East Germans to take Germany's political reins

4th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

4 November 2005, BERLIN - Germany's two main political parties will soon be led by veterans of East Germany's peaceful revolution of 1989-90 which chased one of the former communist bloc's most hardline regimes from power.

4 November 2005

BERLIN - Germany's two main political parties will soon be led by veterans of East Germany's peaceful revolution of 1989-90 which chased one of the former communist bloc's most hardline regimes from power.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel is poised to become not only Germany's first eastern leader but also the first woman to ever lead the nation.

Matthias Platzeck will in two weeks be elected chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), Germany's oldest political party which looks back on a proud 140-year history. Most analysts predict he will be the SPD's next chancellor candidate.

Germany's biggest selling tabloid, Bild, hailed the development by coining a new term for the derogatory nickname "Ossis" for eastern Germans.

Combining "Ossis" with "boss", Bild declared in a page one banner headline: "Now the Ossis are the Bossis!"

The left-leaning Tageszeitung newspaper said: "It's no longer the 1968 generation in Germany which has the say but rather the 1989 generation."

Many people are rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

"If somebody had said five years ago that the leaders of the two biggest parties would be from the east they would have been declared insane," said Kurt Biedenkopf, a former CDU premier of eastern Saxony state, who hails from the west.

The similarities between Merkel and Platzeck are stunning and should help smooth the running of a grand coalition government with Merkel at the helm as chancellor and Platzeck's SPD in a position of near equality.

Merkel is expected to be formally elected by parliament on November 22.

For starters, both Merkel and Platzeck are aged 51.

Both come from families with close ties to the Protestant Church. Merkel's father was a Protestant pastor and Platzeck's father was a popular doctor and his mother the daughter of a pastor.

Both families were solid upper middle class. Platzeck's family even had a live-in housekeeper which was all but unknown in East Germany.

Both grew up in Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin which is the heart of former Prussia.

Merkel and Platzeck both studied natural sciences in part because social sciences were contaminated by ideology in East Germany. Merkel became a physicist and worked at research institute while Platzeck studied bio-medical cybernetics and worked at public health agencies.

Both were opposition figures in former East Germany and played significant roles during the events of 1989 leading up to the 1990 German reunification.

But neither was a hardcore dissident in East Germany, which would have put at risk winning a place at university - or worse. The newspaper Die Welt described them both as in "half-opposition" prior to the 1989 revolution.

Merkel served as deputy spokeswoman for the first and last freely elected East German government in 1990.

Platzeck was minister without portfolio in a transition government and a member of the "round table" which negotiated the peaceful removal of the communists from power.

Both have served as environment minister. Merkel was Germany's federal environment minister from 1994 to 1998 and Platzeck served as Brandenburg state's environment minister from 1990 to 1998.

"Sure, you can imagine that we're well wired with each other," says Platzeck.

Eckhardt Jesse, a political scientist at the Technical University of Chemnitz, termed the rise of Merkel and Platzeck "a sensational development".

"These are people who are impartial and pragmatic and therefore have great chances of dealing with the political log-jam in our country," said Jesse.

Merkel and Platzeck both shun party-political rhetoric and prefer sober problem-solving. Some say this is due to their scientific background which contrasts with most German politicians whose training is in law, education or hail from trade unions.

Several other eastern German "Bossis" are slated to play a major role in the new government.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, the popular mayor of Leipzig, will become Germany's transport minister. Leipzig is one of eastern Germany's great success stories. The city has attracted Porsche and BMW plants and will soon become the European hub of DHL air cargo.

Another eastern mover and shaker is Dieter Althaus, premier of Thuringia state, who refused to do military service in East Germany and nevertheless managed to train as an engineer.

Althaus will not be in the cabinet but is one of Merkel's most influential advisers.

Platzeck says having easterners leading both main German parties shows the country is simply becoming normal whereas before eastern Germans were largely seen as quotas which had to be filled - like women or minorities.

"When we don't even talk about such things any more we'll finally have achieved a normal situation," he concludes.


Subject: German news

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