Few days ago we celebrated one of the most important events of the last decades, the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
The wall was the result of the aggravation of the cold war between the USSR and USA, it divided Berlin and the rest of Germany for 28 years; on 11th of September 1989 the Berlin wall finally fell, following the progressive weakening of the Soviet bloc.
Today the situation is distant from what people hoped it would’ve been 30 years ago.
Angela Merkel, who is from former East Germany, expressed her concerns on the topic of reunification by saying that Germany needs to look at the successes and failures and that a lot of work still needs to be done. There are mixed opinion across the population too, since half of Western Germans feel like the reunification has been a success while only less than 1/3 Eastern Germans feel in that way. The most striking differences across the two regions range from economy to politics and have various origins and implications.
East Germany was one of the most industrialized region in Europe before the end of the Second World War. With the peace treaty and the consequent separation from the rest of Germany under communist administration its industries fell in decline and so did its relative edge on West Germany. After reunification, Eastern European industries underwent a massive process of privatization in which many of its biggest industries went in the hands of western businessmen increasing the general feeling of annexation from western Germany. The exchange rate was set to 1:1 between the 2 currencies and, overnight eastern businesses had to pay salaries that they couldn’t afford, this factor led to big unemployment and, the effect can partly be also seen today since the average salary in former Eastern Germany is about 80% of that of West Germany.
The economic factor and, the wider possibilities that the west offered led to a mass migration of eastern Germans into the west, since 1989 to today 1.9 million people migrated; decreasing its specialized workers and the brightest minds. Deprived by its best resources East Germany has grown weaker and cannot establish an industrial network at the same level of the rest of Germany, as it stands today none of the 30 biggest German industries are based in East Germany. The central government has tried to counteract this by giving a lot of funds to East Germany industries, but, since many of them are owned by western businessmen the money went back to the west.
As it stands today east Germany struggles to keep up with the rest of Germany, the general discontent among people is being represented in the raise of extreme right parties, a certain feeling of nostalgia is spreading and, a new movement on eastern identity is growing among young people.
Young people which, travelling across Germany are discovering the stereotypes and the different treatments towards east Germany, they have to confront with the myth of the “eastern European which gets money and doesn’t want to do anything”. These events are pushing for a change in the way in which people identify themselves, especially young people find themselves more at home in the Eastern part instead of the whole nation, in fact, about 47% of East Germans identify themselves as East Germans first and “just” Germans second, while for West Germans the primacy of identification as West Germans is true only for 1/5 of the population.
Unemployment, economic struggles, and the emigration led to a feeling of being treated as “second class” citizens. A general feeling has grown into the general public that after 1989 East Germany was annexed by West Germany, having to be controlled by different rules and a different society. The AFD (Alternative for Deutschland) is capitalizing on this trend enlarging its preferences and its influence especially in East Germany; the party grew by a lot after the mass immigration of Syrians in 2015. AFD says that it is just a normal party defending the interests of the average voter while many of its position and policies show that its interests are on the far right of the political spectrum.
This picture shows us the differences present in the domestic policy of Germany, the increasing difference in the political preferences and, the failure of many policies for the improvement in the East prove that, even after 30 years divisions remain present and, a lot of work still has to be done.