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East German alienation

July 23, 2009

A new study of German reunification has found that many eastern Germans still feel alienated from the unified Federal Republic.

An east German Trabant driving among contemporary cars in present-day Leipzig
Almost 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, some from the east still hold onto the pastImage: picture-alliance/ ZB

In a year marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, Germans have been taking stock of the economic, social an psychological reunification of the country. The latest study commissioned by one of Germany's largest charities, the People's Solidarity or Volkssolidaritaet, has brought to the fore that only about a quarter of all easterners feel like full-fledged citizens in reunified Germany.

Germans waiting at the unemployment office
Unemployment continues to plague the former East German statesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

According to the latest socio-economic study on the progress of German reunification, many easterners have accepted the fact that the standard of living in the east won't catch up to that in the west as quickly as some politicians promised back in the 1990s. Forty percent of all east Germans said they were satisfied while another four percent said they were extremely satisfied with how things have developed since reunification.

This latest assessment has come during a deep recession, and many east Germans acknowledge the government's efforts to soften the blow by subsidizing part-time work and increasing pensions despite the economic crisis. But the survey also found that only 11 percent of easterners are content with the way democracy works in Germany.

Gunnar Winkler is the president of the People's Solidarity welfare organization, which has its roots in the former East Germany. He told Deutsche Welle the vast majority of easterners believes that the average citizen should have more direct political influence beyond their activities in parties.

"Talking about the easterners' idea of democracy, you can clearly identify one major demand, or wish, if you like. They want to have more referendums, plebiscites, to be able to directly influence policy-making on the ground," said Winkler.

Part of the Berlin Wall in 1984
A minority of east Germans even wish for the return of the communist East German stateImage: ullstein - Schneider

The study also revealed that a staggering 40 percent of easterners have an unfavorable view of foreigners. Although foreigners only account for a negligible 2 percent of the population in the east, some believe that they are at the heart of the unemployment problem. The jobless rate is still twice as high there as in western Germany.

There is also still a huge identity problem, the survey claimed. 75 percent of the easterners polled say they still don't feel like full-fledged members of society.

Others grumble that their achievements in the former East Germany are ignored completely or at least given short shrift. And ten percent of the eastern respondents - most of them out of work for more than a year - even declared they wanted the old system back, complete with the Wall.

Author: Hardy Graupner (hf/mo)
Editor: Neil King