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No. 10, October 2000
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Ten years of reunification
Germany's celebration problems

Article added on October 5, 2000
 
Ten years ago, Germany was formally reunited. Today, not everybody is in the mood to celebrate. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl was not invited to the official celebration. It was not the ruling coalition of Social-Democrats and the Green Party who kept him out, but Kurt Biedenkopf, a former rival of Kohl within the Christian Democrats. As minister-president of Saxony and President of the Bundesrat, the Upper House of the German Parliament, the master of ceremonies formally based his decision on the protocol. This was of course only a pretext since he invited Lothar de Maizière, the last and only freely elected prime minister of the GDR, to the festivities.
 
Helmut Kohl is above all in the line of fire for his involvement in the party financing scandal and for his refusal to give the names of the anonymous donators. He does not want to break the "word of honor" he gave to the people who financially supported the party, therefore putting his word of honor above the law. This is an unacceptable attitude and a scandal within the scandal. If the donators really wanted to help the CDU, they would have come forward themselves (if they are still alive) or had unbound Kohl from his word of honor. But who knows, maybe there are no donators and it was bribing money for state orders. As long as Kohl keeps his secrets, there will be speculation.
 
But is not just the CDU that has problems: the Social-Democrats and the Green Party came under fire from Christian Democrats for their unconstructive role during the decisive period of 1989-1990 in which the steps which led to reunification were taken. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer of the Green Party, then said, that one should not speak of reunification for the next 25 years. Chancellor Schröder and Oskar Lafontaine made also statements in the crucial years of change which showed that they were no fervent advocates of reunification. The leaders of the left-wing parties not only (justly) warned of possible economic problems related to reunification, some of them still dreamt a dangerous dream of two neutral Germanys in the middle of Europe. Others had illusions about a second, "better" Germany on the territory of the GDR, a "socialist-democratic state", not realizing that socialism and democracy are incompatible.
 
Of course, there were also reasonable people within the SPD and the Green Party who understood the unique historic constellation and favored reunification, but they were a minority within the leadership. Helmut Kohl and others are right when they say that with Lafontaine, Schröder and Fischer as leaders in 1989-1990, Germany would probably not have been reunited. When the Social-Democrats and the Green Party say today that one should look forward and not back, they are hypocritical. Whenever one has to commemorate the past, mainly the Nazi-past, the left-wing parties are the first ones to remind the Right to remember it. They are less keen on remembering their own errors, which of course are not on the same level as the "mistakes" made during Hitler's reign, for which, naturally, CDU, CSU and FDP are not responsible.
 
Comments about the attitude in 1989 and 1990 are necessary, but they should be made by historians, by journalists in newspapers and other media, also by politicians in parliamentary debates, but not at official ceremonies commemorating unification, since their aim is to unite and not to divide. At least, allusions to false perceptions and ideas should be made in a moderate way and not become partisan statements, even if they are correct.
 
Not all former East Germans are in a mood to celebrate, either. They have won their freedom of expression and the liberty to travel wherever they want to. Although most of them are in favor of democracy, an important minority could not adapt to the market economy. The unemployment rate is still around 20% in the Eastern part, twice as high as in the Western part of Germany. A lot of East Germans had illusions about democracy and market economy. They are no ideal systems. Furthermore, most of them thought they could reach the Western standard of living within two or three years. Even in the Western part, some had unrealistic ideas, partly based on a romantic vision of their own past. The German economic miracle after the Second World War did not come overnight. It was the fruit of hard labor and began in 1948. Thousands had to die before the Western Allies realized they had to begin reforms. In the 1950s, prosperity was still modest and only in the 1960s can one speak of a consumer society.
 
In 1982 and 1983, at the age of 18 and 19, I first traveled to Hungary and East Germany. My conclusion was immediate: these regimes would not see the year 2000. In Hungary, people could already travel to Austria and, therefore, not only liberty but also Western goods were well-known and appreciated. East Germany, considered the economically most vital country of the Eastern block, made the impression of a war zone on me. Though I have to admit, if you had asked me in mid-1989 whether the end of communism was imminent, I would have been very sceptical.
 
Germans living on the territory of the former GDR had illusions which were disappointed. Especially the generation of the now 40 to 65 year-olds are frustrated, because many lost their posts of responsibility - it is not only a matter of money. They younger generation - except and despite the skinheads - has more are less adapted to the new system, and the pensioners enjoy a life with few problems. It only seems to be a matter of time before all differences will be overcome, but it will take at least a generation, another ten years from now. The infrastructure in the East has been completely renewed, the towns have been renovated, the social system is intact and more than $100 billion a year were and are transferred to the East. Still, Eastern productivity is only 60% of the Western one. Democracy and capitalism not only need enthusiasm, but also knowledge of the functioning of market economy and capital. There was no money in the East, the state and its citizens were equally bankrupt. Therefore, the economic elite came mostly from the West. A lot of people in the East feel as if they are second class citizens.
 
Is the glass half full or half empty? A look at Germany's neighbors shows that the people of the former GDR live in a very comfortable situation. There standard of living is "light years" ahead of the one in Poland or Hungary. Of course, they have the natural tendency to compare themselves to West Germans and not the people living in their former "brother countries". But that is where the real task lies: Europe cannot prosper and live in peace with the Eastern part of the continent living in poverty.
 
One final word on the Eastern part of Germany: With the tenth anniversary of unification, Gregor Gysi stepped down as the leader of the parliamentary party of the PDS, the successor organization of the GDR's Communist Party. He was the democratic and reform voice of the PDS. He tried to reconcile an important minority of the East Germans with their new state. He left his office partly because of Communist resistance within the PDS against his reform program, partly because he thinks his historic mission is over. Although, as a liberal in the European sense, I do not agree with Gysi's political ideas, I have to admit that he was not only one of the few rhetorically brilliant members of parliament, but also one who fully accepted the Democratic state and, at the same time, gave a voice to East Germans who felt and feel uncomfortable in the reunited Germany. With his departure, the decline of the PDS could begin, making it a transitory party like the organizations which, in the era of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, united the German's who were forced to leave the German territories which today are part of Poland.


 
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 10, October 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.