The New Germany: Partnership or Subjugation?

By Vogt, Roy | Canadian Dimension, January-February 1991 | Go to article overview

The New Germany: Partnership or Subjugation?


Vogt, Roy, Canadian Dimension


Not surprisingly, reports in the Canadian news media regarding the unification of Germany reflect almost solely the viewpoint of politicians, businessmen, and other newsmakers in western Germany (I will refer to the former Federal Republic of Germany - West Germany - as western Germany, and to the former German Democratic Republic - East Germany - as eastern Germany.)

Our own T.V., radio, and newspaper commentators repeat the conventional wisdom of western Germany that the unification of the two parts of Germany has been accomplished remarkably smoothly, and largely at the expense of western Germany. Western Germany is described as the generous supportive brother of eastern Germany, coping bravely with an allegedly lazy eastern Germna work force, and an eastern German economy ruined by inefficiency and pollution. The recovery of eastern Germany will supposedly depend almost entirely on large infusions of new investments by private western German firms and public expenditures paid for by western German taxes.

How accurate is this picture? A research trip to Berlin and eastern Germany in October, 1990, immediately following the unification celebrations on October 3, confirmed some aspects of the picture: but I also concluded that significant parts of the total picture have been seriously distorted.

A colossal undertaking

The unification of Germany, involving the merger of two very different social, economic, and political systems, has, of course, been a colossal undertaking. In less than a year thousands of pages of complex legal documents were formulated and negotiated, eastern Germany was re-organized into five states, and two sets of elections had to be held in these states. In addition, the status of more than 8,000 state enterprises and hundreds of thousands and smaller private holdings had to be clarified. The organizational prowess demonstrated by politicians and lawyers in both parts of Germany has been truly remarkable. It would be churlish to dwell on the organizational miscues that have occurred or on the numerous legal questions that still need to be settled. Unification has been achieved more quickly and smoothly than anyone could have been expected.

The elections of the past year show that the vast majority of citizens in both parts of Germany strongly favored unification and continue to support it. Without exception, those persons who voiced the criticisms mentioned in this article always affirmed the act of unification itself. They were glad that the political dictatorship of eastern Germany had been destroyed, along with the hated wall. They also hoped to share in the prosperity of western Germany.

A colonial mentality

However, beneath the seemingly benign surface of German unification serious problems are emerging. Most of the problems seem to originate in the attitude taken by many western German citizens to their new compatriots in eastern Germany. The generous, welcoming attitude displayed by many western Germans to their eastern German neighbors before unification has changed quite drastically. There is a growing feeling among eastern Germans, expressed numerous times in my visit, that western Germans look upon, and treat them, as second-class citizens. This is not just a psychological phenomenon; it is reflected in concrete social and economic actions of western GErman citizens. It appears more and more than the new Germany is not partnership of equal citizens but the subjugation of one country by another. It is colonization, not confederation.

There seem to be two basic reasons for this disturbing development. First, and most obvious, eastern Germany was clearly the loser in its forty year competition with western Germany.

It was eastern Germany that collapsed, and this fact undoubtedly affects the attitude toward it of even those western Germans who would genuinely like to be magnanimous in their judgment. …

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