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East Germans see ‘good’ in Stalinism

Published on 06/02/2004

6 February 2004

BERLIN – East Germans who were in their mid-teens when the Berlin Wall came down still identify with their communist upbringings and still remember the “good things” about Stalinism, according to a startling new study.

The study of some 1,200 East Germans who are now 30 years old showed they have become disenchanted with unified Germany and have lost all optimism for the future.

The study by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, used a pool of respondents who were first singled out in 1987. At that time they were 14-year-old school pupils in the Dresden area of communist East Germany.

The goal was to follow these youngsters for the rest of their lives. No one knew at the time, of course, that cataclysmic social changes were in store for these young people before they even became adults.

“This long-term study is unique because it has followed young East Germans through the fall of communism and the unification of Germany,” said social researcher Peter Foerster, who headed the most recent study.

“Those 14-year-olds are now 30-year-olds,” he noted.

The initial study in 1987 showed that 97 percent of the students were highly optimistic about the future. “A whopping 77 percent said their optimism about the future was boundless.”

“Now only 2 percent say they have boundless optimism in the future,” Foerster said.

While the majority, 80 percent, think the fall of communism was beneficial, most still have reservations about the turmoil that has ensued.

Though only a minority of 4 percent say want the Berlin Wall back, 81 percent still thought of themselves as citizens of East Germany.

In addition, only 20 percent are satisfied with post-unification Germany and well over 80 percent say there were “good things” about communist East Germany.

That sentiment is fuelled by the fact that 64 percent have been unemployed at some point since unification and 32 percent have been “chronically jobless” in recent years.

Only 8 percent said they have “a stable employment situation” and 22 percent believed their job to be “highly precarious”.

But much of the change of sentiment, according to Foerster, has less to do with post-unification developments and rather more to do with growing up.

“Behind the figures is not so much lingering communist indoctrination but instead just positive nostalgic memories of a carefree childhood,” Foerster said.

“They remember communist East Germany as a place where they played and went to kindergarten and went to school and watched cartoons on TV while their parents coped with day-to-day problems such as food and fuel shortages.”

He added, “Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that a 30- year-old former East German today says there were plenty of good things about East Germany.”

Subject: German news