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East Is East

 IPS 24 May 2019

(Originally published: 10/2009) Twenty years after the Berlin Wall came down, rifts between east and west Germany remain: east Germans vote differently, are earning less money, and are more pessimistic than west Germans. (657 words) - By Wolfgang Kerler

LEIPZIG, Germany - "Many east German people are frustrated," civil rights activist Rainer Müller tells IPS. He was among the citizens of Leipzig that initiated the Peaceful Revolution in the late 1980s that ended the socialist dictatorship.

"We thought we would come into paradise," Müller says. "Everything seemed possible in 1989."

Compared to the grey and dreary cities of socialist East Germany, with people lining up in front of shops to snatch scarce products like bananas or coffee, the wealth of capitalist West Germany seemed like a wonderful promise. "But hopes were too high," says Müller.

Although visitors driving through east Germany today will find perfectly refurbished city centres with crowded shopping districts and modern office buildings, appearances are deceiving: the newly formed federal states in east Germany still take financial aid from west Germany.

In 2008 alone, almost 80 billion euros was transferred to the east. Twelve percent of east Germans are jobless, compared to seven percent of west Germans. An average worker in East Germany earns about 30 percent less than his west German counterpart - a gap that has not shrunk in recent years.

"Eastern Germany is in need of the high incomes of company headquarters," Ulrich Blum, president of Halle Institute of Economic Research (IWH), said at a news conference in Berlin.

None of the 30 major companies listed on Germany's most important stock market index DAX has its headquarters in east Germany, which has 20 percent of the German population of 82 million.

But through their Peaceful Revolution, East Germans did not just import capitalism from the western part of the country, but also democracy.

Instead of the farce elections under the socialist regime of the SED Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), people now have the right to vote in free elections. There is no secret police any more suppressing and jailing the opposition.

"I am glad that my children are growing up in a free country," Müller says. "We wanted freedom - and we got it. Nobody said it would come without personal responsibility."

In the federal elections on Sep. 27 this year, the Left Party - successor of the once ruling SED - won almost a third of the popular vote of east Germans, while playing only a minor role in western federal states. Voter turnout in the newly formed federal states stayed well below the western level.

The Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach (Ifd) found out in a recent survey that two in three East Germans see more differences between east and west than things in common. A majority in the east think of themselves as east Germans rather than Germans - contrary to the situation in west Germany, where a vast majority of people considered themselves Germans, not west Germans.

A survey by Allianz Deutschland AG, a major insurance company, found west Germans more optimistic. While 55 percent of west Germans were confident about their personal future in September 2009, only 42 percent of east Germans were looking ahead optimistically. But that was still more than one year ago.

Twenty years ago, Rainer Müller was there when the ruling communist party SED with its brutal secret police, the Stasi, surrendered to the East German people: 70,000 citizens gathered in the city centre Leipzig on Oct. 9, 1989, demanding peace and freedom - and the 8,000-plus security forces were not asked to stop the peaceful protest march.

"We had a dream," Müller said. "And after all, it was worth it."

On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall - for 28 years the symbol of Germany's division - fell. On Dec. 22, 1989, pedestrians were allowed to pass through Germany's most famous landmark again, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. On Oct. 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) became part of the Federal Republic of Germany.

According to Ifd, 20 years after the Wall came down, two in three East Germans are still glad that after a 40-year long division, Germany became one country again.

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