Monday, November 10, 2014

Germany is united, accept it!

Yesterday, Germany marked the 25th anniversary of one of the defining moments in European history, the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berliner Mauer, as it was known in German, was a symbol of a contest between capitalism and communism. On that dramatic date, November 9, 1989, the barriers in the wall opened, effectively putting an end to the contest giving absolute victory to capitalism. Within another year, East Germany and West Germany reunited.

On each anniversary of the fall of the wall, a repeated topic resurfaces. Germany, although reunited, is apparently still divided. Each year, it is possible to find various commentators describing the differences between the West Germans, or the Wessis and the East Germans or the Ossis. This year, since it is the landmark 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall, the volume of the number of articles may have increased.

Rick Noack wrote a particularly interesting article dated October 31, 2014, on Washington Post. Several graphs and photographs accompanied the article emphasizing key factors in the division between the East and the West. Unemployment is particularly higher in the former East Germany than in the former West Germany. Many young East Germany have moved to the West in search of better jobs, making companies in the former East German regions look to Poland and Czech Republic to find workers.
The East Side Gallery. Pic by Katya Kuznetsova

In some aspects, the legacy of East Germany has remained. The former East German areas have better flu vaccination, better child care, larger farms and East German people produce less trash. On the other hand, the legacy of industrial pollution also remains.

It is true that there are gaps in the two regions which were two countries under drastically contrasting systems just 25 years ago. It is not realistic to expect a miracle overnight. Assimilation into one system can take long and should be a natural process. For 45 years, West German economy thrived while the East German economy slumped. Although living standards in East Germany was far better than in many other Eastern European countries, they could never be compared with the West German conditions. People in West Germany lived with many personal liberties while in the east, liberty was defined by the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the dreaded secret police, the Stasi. Although it learned some of its tricks from the Soviet KGB, the Stasi was sometimes far more methodical, brutal and paranoid than its Soviet counterpart.

One major mistake of the Western analysts was to assume that a miracle could occur overnight after the fall of communism. They were repeatedly harping about a uni-polar world in the wake of the end of the Cold War. However, most of the Eastern European countries could not face the changes in the initial years and sometimes elected the former communists back to government. Even in Russia, the communists gave a scare to the west by threatening to win the 1996 Presidential Election.

Electoral patterns in Germany have also shown the legacy of the former divisions. As Noack has pointed out in his article, the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) has more supporters in former East German regions. “The explanation is complex, but scientists often attribute it to a mixture of anti-leftist worldviews after the wall fell and the economic downturn in the east. Many people were disillusioned by Western capitalism, but few wanted a return to communism. Right-wing politicians were quick to fill the void” Noack says.

On the other hand, the East German regions are also the strongholds of the Left Party, composed partly of the successors to the communist era Socialist Unity Party. The Left Party has now become the strongest voice on the political left in Germany with nearly 10 percent of the vote nationally. In the Eastern regions it enjoys about one fourth of the popular vote.

This perhaps shows the nostalgia towards the former socialist regime, perhaps based on the humane aspects of it. In July 2012, Stuart Jeffries wrote an article “Why Marxism is on the rise again” in The Guardian, where he cited a 2008 Reuters report, which said 52% East Germans believed the free-market economy was "unsuitable" and 43% said they wanted socialism back. Job security is an important aspect of lives of the people and the more affluent West Germany is still dominating much of the economic opportunity. The West Germans are still not ready to pay the bills of reviving the East.

The west is disappointed at the apparent divisions in Germany, which has shown that the economic miracle has not reached East Germany. However, on the other hand, the divisions have been prominently seen due to several factors. First of all, Germany is a special case where a country united in language and culture was separated by an artificial political scenario. In any country, there are places of relatively high unemployment. Political parties also have their strongholds and areas where they have less of a presence. The case of the Left Party and the NPD are also such a case which has gained extra limelight due to the presence of extraordinary cases.

Most importantly, Germany is still in transition. The older generations still remember life under the specter of a dividing wall and fear of a nuclear war. The younger generation, it must be said, is less informed and cares less about this past. Assimilation is a natural process and it takes time.

In the 1860s USA was divided into two and fought a bloody war. For several decades after the war, the South voted Democratic, and the North, Republican. But afterwards those conditions changed. One can say, with a certain amount of truth that the relics of those divisions still remain. Perhaps they will never completely die out. But the basic factors have altered. The same applies for Germany. It is a united country in transition.

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