Contra Mundum Essay Collection: Thomas Schirrmacher

Four Problems with Germany's Re-unification

by Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher

The lesson of the German "Wirtschaftswunder" after the Second World War was not learned in the German re-unification

Following the Second World War, Germany was rebuilt out of nothing into one of the richest countries of the world through the hard work of (nearly) everybody. This is known as the "Wirtschaftswunder" (wonder of economics). The American army and its allies established a functioning democracy and at least tried to solve the problem of justice through the "Entnazifizierung", bringing thousands of former Nazis to American and later German law courts.

Yet in the re-unification of West and East Germany, German leadership has forgotten nearly everything they could have learned from the lesson of the time after Hitler's (national) socialism. Four examples may prove this:

The false promise, that the results of 40 years of socialism could be overcome within few years by means of tax money.

In general and especially during the November 1990 re-unification election all parties and the government agreed, that East Germany can be brought to the same level as Western Germany in the time of one parliament (four years), although they know, that most parts of the GDR were in the same condition like Hitler left them (i.e. the GDR still used Hitler's motorways, railways and telephone system!). They forgot that the former communist parts of Germany cannot be rebuilt with tax money but only with hard work. When the western parts of Germany were rebuilt and became the Federal Republic of Germany, there was no tax money available (except credits etc. from the USA!). People had to work hard and this for years and years. Most of the people in the former GDR still believe the old socialist dream that poverty can only be overcome by the state. The German government is very weak in arguing against this mentality. They send billions of Deutschmarks and promise the people wealth without calling them to hard work because this is unpopular and many people in the GDR did not work hard or did not have work to work at all, although they had to go to their factory and sit the whole day.

(There is a good joke on this: After the re-unification a former GDR citizen starts to work at the assembly line of Mercedes. At 10 o'clock he tells his coworker. "I am tired. We are already past the time the material runs out usually!")

The false idea that it will bring "social freedom", if there is no "persecution" of former leading members of the former Socialist party (SED).

Legal justice has not been restored in the former GDR. Restoring justice is the job of the press which will find horror stories about anybody not convenient to them. But until now people are waiting on great law suits like Germany had them after World War II. Thousands of the leading members of the SED are criminals even according to the old law of the GDR. (Legally the law of the FRG was always binding for the area of the GDR.) But there is no freedom without legal justice. For months a general amnesty for all German communist spies has been discussed with no result yet.

In the "Entnazifizierung" not all Nazi criminals were found or sentenced but nevertheless justice became a part of everyday mentality. Former Nazis kept quiet because they knew that otherwise everybody could go to the law courts and notify against them. The former socialist criminals in the GDR do not need to fear this. They are still on top of most factories, city administrations, universities and even law courts and can work against "capitalistic" citizens. Most former citizens of the GDR fear to talk about crimes they know of, because at present there is nearly no chance that a law suit will be started.

The false idea that you can reunite two states without talking about ethics.

The government and even most churches hesitated to talk about ethical problems in the re-unification. They did not want to endanger the process of re-unification. The result is that most citizens in the former GDR have no idea why and how they should change their morals. (Of course the real reason is that the FRG has no binding ethics itself and the law of God is rejected - even among a lot of evangelicals). Although the German constitution and most of the laws of the FRG became law in the former GDR, some laws were left, most notably the right to abort children till the third month. Women from the West are free to travel to the former GDR and abort their child according to the old GDR laws, while in the West it is still harder to abort, because doctors and the state have to approve that your situation allows abortion. But the re-unification treaty states that the abortion law of the FRG has to be changed within two years, which of course means that it will become easier.

The wrong morality that the statism of the former GDR is blamed, while statism in the FRG is not discussed.

Germany has a lot of state monopolies, some of them official (post, telephone, railway, local transport, university and school education), some of them by way of ownership (airways, electricity, local transport) and some of them through very restricted laws (distance transport - you need a permit to run a company transporting goods further than 50 km, which is hard to get!). Germany has one of the biggest so called "social nets". Everybody has to pay into the state insurances for health, unemployment and rent. Although a recent study in the country of Nordrhein-Westfalen has shown that local services (water, garbage collection, local transport etc.) run by the state are three times as expensive as those run by private companies still most of those services are in the hand of the cities, counties and countries.

So German politicians from the West have a hard time to explain the difference between socialism (statism) and capitalism to people from Eastern Germany. Of course they call it "social market economy", but the "social" is a nice euphemism for the old promise, that the state will pay if you are ill, unemployed, old, in need or just not willing to work. This is what the former GDR promised its citizens and what they still expect. This is what the new government promised them to win the election. But this is also what will hinder a second "Wirtschaftswunder". Copyright © Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher

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