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Unity goes beyond German reunification

Dr. Harrison Mwilima
Harrison Mwilima
October 3, 2021

Germany's election results show that even after 31 years, vast differences remain between east and west. It's a reminder that unity is more than a formal act to bring together two regions again, says Harrison Mwilima.

A woman and a man kissing draped in a German flag
Reunification was a cause for celebration, but real unity goes beyond thatImage: picture-alliance/dpa

An examination of last week's election results reveals a stark difference in the electoral choices between voters in the east and other regions of Germany.

In the former, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made gains, notably in Saxony and Thuringia, while the established parties — the center-left Social Democrats, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union center-right bloc, the Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats — dominated in the latter. 

DW editor Harrison Mwilima
DW editor Harrison MwilimaImage: Carolin Seeliger

These results did not surprise me. During an election bus tour organized by DW's Africa Department, I visited cities in both eastern and western Germany. What struck me most was the visibility of AfD posters, for instance, in eastern cities like Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, where I had the chance to talk to voters and politicians. 

One key point I got to understand was the fact that voters in the east still harbor conflicting feelings towards the established parties, notably a sense of being left behind. As such, voting for the AfD was a way to express their anger about those politicians and their policies. A sense of unity will only go so far, if there is a lingering sense of inequality between the united parts.

Separation for one, unity for the other

The reasons behind achieving unity or creating separation are manifold. In Germany, it was the Cold War that divided the country. However, at the same time it was this division that established a new sense of unity among other countries of a similar ilk in the socialist bloc. 

Some African countries that subscribed to socialist policies were united through a form of solidarity. Against the backdrop of the socialist idea of a need to support each other, thousands of young people from countries such as Mozambique and Angola came to East Germany to work and fill a labor gap in key industries. Furthermore, young people were provided with funds to study at the universities in the former German Democratic Republic.

This sense of unity disintegrated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And while some workers stayed as German reunification was celebrated, thousands of others from Mozambique and Angola had to leave.

Unity could be much more

Such historical events show the many forms unity can take. Reunification can happen on many different levels and is an evolving process. 

Today, regional integration is one of the key attributes and aspirations of the European Union or the African Union. I get the feeling that there is a distinct hunger to achieve unity among people, regions or countries. 

Thirty-one years after reunification, it's worth pursuing the ideal of seeking unity and embracing it as a natural and ever-growing endeavor.