Twenty years ago, on 3 October 1990, the streets of Berlin were agog with people streaming into the city from all over the country and also beyond the borders of Germany. The Unter den Linden, one of Berlin’s most illustrious streets was packed with millions of people marching to and from the famous/notorious Brandenburg Gates (1).
The atmosphere was euphoric with lots of fun and frolic in the air. It was a real mela (feast). “Wir sind ein Volk” (we are one people) was a slogan that roared through thousands of throats throughout the day and continued late into the night. Beer and other potent fluids were gulped by the gallons. Many cows, pigs and chicken had to sacrifice their lives to fill the bellies of the hungry throngs that gathered in the city to celebrate the Deutsche Einheit (Reunification of Germany) (2).
That was 20 years ago. What is the situation today? German unity is a myth. Why?
Let me quote a former East German dissident whom I interviewed on the occasion of the 10th anniversary in Berlin in September 2000.
Rev Friedrich Schorlemmer, from the Evangelican Academy in Wittenberg (the town where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses in 1517) explained: “Legally and politically Germany is a united country, but not in fact. The East Germans have always looked forward to unification but the majority of West Germans on the other hand are not interested anymore. The West Germans followed a very successful path and the people there were satisfied with what they achieved. The GDR (German Democratic Republic) collapsed politically and economically. One might say a dominance of interpretation, and economic power.
“This in turn is interpreted by West Germans as their victory in all aspects which has given the East Germans the impression that the country is dominated by the westerners. On the other hand, much has been done in reconstruction of run-down towns, roads and other social infrastructure. It is really great. But, that what is the centre of East German life – full participation in social life, has been shattered. Almost one in four adult of working age is unemployed and this is a very heavy burden”.
That situation referred to by the man in cloth ten years, has not changed. On the contrary, it has worsened and can safely be said that a large section of the population in the East are living below the breadline. Even those working have to be subsidised by the state in order to make ends meet. In the recent past, they have been joined by many areas in the West who have been hit by the global crisis.
One of the most galling problems with which the people in the East are confronted is the arrogance that blows over from the West. The Easterners are dubbed lazy, incompetent, and these insults go the whole hog. They are looked upon as poor second cousins. To be kept at arms length. The GDR was an “undemocratic, underdeveloped, dictatorial police state”. This picture is enhanced by Authoress Monika Maron in her book “Zwei Brüder” (Two Brothers), a collection of essays and speeches of the past 20 years. The language is bitter, full of hatred and very one-sided.
The fact is that Frau Maron was born in East Berlin in 1941 and had the opportunity of seeing things for herself before she skipped over to West Berlin in 1988, whilst many on the other side of the border are “guided” by people like Ms Maron and a very hostile press. Herr Klaus Wowereit, (Lord) Mayor of Berlin, has recognized this problem and made the following statement to a Berlin daily newspaper last week.
“In the West they refuse to accept any concept, other than their own, in regards to the East. The same applies to West Berlin, a city where people have the greatest opportunity of social intercourse. There are people in West Berlin, who even after 20 years (after the fall of the wall) have refused to set foot in the East”. Just a stone throw away from many areas of West Berlin.
For their one-sidedness, people like Ms Maron are feted and recipients of all sorts of awards and decorations in western society. But the outpourings of this lady has not gone unchallenged by people in the eastern sector and here are a few examples from reader’s letters to the press.
One reader asks: “Who gives Frau Maron the temerity for her contempt for the majority of the people in the East? Many like me, still see that there were lots of positive things in the land that has now disappeared – honest work, study facilities and achieving something in life. Frau Maron is possessed by hate. Hate can make you sick. It can grow like a cancer and eat you from within. Instead of dwelling so much on the past, the lady should direct her energies to the disastrous economic situation that is facing millions of people today”. Both East and West.
This sentiment is enhanced by none other than Matthias Platzeck, Premier of the State of Brandenburg and one of the founders of the East German dissident group Neues Forum (NF). He told the West German Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that in Brandenburg streets and suburbs have been spruced up, which the naked eye cannot fail to see. But what the people do not see is the destruction of industries, lack of industrial potential or research thereby resulting in high unemployment rates in the eastern sector in comparison to the west.
Herr Platzeck has risen very high in the political hierarchy of Germany. He was even elected national chairperson of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) which he joined in the early 1990s after refusing to join the merger of NF with the Greens of the West to form the Bündnis90/Grüne. Last week he let the cat among the pigeons when he declared that he was not in favour of unification. He wanted a better and democratic GDR. Due to their inexperience and naivety, they allowed Helmut Kohl to actually filch the revolution from them and set himself up as the Hero of the Deutsche Einheit.
The problem of the East German dissidents was that they knew what they were against, but did not know how to go about getting what they wanted. That made very easy
picking for the heavy guys from the West. Kohl, whose political obituary was about to be written after the disastrous results suffered by his CDU in the June 1989 elections to the
European Parliament, saw the opportunity and grabbed it both hands. He made wild promises
to all and sundry. It included a blossoming landscape in East Germany. The sad part of the whole thing is the people in the GDR and Eastern Europe believed him. It is also rumoured that huge sums of cash were in play. Maybe some day details of this aspect will be made public.
This is a repetition of precisely what Rev Schorlemmer said 10 years ago. “The social inequality in the GDR was not so pronounced as it is now. Today, the cleft between the haves and have-nots is growing immensely. We from the opposition did not want such a situation. What is interesting is that all opposition groups in autumn 1989 did not think about unity, rather on the transfer of Gorbaschov’s ideas into the GDR. We believed in Glasnost, Perestroika, in open information, but for the misuse of freedom for purely business reasons”.
The deliberate destruction of the industrial power in the East is, as many East Germans will tell you, lies at the feet of the Treuhand, a trusteeship set up to monitor and administer the economy that existed in the GDR. Rev Schorlemmer mentioned the collapse of the economy. But the question must be asked – did it collapse or was it collapsed?
These industries were a challenge to those existing in the West. The demise of the industrial base meant that jobs were rare and the only alternative was to move West in search of work. To the young people that was not a problem. Not so easy for the older ones. That is why many areas in East Germany are like the ghost towns one sees in Americans cowboy films. Those from the younger generation who were unable to make the journey are at a loose end and have become prey to the fascist/nazi recruiters who are very active under such circumstances.
Frau Waltraud Neuner from East Berlin, penned the following statement: “After the war ended in May 1945, I, and many thousands like me, hungered, worked, removed the rubble that covered the city, and watched the steady progress being made from day to day. There was the establishment of children’s crèches; kindergartens; shelter in the afternoon for school beginners under supervision until collected by their working parents; school-feeding; poly-technical training; vocational training combined with examinations for entry to institutions of higher learning; medical centres; hospitals; affordable rents and visits to cultural facilities. Then there was that fantastic tenant community where mutual assistance were taken for granted. And many such things. Where are they today? Now, we have the elbow society. Each one for him/herself”. Fantastic achievements by “lazy” people.
The Premier of the State of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern also reminded the world of the economic situation that exists in the East 20 years after unification. Erwin Sellering said:
“It is shameful that there is such a difference in wages for the same vocation (generally workers from the East receive about 60-70% of the wages that those from the West take home. More often than not in the same factory –ES). It is unbelievable that after 20 years
of unification we still have a Pension East and a Pension West”.
There is a tendency to compare German Unity with the demise of Apartheid in South Africa.
This comparison is absolutely false. South Africa has a whole of different ethnic groups, cultural differences, languages etc. The people were divided rigidly on ethnic grounds for centuries, so that there was very little ground for social mixing. Even the places of worship were segregated. Under these circumstances it is nonsense to frequently pose the question as to the progress of unity in South Africa. This will take time. It is an evolutionary process.
That is not so in Germany. They are one people with the same language (albeit different dialects), colour and culture. Yet Germany is making such heavy weather of this process.
I dare to say that it will take another four to five generations before this can be achieved to some extent. Hopefully.
1) It is from the Brandenburg Gates that the German armies marched into World Wars I & II that caused so much havoc and misery to millions of people the world over
2) Now the slogan is “Wir waren ein Volk” (we were one people)