Germany marks 15th anniversary of reunification
30 September 2005, BERLIN - Germany marks the 15th anniversary of its historic reunification Monday with a hangover from recent national elections which spotlighted sharp political differences between the east and the west.
30 September 2005
BERLIN - Germany marks the 15th anniversary of its historic reunification Monday with a hangover from recent national elections which spotlighted sharp political differences between the east and the west.
There is no doubt an overwhelming majority of Germans firmly support unification which followed East Germany's peaceful mass protests in 1989 that brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down.
A ZDF TV poll showed 91 per cent in the east and 82 per cent in the west view reunification as having brought major improvements.
So there is sure to be plenty of public cheer at this year's main German Unity Day ceremonies Monday in the eastern city of Potsdam which will be attended by national leaders giving speeches flanked by an open air street festival.
But despite all the progress since October 3, 1990 when East Germany was absorbed by West Germany, there remains an underlying bitterness best described as a 'them and us' stance on both sides of what used to be the Iron Curtain.
Among western Germans, or 'Wessis', there is a widespread view that without the east, Angela Merkel's conservatives would have swept to victory in September 18 elections which instead produced deadlock, said the conservative newspaper Die Welt.
This led to an unseemly - and still undecided - struggle for power after voters failed to give a majority to either Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left Social Democratic-Greens government or to Merkel's centre-right bloc.
"That's what you get if you pump EUR 1.5 trillion into a region where public opinion is dominated by pensioners socialised by the communist party's youth movement," said the commentary which was only partly tongue in cheek.
The sum of money transferred from western Germany to eastern Germany is indeed staggering. In recent years the total amount of net annual transfers has fallen to over EUR 80 billion.
Nobody denies these funds have been vital in transforming the region's rotting infrastructure by giving it a cutting edge telecoms system, thousands of miles of new roads and rail lines as well as beautifully restored old cities.
But the eastern economy still cannot support itself and massive amounts of cash will have to be pumped into the region for at least another 15 years, officials admit.
Eastern German unemployment is over 18 per cent, almost double the rate in western Germany, and much of the region remains the nation's poorhouse.
There are, however, some big exceptions. Leipzig has new BMW and Porsche plants, and the city's airport is set to become the European hub for air freight giant DHL.
Dresden has drawn billions of euros in chip factory investment from the U.S. chipmaker AMD. Meanwhile, the Baltic Sea coast of Mecklenburg-West Pommerania is booming as a tourist destination.
But overall, the region has lost a net 1.5 million people during the past 15 years with many eastern Germans moving to take jobs in the wealthy western states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Given east-west economic differences it is perhaps not surprising voters cast ballots differently in both parts of the country. But what few people expected is that diverging political patterns would be getting more extreme after 15 years of unity.
The best example is that of the former East German communists who merged with a smaller western protest group and now call themselves the Left Party.
Left Party candidates won over a stunning 25 per cent in the east, compared to 4.9 per cent in the west in the general election.
This is powerful result for a party which in 1989 was seen as on the ash-heap of history after its Stalinist forerunner was chased from power by East German people power.
In the outgoing parliament the post-communists have just two members. But in the new Bundestag they will have a comfy 54 seats.
"East Germans are de facto second class citizens - they have to work longer hours, get lower wages, salaries and pensions," said the Left Party's Communist Platform in a unity anniversary statement.
Another extremist party, the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), got three times as many votes in eastern Germany as in the western part of the country.
Overall support for the NPD remains low. The party got 1.1 per cent in the west and 3.6 per cent in eastern Germany and will not have any seats in parliament given its failure to cross the 5-per- cent hurdle. But in its stronghold in eastern Saxony state the party won over 7 per cent in some districts.
A further striking difference is the continuing far lower support for the Christian Democrats in the east compared to western Germany.
Merkel, despite hailing from the east, won just over a miserable 25 per cent in the region. In western Germany she got 37.5 per cent.
But if truth be told, Merkel was seen as neither an Ossi nor a Wessi in the campaign and she sometimes seemed to suffer for lack of any regional home advantage.
Supporters, however, hail Merkel as the first pan-German candidate and say this very aspect of her image shows German reunification is finally beginning to sink into people's heads.
Subject: German news