SGermany has been united for 32 years, but East Germany is still often seen as a deviation, while West embodies the norm. The Federal Government Commissioner for the East, Carsten Schneider, is now refreshingly putting an end to the tedious survey of how many meters the East is still missing from the West level, but without ignoring the difficulties. The texts that precede the report, in which East Germans talk about the reality of their lives, are particularly worth reading. They reveal how diverse the East is, and they show living environments that definitely enrich the whole of Germany.
Nevertheless, as soon as Schneider presented the report, the usual reflexes could be observed again. In the east, the mood is changing, according to many reports. How good for the West was the cosy, comfortable subtext, everything was still stable there. That, however, is a double fallacy: neither is there a threat of overthrow in the East, nor is everything smooth in the West.
The underlying survey reveals nothing else. According to this, satisfaction with politics in East and West has fallen by around ten percentage points since 2020. Admittedly at different levels (East: 31 percent, West: 44), which nonetheless show that disenchantment with politics is a problem that affects all of Germany and harbors “serious potential for conflict”.
Unequal ownership remains
The latter is larger in the east, as shown by open letters to the federal government and demonstrations. Delegitimizing this, as is now being done with reference to the alleged abuse of the Monday demonstrations of 1989 or with the eternal accusation that people are in league with right-wing extremists, misses the point. Right-wing extremists were also among the demonstrators in 1989, and later on Mondays, for example, there were demonstrations against Hartz IV.
Of course, there are always free riders who try to exploit crises for their own unfortunate ends, and it is also necessary to criticize that. However, constant preoccupation with this should not obscure the core of the problem, and that is the federal government’s attempts at crisis management, which are seen as helpless and haphazard, especially in the East.
The “turning point” proclaimed in response to Putin’s war of aggression hit the eastern part of the country much harder. This is due to the often described but remarkably little internalized consequences of the division of Germany. Most East Germans inevitably have less prosperity, less financial cushions, less security with which to defy crises. Wages in the east are about a third lower, the weekly working time is up to three hours longer, and the pension is around 200 euros less after 45 years of contributions.
Company or even private pensions are rare, not to mention inheritance. Large parts of East Germany, as can be seen from the inheritance tax, have been inherited in West Germany for some time. Unequal ownership structures are perpetuated and rents flow from east to west.
Lack of East Germans in all institutions
In such an initial situation, exploding electricity and gas prices quickly trigger existential fears, especially since people are still feeling the latter from the 1990s. Many made a successful new start after reunification, but now they see the rewards of the years of development in jeopardy. Of course it is true that a war calls many things into question and that things cannot go on as before. But it is precisely this insight that many in the federal government miss. The fact that, despite skyrocketing electricity prices, not all domestic resources are mobilized, but that power sources are also switched off for political reasons in this emergency, reminds many of the GDR.
At least as many people are annoyed by the ease with which crises are still being filled with money in Berlin. Open letters show that this type of problem-solving, which has blossomed at least since Angela Merkel, is particularly bitter for Eastern entrepreneurs. They don’t want compensation that they see as handouts, instead they demand reliable conditions, i.e. energy prices that they can use to calculate reliably.
Last but not least, the lack of East Germans in practically all institutions in the Federal Republic contributes to mistrust. It makes a huge difference whether decisions are made based on the experience of 1989. But that is not the case even in the Eastern countries. Initiating changes through institutions or parties, as is customary in the West, therefore seems pointless to many East Germans. Taking to the streets, on the other hand, promises maximum attention. However, this should not end in judgments of taste, but rather understand the protest as part of the pan-German reality.