Germany's east-west split lingers

10th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) said the huge sum (1.9 trillion dollars), spent between 1991 and 2005, had largely gone toward social welfare payments for easterners.

Berlin -- United Germany transferred some 1.3 trillion euros to prop up the former communist east in the years after the Berlin Wall's fall, a new study showed Sunday, but sharp differences with the west linger.

The Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) said the huge sum (1.9 trillion dollars), spent between 1991 and 2005, had largely gone toward social welfare payments for easterners.

The study, published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, came as Germany prepares to mark Monday the 20th anniversary of the Wall tumbling in a peaceful revolution which led to the end of communist rule and national unification.

IWH President Ulrich Blum said only about 10 percent of the subsidies had gone to measures intended to spur economic growth versus about 67 percent for social welfare benefits.

"The fact that the transfers increased rather than decreased in the last few years shocked us," Blum told the Welt am Sonntag.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he expected the sharp economic inequality between the poorer eastern states and richer west to largely disappear in another 10 years.

"There is no longer any reason for feelings of inferiority" among easterners, he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Transport and construction minister Peter Ramsauer was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag calling for more investment in infrastructure in the west.

"In the last two decades, we have neglected to invest in roads and rails" in the west, he said. "Now the time has come to make up for what we have failed to do."

A study released this week showed that the east German economy has caught up with the west faster than expected.

The private Cologne-based IW institute said that gross domestic product per capita, a key indicator of living standards, has risen in the east from 30 percent of that in the west in 1991 to 70 percent today.

By 2020, average GDP per capita in the east could reach 80 percent of that in the west and the most prosperous eastern states could have overtaken the poorest of their western counterparts, the IW institute calculated.

Sociologist Frithjof Hager of Berlin's Free University told AFP that national unification was still a work in progress.

"Unity is a strange word. Of course there is something called state unity, no question, but is there a social unity? Economic unity? Cultural unity? I don't think so," he said.

Hager attributed the ongoing division to regional differences, and to socialisation in a dictatorship, and to differing approaches to the 20th century's turbulent history.

"I believe the authoritarian mindset is still an issue -- such things only change very slowly. But I think simply pointing the finger at easterners would be deeply unfair," he said.

"West Germany intensely worked through its national history" including the Nazi period.

"Because anti-fascists were in the (communist) East German government itself, its people never went through the process of confronting its history. That is a decisive difference," he said.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of Germans still call the fall of the Wall a blessing of history.

According to a study to be published Monday in the regional daily Leipziger Volkszeitung, 79 percent of those polled called November 9, 1989 a joyous day.

Yet 12 percent (13 percent in the east and 12 percent in the west) would like to have the Berlin Wall back, according to a survey of 1,008 people conducted at the end of October by the Institute for Market Research in the eastern city of Leipzig.


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