Matthias Platzeck, former Prime Minister of Brandenburg, heads the federal government’s unit committee, which plans to present its report with recommendations at the end of the year.
To say the basics in advance: the unity of our country was and will remain a great fortune. If we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the date on which two long-separated parts of Germany became one state next Tuesday, that’s certainly a good reason to celebrate.
This day will forever be the day in the history of the Germans when they first found their unity in free self-determination – as a result of the peaceful revolution with which the people of the GDR overcame their old regime in the fall of 1989 and the wall collapsed. would have. We Germans have reason to commemorate this unusually happy period in our history with great joy.
But history goes on and on. It is not enough to remember the anniversary of great deeds of the past. October 3, 1990 was not only the end. It was also the prelude to three decades of difficult transformation in East Germany and the conflicting amalgamation of the two German sub-associations.
Three decades, that’s another generation. On the occasion of this milestone anniversary, we need to deal even more intensively with what we have achieved or not achieved in it. Because the successes and failures of our first three decades together determine the successes and failures of the next 30 years – if we draw the right lessons.
Learn from successes and failures
Not to be misunderstood here either: together we have reached an infinite number. Only those who look again at the shocking economic and environmental conditions of the late GDR can assess the achievements achieved in East Germany since then.
The valley of transformation East Germans had to traverse in the 1990s was deep and bleak. Unemployment and emigration have determined the situation and mood in the country. A whole generation of young and educated East Germans have left the new federal states – and they are missing everywhere.
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Yet the situation today is very different. The unemployment rate in Brandenburg is now lower than in North Rhine-Westphalia. And if you are on the highway in the east or visit one of the many lovingly restored old towns between Suhl and Stralsund, you will mainly experience an intact and livable region.
East Germans can look back with confidence on what has now been achieved – also with a lot of solidarity from the West – and the vast majority of them too. From a West German perspective, it often seems all the more incomprehensible that this justified pride of East Germans in their own achievements, even after 30 years, is still accompanied by considerable discontent and persistent alienation in the political system of the Federal Republic.
East Germans are under-represented in management positions
It must be worrying that far-right parties like the AfD are having their greatest successes in East Germany. There is cause for concern when up to two thirds of East Germans report in surveys that they still feel they are “second-class citizens” in Germany.
It is annoying that East Germans are still grossly under-represented in management positions in administration, justice, business, the media or the military.
It cannot be satisfactory that wages and salaries remain lower in East Germany than in the West. And it is clear that there must be links between these unpleasant facts.
In any case, it is clear that – despite all the undeniable successes – not everything could have gone well in the first three decades of German unity. What should we do better in the next 30 years? Two very specific suggestions:
1. Learning from the East German transformation – for everyone.
Many people in East Germany (and also in Eastern Europe) have the impression that their experiences in the radical upheavals and transformation processes of the past decades have received too little interest and appreciation in business, society and politics. This is often accompanied by complaints about a lack of respect for the East German “life’s work”.
On the positive side, this is a resource that we should definitely use for the benefit of our entire society. Because social and economic transformation is accelerating everywhere.
Whether it’s climate, energy, transport, communications or the world of work – the ability to deal constructively with unrest will determine the success or failure of societies at all levels, now and in the future.
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A proposal that we are therefore intensively discussing in the “Committee on 30 Years of Peaceful Revolution and German Unity” concerns the creation of an interdisciplinary “Institute for European Transformation and German Unity”. Located in an East German city and closely intertwined with international science, art and culture and civil society, this center would be tasked with identifying ways of successful transformation and bringing citizens into conversation.
In a new context, the East German and East European transformation experiences of the past three decades would become valuable capital for our common European future.
2. East Germany needs a head start
From an economic point of view, East Germany has successfully caught up and rivaled in recent decades. But emulation has a knack: because those being imitated never stand still, one always remains in second place – a condition that has a long-term socially demoralizing effect.
Therefore, East Germany must be given the opportunity to become a pioneer in the individual economic field. This is possible – if it is politically desired and supported. Because today, for the first time since 1990, there are conditions under which completely new industrial branches can be installed in East Germany. The energy transition, the digital revolution and the change in mobility make this possible – provided we are on the right track. This requires not only companies and employees who are “capable of change”, but also courageous structural policy decisions by the state.
German unification in freedom three decades ago was a historic windfall for our country and for Europe. Now it is important to chart the course so that this statement is still valid in 30 years.