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Berlin | Foreign Office
Image: Thomas Robbin/imageBROKER/picture-alliance

Diplomats part of western German 'federal elite'

Ian P. Johnson
November 1, 2020

Few heads of German diplomatic and cultural missions abroad originate from Germany's eastern regions, despite 30 years of reunification. That's emerged in a Foreign Office reply to an opposition Left party query.


The German Foreign Ministry said only 22 people from eastern Germany were among the 228 directors of the country's embassies and consulates worldwide. 

The figures came in a reply to a query from Dietmar Bartsch, co-leader of the opposition Left party group in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.  

While the population of the states that make up the former East Germany (GDR) accounts for 19.4% of Germany's current population, just 9.7% of diplomatic and cultural missions are led by people from there.  

Among the 157 Goethe Institute directors abroad, responsible for conveying German language and culture to non-Germans, only 10 are of eastern German origin, or 6.4%, the Foreign Ministry reported in a document seen by the German DPA news agency.  

Federally 'unacceptable' 

Barstch, who has frequently highlighted how Germans from the former West outnumbered those from what was East Germany in managerial roles after reunification in 1990, described the imbalance as unacceptable and requiring "federal fairness." 

"The fact that eastern Germans are hardly ever in leading positions, whether at universities, federal courts or federal authorities, frustrates people," said Barstch. 

Read more: Eastern German states demand €60 billion for coal phaseout

"It is not about an extra ration for eastern Germans, but about a fair share of leadership positions in society," said Barstch, a GDR-trained economist, originally from the Baltic Sea port city of Stralsund.  

'Elite' still from western Germany 

His remarks followed a wide-ranging study published last week by the Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM) on how East Germans and residents who have immigrant origins outside Germany are underrepresented among what it authors termed "Germany's Federal Elite." 

Striking deficits, said the DeZIM, included few East Germans with top positions at Germany's scientific faculties (1.5%), across the judiciary (2%), in the military (none) and business (4.7%). 

Overall, at 10.1%, East Germans were "less often represented in elite positions than their 19.4%-share of the population, concluded DeZIM. 

Persons with "migratory backgrounds" — a definition used by Germany's statistics bureau — were proportionally underrepresented in politics (7%), the judiciary (1.3%), and the military (2%), noted DeZIM further. 

Read more: Angela Merkel's American dream — if the Berlin Wall hadn't fallen

Overall those with immigrant backgrounds held only 9.2% of elite positions, said DEZIM, compared to "their 26% share of the population" or 1-in-4.  

Also reflected in Cabinet 

"More commitment is needed here, not only from the federal commissioner for eastern regions [Ostbeauftragte] but also the entire federal government, and during decisions to relocate federal authorities and federal institutions," said Bartsch Sunday, referring to eastern representation. 

Writing in The European magazine on October 3 as Germany celebrated 30 years of unification, Bartsch said aside from Chancellor Angela Merkel — like him from West Pomerania — eastern representation was "not much."

Read more: Corporate Germany has a woman problem and the pandemic is making it worse

Family Minister Franziska Giffey originates from Frankfurt-Oder, on Germany's border with Poland, otherwise the Cabinet's 15 members have largely western origins.

West weighting in Bundeswehr  

Last year, public MDR broadcasting based in Leipzig noted that West Germans predominated in top positions in Germany's Bundeswehr armed forces. 

Generals born in western states amounted to 213, with only two from eastern states, said MDR, citing the Defense Ministry at the time. 

The German Foreign Office says currently it has 3,111 staff dispatched to work at its missions abroad, plus some 5,600 German or non-German nationals recruited locally, "on site."

From another perspective, the statistics office Destatis noted last month that women held only 30% of all executive positions (Führungsstellen) in Germany compared to male executives. 

Europewide, Germany trailed, it noted, with Latvian women leading on 46% followed by Poland and Sweden. Lowest placed with 21% women managers was Cyprus. 

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