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PEGIDA Demonstration in Dresden 09.02.2015
Image: picture-alliance/AP/J. Meyer

One people?: Germany, 25 years on

Kay-Alexander Scholz /db
February 19, 2015

Disaffection with the political system appears greater in the former East German states than their western counterparts. Reunification wasn't easy, says the government's representative for the old GDR.


Iris Gleicke, the German government's representative for the "new," or eastern, federal states, on Wednesday presented a report on attitudes towards reunification a quarter of a century after the fall of the Wall.

The 50-year-old Social Democrat from the state of Thuringia, who has a background in East Germany's protest movement, entered politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ever since, she has been working to promote the acceptance of reunification among Germans.

One people, different memories

According to the report, East Germans tend to be more distrustful of politics, which, Gleicke says, is based on what they experienced after the fall of the wall. It's also evident in the greater approval - compared to western German states - of political protest movements like PEGIDA or parties like the rightwing populist AfD.

Gleicke understands East Germans who say they don't feel they are being noticed, and rail at "the top brass." However, she declares it's no excuse for people in eastern Germany to fall for "far- right rabble-rousers."

Die Ostbeauftragte Iris Gleicke
Gleicke has worked to promote acceptance of reunification on both sidesImage: imago/epd

Hurtful debates

The recent debate about the East German "unjust state" is a good example of how such attitudes evolve, she says. Of course, East Germany was a dictatorship, she adds, but that only describes the system, and not its people, who could perceive the debate as a "depreciation of their own biographies." As far as living conditions are concerned, too, many things are still not equal, stressed Gleicke. When the public debate ignores ignore this people in eastern Germany can only shake their heads. Wages, old-age pensions, pensions for mothers are all different in east and west, notes Gleicke. The minimum wage recently adopted for all of Germany, she said, was a "long overdue signal."

In addition, the experience of post-Communist privatization in East Germany continues to have an effect. This should have seen the planned economy-controlled companies of the former East Germany converted to operate successfully in the market economy.

The Treuhandanstalt, the agency charged with the task, instead became a byword for winding-up and collapse. The "Treuhand" (trust) - as it was colloquially known - was not only responsible for errors, according to Gleicke, but also for "grandiose failures."

A political divide

The assessment is not only hers, but also that of the researchers who produced the report. Ahead of the 25th anniversary of German reunification, they conducted a representative telephone survey of 2,000 people.

It was found that, while people in the former East and West assess their living conditions similarly well, they take different political positions. And, those in the East who are middle-aged are much more concerned about issues like retirement provision, children, immigration and integration.

Symbolbild Mindestlohn
East or West, Germany's minimum wage is one thing that has been equalizedImage: picture-alliance/dpa

More skeptical, more detached

Almost three-quarters of those in the former West felt politically "at home" in today's federal republic, compared with barely 50 percent of easterners, said study leader Everhard Holtmann. In the former East, 28 percent of people said they had no confidence in democracy. "This is a potential from which from social movements can arise," said the University of Stuttgart's Oscar W. Gabriel.

Gleicke summarizes the perceptions of easterners as "consistently more skeptical, more critical and more detached." However, she emphasizes that German reunification has been a "good and successful development." The study shows that has much has been achieved, but Gleicke is keen not to gloss over the problems. For example, economic strength remains far from even.

She wants a broad debate on the question: "Are we one people?" - the title of the study - and wants to push for the equalization of pension provision in the former East and West, as set out in the coalition agreement of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and their partners, the Social Democrats.

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