A Great Day For Freedom by Pink Floyd

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Now life devalues day by day
As friends and neighbors turn away
And there's a change that, even with regret
cannot be undone Read full Lyrics
The ironically titled song, "A Great Day for Freedom," appeared on Pink Floyd's final album The Division Bell, which was released in 1994. Originally called "In Shades of Grey," this song depicts events that came after the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November, 1989, when "the Ship of Fools had finally run aground." In the years that followed, the wall was slowly taken down bit by bit by both the authorities and the citizens of newly reunited East and West Germany. Some took pieces of it home with them as souvenirs, reminders of that precious freedom that had been withheld for so long. "On the day the wall came down, they threw the locks onto the ground. And with glasses high we raised a cry, for freedom had arrived."

Removing section of the Wall, December 21, 1989<br>Photo: National ArchivesRemoving section of the Wall, December 21, 1989
Photo: National Archives
The roots of this decision to build a wall developed in the aftermath of World War II, when Germany was still run by the Soviets in the East, and the British and U.S.A. in the West. Increased Sovietization in East Germany meant greater state control over the movements of its people, up until that control became total through the building of the wall. On12th of August, 1961, the order was passed for the Soviet army to take up positions along the inner German border separating the Communist East Bloc of Germany from the capitalist, democratic Western zones. Streets were blocked off by stern lines of soldiers, roads were torn up and barbed-wire set down. Building commenced the next day.

In the following years, Communist Big Brother tightened his stranglehold on people of East Germany. The population was ruthlessly assaulted with Communist doctrine at schools and universities, and the SMERSH secret police helped enforce docility and amicability towards the communist powers through the liberal distribution of torture, murder and intimidation. Of course, many had tried to leave in those final years before the wall was erected, but laws passing between zones became more restrictive as the Soviets became increasingly paranoid of the influence of foreign powers. When the Berlin Wall came up, those that were stuck on the wrong side remained so for the next two decades, in the sort of Stalinist nightmare predicted in Orwell's seminal novel, 1984 (published in 1949).

The wall comes down<br>Photo: <a href="">Sue Ream</a>, <a href="">CC BY 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsThe wall comes down
Photo: Sue Ream, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
As Pink Floyd comment through the lyrics of this song, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not lead to the sort of all-encompassing freedom that many imagined it would bring. "Promises lit up the night like paper doves in flight." In reality, it put the rest of the Eastern Bloc in a state of extreme instability and revolution. For some countries, this was disastrous, leading to years of violence. "Now frontiers shift like desert sands, as nations wash their bloodied hands, of loyalty, of history, in shades of gray." Ethnic conflicts in former Yugoslavia (now called the Yugosphere) worsened as their oppressor's leadership crumbled into a decade of war. Bosnia became synonymous with hell in most peoples' vocabularies as hundreds of thousands died, and many thousands of women became victims of systematically applied sexual violence, a particularly cruel form of genocide developed during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) as a form of ethnic cleansing. This decade of conflict was heavily publicized in the British media, prompting Gilmour and his wife to write the song about this situation that was so harassing to the public psyche.

"A Great Day for Freedom" is permeated by an overall sense of loss, that something lost can never be entirely reclaimed. The lyrics about conflict are intermingled with a dream in which two characters become separated, and there is no way to re-connect. Eventually the dream is broken, and they are reunited, but the "bitter residue" of the memory of loss remains. As the Gilmours convert this public tragedy into a personal one, the reality sinks in that sometimes there can be no recompense for the suffering that conflict brings. Not everything that is broken can be fixed. Sometimes, freedom simply isn't enough.

Douglas MacCutcheon
June 19, 2015
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