The shocking fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe in the late eighties was remarkable for both its rapidity and its scope. None more than for East and West Germany. “The unification of Germany has been one of the most significant and moving events of the 20th century. Yet the euphoria of those heady days in autumn 1989, when the world watched in rapt attention as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, has since fizzled. The process has proven to be far more painful than (then) Chancellor Helmut Kohl had promised Germans in 1990 on the eve of the first all-German elections since the Nazi’s rise to power.”(Ireland, 541) This resulted from the underestimation that was placed on integrating the democratic system of government and free-market economy of West Germany with the communist foundation of East Germany. The shift from communism took a whole new context in Germany. The peoples involved were not looking to affect a narrow set of policy reforms; indeed, what was at stake was a hyper-radical shift from the long-held communist ideology to a western blueprint for governmental and economic policy development. According to theories of modernization, higher levels of socioeconomic achievement facilitates an increase in open competition and, ultimately, assists in the establishment of democracy.
The problem inherent in this type of monumental change is that, according to Helga A. Welsh, “ the collapse of authoritarian rule has released national, ethnic, religious, and cultural conflicts which cannot be solved by purely economic policies”(27). Generally it has been theorized that the most effective fashion in which to remedy these many difficulties is by drafting a constitution. But, what seems to be clear in Germany is the unsatisfactory ability of a constitution to resolve the problems of nationalism and ethnic differences. Germany’s current situation gives validity to the statement that “ what works in theory doesn’t necessarily work in practice.” This is because the economic advancements that were anticipated to bring prosperity to East Germany didn’t occur as planned.
It was assumed that the integration of the economies would be a difficult but attainable goal because West Germany was one of the world’s most productive and prosperous economies. The last ten years have shown that this was not the case. Due to East Germany’s longtime adherence to communist policies, it faced great complexity in making the transition to a pluralist system as well as a market economy. As Preuss posits these problems were threefold: The genuine economic devastations wrought by the communist regimes, the transformation of the social and economic classes of the command economy and , finally the creation of a constitutional structure for political entities that lack the undisputed integrity of a nation state (48). The failure of the economic integration is at the root of the ills that have plagued the two countries since unification.
In regards to the economic aspects of unification, some major problems exist in the transition to a free-market economy. First, and probably the most significant factor is the epidemic of unemployment that has infected East Germany. Prior to unification slightly over half of East Germany’s 16 million people were employed and this figure has been steadily declining since 1989. Currently, “the east’s unemployment rate of more than 17% is double that of the west’s (Aaland, r12). In a market economy these grim statistics breed frustration and discontent among the populace.
Another dilemma presenting itself to Germany is the enormous expense of upgrading the dilapidated infrastructure in the east. The east is decades behind technologically and hundreds of millions of dollars have been required to improve the roads, railroads, telecommunications, public services, postal service, and most importantly educational system. Along with this is the deplorable environmental conditions that were left by the old communist regime. These necessary conditions must be renovated before funding can stimulate the economy and is an important factor in the east’s current economic nightmare.
One other important issue that has contributed to the east’s depression is the economic policy of the privatizing of state property. This is a sensitive subject in any country’s transition from a command economy. For one, a system of procedures must be adopted simply to transfer such large amounts of property to private citizens. Also, there must be mechanisms put in place to both protect new owners form claims of previous owners and to satisfy former owner without alienating possible future investors. The problem arises in that private property laws do not always coincide with the fair concept of restitution. As Petra Bauer-Kaase states, “East Germans still have difficulties in adjusting to a political system where individuals have a great deal of responsibility for there own life” (307). The former East Germans look upon this issue with contempt, because it is the Westerners who have control over the rules, as well as the enforcement of those rules. This is merely one of a multitude of instances where this mistrust between the sides manifests itself.
The failure in the economic and political integration has been the catalyst for numerous other social ills. The main being a backlash of violence against ethnic groups and a rise in right wing political groups that support this behavior. Many believe that the economic effects of unification, particularly the increase in unemployment, is causing Germans and foreigners to compete for jobs, housing, and other scarce commodities, and in turn generating resentment among the German citizens. As, Patrick Ireland adds,” high unemployment and uncertainty about job prospects during the transformation of a command economy into a market economy are seen as having produced disorientation and rootless ness among vulnerable people in the east…Grievances become politicized, with right-wing extremists mobilizing support and winning sympathy from the public. Existing social divisions widen, and those groups blamed for the perceived problems become favored targets…Thus East Germans, some of whom believed that they were competing with foreign contract laborers for consumer goods and other resources before unification, began to feel seriously deprived compared to their wealthy western neighbors after 1989. It became easier to make scapegoats of foreigners”(544).
This rise in racism and ethnic violence can be directly attributed to the ongoing economic saga that the east is experiencing. They envy their western neighbors but feel turn their cheek because of the strong traditional sense of nationalism. So their disappointment is taken out on any one who is not German. As Patrick Ireland writes the east Germans,” insecure and unsure of their role in a multicultural society, fear becoming permanent second-class citizens in united Germany. Foreigners have become the “whipping boy”, the scapegoat for all the frustrations of the past, the disillusionment of the present, and the fears of the future”(545).
It seems that much more than the economies are diverging between the opposite sides of Germany. Although there are no really significant conflicts between Germans, the attitudes of the two sides are going in opposite directions. The Wall Street Journal reported that a German study showed that within the next five years westerners believed that their lives would improve while easterners fear it worsening. Also westerners were more satisfied with their careers, finances, and health while the easterner’s were happier than their counterparts when it came to their families, marriages, and children. Also, Dagmar Aaland reports that a majority of the easterner’s disappointments and pessimistic attitudes stem “from joblessness and ‘unrealistic expectations’ of the time needed to catch up with the west”(r12).
While unification had occurred theoretically, in reality the Germany today is one of a de facto separate-but-equal citizenship. There is no denying that there have been many problems associated with the unification of East and West Germany. From the miserable failure of the implementation of a free-market to the social tribulations that evolved; .the transition from a communist state to a liberal democracy is a very challenging one, and there is no real way to predict how the German experience will turn out. As Preuss writes, “ The transition from an authoritarian political regime and its concomitant command economy to a liberal democracy and a capitalist economy is as unprecedented as the short-term integration of two extremely different societies into one state”(57). In other words, the unification of Germany is one of the most complex and unparalleled historical events, on a social and economic level, since the unification of Germany.
Aaland, Dagmar. “A Nation Still Divided”, The Wall Street Journal. 27 Sept. 1999.
p.r12 & r18.
Bauer-Kaase, Petra. “Germany in Transition: the Challenge of Coping with Unification.”.
German Unification: Processes and Outcomes. M. Donald Hancock and Helga A. Welsch, eds. Boulder: Westview, 1994. 285-311
Ireland, Patrick. “Socialism, Unification Policy and the Rise of Racism In
Eastern Germany”. International Migration Review. Fall 1997. p. 541-68
Preuss, Ulrich K. “German Unification: Political and Constitutional Aspects.” United
Germany and the New Europe. Heinz D. Kurz, ed. Brookfield: Elgar, 1993 p.47-58
Welsh, Helga A. “The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the GDR:
Evolution, Revolution, and Diffusion.” German Unification: Processes and Outcomes. M. Donald Hancock and Helga A Welsh, eds. Boulder: Westview, 1994. p.17-34.