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Germany

Disquiet as Dresden hosts German Unity Day festivities

Dresden police say they are prepared for troublemakers as the city hosts three days of events to remember German reunification in 1990. Veteran civil rights advocates say far-right extremism should not be underestimated.

Former German Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse urged Germany Saturday to acknowledge that extremist far-right violence was "four to five times higher" in Germany's five eastern states compared to the country's western states.

His remarks coincided with assurances by Dresden Police President Horst Kretschmar that 2,600 officers would safeguard 750,000 visitors at reunification festivities as probes continue into two bombings in the city last Monday, targeting a mosque and an international conference center. No one was injured.

Wolfgang Thierse Neujahrskonzert (picture alliance / SCHROEWIG/Eva Oertwig)

Unification still troubled, says Thierse

Far-right ideologues had also moved deliberately into eastern Germany after reunification "to find terrain for their propaganda," said Thierse, a Social Democrat who belonged to a short-lived east German assembly, the Volkskammer, during 1990. 

October 3, 1990 was the moment when the Volkskammer voted to accede to the western German Federal Republic under Article 23 of its constitution, culminating months of negotiations and approval from four post-war occupying powers.

Inner unity still incomplete

Opening the 26th anniversary festivities Saturday in Dresden, the capital of Saxony and the hub of last year's anti-Islam movement, PEGIDA, State Premier Stanislaw Tillich urged Germany's 82 million residents to continue working toward what he termed "inner unity."

Stanislaw Tillich (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pilick)

'Inner unity' still not complete, said Tillich

Events culminate on Monday, a public holiday in Germany, with high-profile visits scheduled to Dresden by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, the federal head of state.

Merkel has for months faced far-right hostility to her liberal refugee policy. Gauck, once an East German pastor, was verbally abused by locals when he visited the Saxony town of Bautzenin March after a refugee hostel was set ablaze.

Dotted across Dresden's festivity site are 1,400 concrete blocks, designed to hinder vehicles from being used in an attack as in Nice on July 14, when a truck driver killed 86 pedestrians during Bastille Day celebrations.

Misconceptions between east and west

Protestant theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer, who was a key protagonist during the peaceful ouster of Erich Honecker's East German(GDR) regime in 1989, told the German news agency dpa on Saturday that Germany was far from being united.

Friedrich Schorlemmer (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd)

Mutual misconceptions still prevail, said Schorlemmer

"We still have many reciprocal misconceptions. I think it was underestimated that it would be a long road ahead," Schorlemmer said.

People in eastern Germany were still suffering the underestimated long-term effects of disenfranchisement, humiliation and paternalism resulting from 40 years of forced Soviet occupation in the former East Germany, he added.

And, this had been accentuated by West German "explainers," who, after 1990, tried to tell residents of eastern Germany "how they should now live," Schorlemmer said.

Hate language was not justifiable, he added, but people who experienced long-term loss, joblessness and social welfare handouts could be susceptible to far-right thinking, he added.

Schorlemmer said he felt sickened when he heard of assailants who while attacking foreigners had yelled "We are the people!" The phrase had stood for freedom and tolerance during the peaceful ouster of Honecker's regime, he added.

Merkel, in her weekly video message on Saturday, said the phase was used in 1989 to express emancipation. Its misuse by far-right extremists should be resisted, she said.

As part of Monday's festivities, Tillich will also formally hand over the presidency of Germany's upper assembly, the Federal Council or Bundesrat, which comprises Germany's 16 states, to Malu Dreyer, the premier of Rhineland-Palatinate. The state is due to host next year's reunification anniversary celebrations.

ipj/cmk (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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