Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

United Economy, Separate Values: An Invisible German Wall Endures Four Decades of Opposing Social and Political Agendas Formed a Great Gap between Citizens of East and West That, despite the Initial Euphoria over Unification, the Nation Has Yet to Close Series: GERMANY READY FOR EUROPE'S MANTLE? A Staunch Advocate of European Integration, Germany Still Seeks Social Unity within Its Long-Divided Borders. Second in a Five-Part Series

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

United Economy, Separate Values: An Invisible German Wall Endures Four Decades of Opposing Social and Political Agendas Formed a Great Gap between Citizens of East and West That, despite the Initial Euphoria over Unification, the Nation Has Yet to Close Series: GERMANY READY FOR EUROPE'S MANTLE? A Staunch Advocate of European Integration, Germany Still Seeks Social Unity within Its Long-Divided Borders. Second in a Five-Part Series

Article excerpt

THE things that stick out most in eastern German cities these days aren't the old smokestacks spewing soot, but the construction cranes crafting a new look.

Hordes of hard hats are laboring to make over an economic and architectural abomination resulting from communism and 40 years of one-party rule in eastern Germany.

Since unification in 1990, the German government has spent billions of dollars to raise the archaic east to Western levels of prosperity.

The enormous outlay of energy and investment is producing change. To start with, the drab "prefabness" of Dresden and other eastern cities is giving way to a more visually appealing outdoors. And still better, economic statistics show the eastern economy is picking up after a devastating depression.

But there is one crucial area in the reunification process that cranes cannot remake and statistics will not weld together: the popular mood.

Though Germans speak the same language, easterners and westerners are having trouble understanding one another.

Many politicians and others admit progress in forging a united German outlook has been paltry. A few even suggest attitudes are now drifting apart, instead of coming together. Mutual understanding has yet to extend to the diametrically opposed value systems formed over the last 40 years of Germany's division.

Failure to make significant strides in reducing the mentality gap could make an already tough task more difficult as Germany prepares for the 21st century. The "inner union" question will determine how well Germany adapts to the post-cold-war era, some social scientists say. The faster Germans put union behind them, the sooner they can deal with other pressing domestic issues.

And because Germany is a leading force for European integration, a nagging mentality gap has the potential to affect the Continent.

A prolonged German struggle to find a mental common ground could set back efforts to bring the formerly communist East-bloc nations into Western security and economic structures. The economic inequity between East and West is perhaps the greatest threat to stability in Europe today.

"We have to be careful in Germany right now that we don't miss the really important issues," says Ulrich Kasparick, a sociologist based in Magdeburg, capital of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.

"We are much too busy with ourselves and therefore lose touch with what is going on around us."

Most experts say it will take at least a generation to form a united German identity. But western German political and business leaders can do more to facilitate the process, they suggest.

Unification "has been considered only to be a question of technique and administration. Cultural differences have been completely excluded from consideration," says Mr. Kasparick, who heads the Magdeburg branch of the Friedrich Ebert Institute, a think tank affiliated with the main opposition Social Democratic Party.

"The process of economic integration is perhaps the smallest part of reunification," says Steffen Heitmann, justice minister in the eastern state of Saxony. "Over 40 years we became much more different than we imagined."

The cultural differences are rooted in Germany's postwar occupation.

West Germany largely adopted principles of the Western powers that stressed entrepreneurship and pluralism. Meanwhile, the Soviet occupation zone - the future East Germany - had the collective and authoritarian ways of communism forced upon it. Easterners also enjoyed a more extensive social-welfare system than did West Germans.

Westerners have largely failed to grasp the attachment that most easterners developed for the autopilot lifestyle of a bygone era. Under Communism, easterners say, the people who succeeded the most were those who did not show initiative, because it was the state's responsibility to plan for the people. …

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