Informational tour 'The Path Towards German Unity' | 2010

Internal Integration – External Responsibilty

by Odila Triebel

Transformation? Implosion? Revolution?
'It's proof of a strong democracy when a country is engaged in a public debate on those issues.' – that was a voice from Macedonia.
'Aren't you underrating the role the Soviet Union's policies played in 1989?' – a question from Serbia.
'We wish to learn from you!' – was the plea from South Korea.
'Reunification was costly, but have you figured out what the price of ongoing separation would have been?' – a question from the United States.

On October 3rd, 2010 Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of its reunification. This was also the year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 2 Plus 4 Negotiations and of the Treaty that gave the green light for German Unification and that restored Germany's full sovereignty over its domestic and foreign affairs. For the occasion, a group of international journalists was invited to take a closer look at the process of rebuilding the union on the inside and reintegrating Germany on the outside. The program included meetings with representatives from government ministries, research institutes and civic organizations to discuss a broad range of topics: the economy, infrastructure development, federalism, the environment, coming to terms with the Stasi legacy and the funding of cultural activities. A singular longitudinal study was presented by the University of Leipzig Social Psychology Department. And a unique insight into two decades of joint environmental protection activities was gained on a trip to a former border crossing near Probstzella which is now a part of the Green Belt Germany / Green Belt Europe nature conservation project. Markus Meckel and Carsten Voigt, who witnessed the 2 Plus 4 Negotiations, shared their views as to the Negotiations' impact over these past twenty years.

The result is multi-facetted: by the year 2019 a total of € 207 billion in transfer payments will have been made, i.e. 30 years of transfer payments for 40 years of a divided country. The eastern German states startet out with an unemployment rate of 20%, today it compares to roughly 75% of the rate of the European member countries. Economic imbalances between regions are due more to the structural weaknesses of sparcely populated areas than to the events of recent history.

Berlin has now become one of the most popular cities to visit in the world. Over half of its inhabitants has hardly any recollection of the divided city and the wall – new Berliners make up almost 50% of the population plus the youth born after 1989 has heard about the GDR only from hearsay.

Reunification made large-scale infrastructure investments possible and it offered opportunities for EU funding of historic landmark conservation and nature preservation. Ongoing tasks are the rebuilding of a political union, fomenting the federal structure of the media and each individual citizen's efforts to come to grips with the transformation process on a day-to-day basis. The Longitudinal Study from Saxony attempts to quantify the changes in the mindset of Eastgermans born in 1973 for the period 1987 to 2009. Although for more than a decade respondents agreed that the transformation was necessary, many are now questioning whether Eastgermans achieved the long sought freedom; their willingness to be politically active has waned year after year. By 2009 72% of respondents experienced some form of unemployment. Fears concerning their material future led to increased migration to the former western part of the country and to a 25% lower birth rate among the unemployed.

In the context of an official remembrance policy the GDR is clearly defined as a dictatorship. However, the individual citizen's memory is very much determined by personal attitudes, i.e. is the struggle against the dictatorship the dominant feeling or does one take pride in having more or less successfully steered one's life through the rough terrain of a murky power structure? Or perhaps the GDR is remembered as the alternative political system by the former nomenclatura of the old SED?

German Unification was a unique experiment in the history of the world. Perhaps the most pertinent statement by one discussant on summarizing the economic significance of this process was the following: Experts were not commissioned to submit their expertises before reunification was undertaken. It was not planned for nor was a cost calculation submitted. A cost-benefit analysis was never entertained. A highly improbable and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself and it was snatched up. Society as a whole is called upon to work out the details for some time to come.

It's a daunting task and a daily challenge.