvious that the changes in Central and Eastern Europe would be irreversible.

So how should we respond to the current commemoration in Berlin? As Poles, we have good reason to defend the narrative of the primacy of the Polish insurrection over the revolution in Germany. Safeguarding this narrative is a moral obligation for our governments and presidents, and for future generations. However, on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should also join in the celebrations. After all, the reunification of Germany began in Poland, and now that our political-historical campaign has reminded Germany's ruling classes of this fact, we can also acknowledge that the end of the wall marked our definitive exit from the orbit of Moscow. The first breach in the Iron Curtain occurred in Poland, but we can thank our German neighbours for tearing down its most tangible manifestation, and ensuring that there would be no turning back.