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An East German Journalist Criticizes the Lack of German Unity (August 25, 2005)

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Whoever grows up in the East goes to Jugendweihe

With just under 60,000 Euro, East German households have merely 40% of the average wealth of Western ones. In 1991, the gap in net income between Eastern and Western households was 1,440 Deutschmarks. It dropped to 730 Deutschmarks in 1996. Today, at 662 Euro, the gap is larger again. In 2002, the average East German household had attained 82% of West German net income.

Whoever grows up in the East goes to Jugendweihe, not to Confirmation or First Communion. Significantly fewer foreigners live in his or her neighborhood than in the West. After the Wende, a separate East German identity emerged, a clear declaration of not belonging, of being different. More than 70% of East Germans – a figure that has remained unchanged for years – embrace this identity. The other side responds with a lack of interest, ignorance, and re-education fantasies. According to an Allensbach poll, the brothers and sisters in both parts of the country feel no closer or more distant to each other than Austrians feel to Germans.

This is the reality that the preachers of “internal unity” would like to close their eyes to. Needless to say, East Germans have not been deformed by birth or upbringing or propaganda, nor are they incapable of living in freedom. The 2.4 million of them who have moved to the West since 1990 have integrated themselves successfully and largely without incident. The new states themselves, however, have established themselves during this period as an underdeveloped, marginal region.

That a different social temperature exists here, that other values often hold, should come as no surprise. Only barbarians could expect and wish that 55 years of divergent development could pass over human beings without leaving a trace. But why is it so difficult to accept these differences, and to understand that Germany unity – like every good marriage – could only be had as the sum of its conflicts?

Just Pay and Don’t Ask Questions

Last year it almost seemed like this could change. When the expert commission headed by Klaus von Dohnanyi and Edgar Most examined the instruments for promoting the economic rebuilding of the East and concluded that they were unsuitable for bringing about a self-sustaining upswing, when the Spiegel asked: “1.25 billion – For What?,” there was a pause, and the occasion seemed to have come to bid farewell to the routine of transfer payments.

Things have changed here and there. The state of Brandenburg developed the concept of concentrating subsidies on economic bright spots. Recently, the Minister President of Thuringia, Dieter Althaus (CDU), called for allowing the investment subsidy for the new states to run out.

On the whole, however, the necessary course correction in the economic rebuilding of the East is not happening, the transfer insanity continues: with too little funding for investments and too much consumption, with almost no competitive advantages for East German companies, with crazy infrastructure projects, with funds being used in a manner contrary to their designated purpose. It doesn’t seem to bother the West Germans that, according to OECD* calculations, two-thirds of Germany’s weak growth is attributable to the burden of reunification. They just continue to pay and barely ask questions.

The unfulfillable promise of the “equalization of living standards” is still in the air, even though the issue in large sections of the new states is to prevent downward development and to break the vicious cycle of economic weakness, unemployment, out-migration, over-aging, and the need for transfer funds.

* Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – trans.

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