A new beginning would require an honest stocktaking. And that’s exactly why it’s so difficult. The governmental unification of the two states in 1990 was the right political decision and has been successful, but it need not go hand-in-hand with conformity and dissent-free agreement. One would have to acknowledge that the economic rebuilding of the East, the most ambitious undertaking of the last fifteen years and one in which Germans have invested a large part of their energy and funds, has failed and that instances of cultural difference are not going away either.
Complaining about Kohl and the mistakes of the early years has become de rigueur by now. But the real scandal is that things continued for all these years even after one could see that the guiding ideas of “equalization” and “inner unity” were leading us over the cliff.
A radical new beginning is difficult because a common public hardly exists. The quiet society in the new states is largely refusing access to the supra-regional media. After the systematic de-bourgeoization of the GDR, after the elimination of the socialist functional elite and the continuing out-migration, the East lacks a bourgeoisie, a middle class, elites. Little occupies the social sphere between family and state.
Within the parties hardly anyone is willing to take on this topic. The minister presidents and the economic-rebuilding-of-the-East politicians seem too firmly committed to the redistribution apparatus, which is part of the problem. For the most part they coddle the patriotic taboo.
Those Who Want to Can Dream on
It is “halftime” in the economic rebuilding of the East, as Manfred Stolpe recently declared – and this sounds as though what we dreamt of in 1990 could be attained in the next fifteen years: a strong, transfer-independent economy in the East, equal living standards, and “inner unity.” Experts who were asked on behalf of Stolpe’s ministry were more skeptical.
We can definitely expect a strong intra-East German differentiation into a small number of urban centers and underdeveloped rural regions, with further out-migration and rapid aging, with continuing differences in income and wealth, with a continuing need for transfer payments, and the passing on of East German peculiarities. It is unlikely that the distribution conflict over the transfer funds can be repressed for much longer through invocations of solidarity.
Thus the East-West opposition will be with us for decades to come. It joins the many new and old antagonisms and gives them a special tint.
Old age and unemployment, for example, assume a different face in the new states, for they affect a society in which social ties were, until very recently, still completely bound up with the structures of the working world. Whoever wants to can go on dreaming of “inner unity” or wait for the next Ossi-Wessi hysteria.
The reasonable thing would be a conflict-aware equanimity. It presupposes a culture of inequality and differences. Hardly anyone is prepared for that in either East or West.
Source: Jens Bisky, “Deutsche Einheit? Ost gegen West” [“Germany Unity? East against West”], Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 25, 2005.
Translation: Thomas Dunlap