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German scholar reflects on impact of Germany's reunification

2010/10/04 19:15:34

Taipei, Oct. 4 (CNA) Two decades after the reunification of EastGermany and West Germany, many Germans of the formerly separatedcountry continue to wrestle with problems that arose, even as manyothers recognize the benefits of reunification, said a visitingprofessor on the 20th anniversary of the historic event.

"While most of the people in Germany have a positive assessmentof the reunification, frustration from a depressed job market andother unfulfilled demands also led to relative negative assessment bymany, " Professor Dr. Stefan Wolle of the Free University (FU) ofBerlin told an audience in Taiwan.

As this year marks two decades since the two sides reunified, theGerman Institute Taipei invited the historian and head of research atthe DDR Museum in Berlin to give a series of lectures in Taiwan.

At academic institutes and universities where Wolle spoke,audiences were enthusiastic to learn from the historian the Germanexperience of reunification.

Speaking of the uniqueness of German reunification, the scholarpointed out that "the drive for reunification came as a surprise tomany observers."

"The desire for unity by no means came from above. It wasarticulated by the masses on the street," he said.

Immediately after the monetary union on July 1, 1990, people inthe east found that while they finally gained long-desired freedomand the entitlement of consumers, they had to meet the challenges ofsevere competition in a market economy.

Wolle pointed out that the monetary union failed to prepare EastGermans for the devastating consequences of a collapsing economy inthe former East Germany, also known as the German Democratic Republic(GDR).

As West German retail outlets offered an abundance of goods whichoverwhelmed the market, demand for East German products almostcompletely collapsed and industrial production in former East Germanyabruptly dropped by half within a year.

Between 1989 and 1992, the number of employed people in the eastdropped from 9.7 million to 6.7 million; the sluggishness of the jobmarket was comparable to the Great Depression years between 1929 and1932, Wolle noted.

Over the years, the job market in the new federal states havehardly recovered from the post-reunification sluggishness, and thebitterness among those who were used to a system of guaranteedemployment and social security was understandable, according to theprofessor.

He pointed out that most German people had a positive assessmentof the transformation of Germany, but quite a few had complaints andworries about the free market economy.

The frustration of those forced into a disadvantaged positionafter the reunification had given rise to nostalgic sentiment of the" harmony" under the socialist system, Wolle said.

The so-called "Ost-talgia" for " the idyll behind the barbedwire", as Prof. Wolle suggested, reflected people's disappointmentover unfulfilled promises.

From 1990 and 1991, Wolle worked as an expert on files of theStasi (the Ministry of State Security of the GDR) and was a member ofthe committee for the dissolution of the secret police organization.

He said, in the long process of integration, the German peopleshould think beyond the limitations of the current situation.Meanwhile, the authorities should note the spiritual aspects andpsychological complications people still faced, while the progress ofinfrastructure reconstruction in the former GDR should be recognized,Wolle said.

The former member of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR in the1970s and 1980s spoke as an academician while using survey reports toreflect assessments by German people, and also as a witness who hadled a life under the socialist system of East Germany and as anactive participant in the process of reconciliation.

He said that he was impressed to find the audience in Taiwan hadgreat interest in the German experience, adding that from thequestions raised, he found people in Taiwan were relativelywell-informed about contemporary German history.

(by Lillian Lin)