East & West Germans

Source: deepai.org+eastern Germany

Perhaps our all new AI colleague deepai.org had eastern Germany’s well-known Bauhaus in mind when creating the above photo. To the unsuspecting observer, AI’s impression might even look a bit like an East German doppelganger of Bauhaus. With or without Bauhaus, the following shows “how Germany’s East ticks.”

Only a few days ago, East-Germans elected a right-wing extremist AfD candidate in a local area called Sonnenberg. One of the world’s leading newspapers called it, German Far-right Party Wins Its First County Leadership Post as It Rises in Polls. Yet, the popularity of the AfD in East-Germany – compared to West-Germany – only depicts deeper voids between both.

It has become rather common in Uber-arrogant western Germany to see eastern Germans as a strange breed of people who seemingly tend to avoid addressing many of the problems found in contemporary eastern Germany.

Yet, one of the real and most significant problems is that more than thirty years after German unification (1989-2023), eastern Germans still do not get equal wages and are not adequately represented at management, state-government, legal, educational, and even cultural levels.

If there was a fair distribution of responsible jobs in the country, then of Germany’s entire population, eastern Germans would make up 18 to 19 percent of key positions in business, science, media and culture, but in reality their share is only 2 to 4 percent. Worse, in Germany’s army – the Bundeswehr – their share of leading positions is zero.

This substantiates the impression that eastern Germans are sidelined and not taken seriously. The basic problem is grave because eastern Germans are not even given a chance to contribute and thus be able to shape Germany’s institutions.

In short, eastern Germans don’t just “feel” excluded, they are demonstrably and deliberately excluded. This, very seriously, violates the principle of equality as enshrined in Germany’s constitution, the Basic Law or Grundgesetz. The root of much of this is that no real reunification was ever sought during the 1990s.

German unification remains a comfortable myth promulgated by the western part of the country in order to mollify liberals and pacify conservatives. In reality, the whole process was more akin to an Anschluss – the wholesale takeover of the former East Germany by its western half and, more importantly, by capitalism in its Reagan-Thatcher-Kohl energized neoliberal form.

The myth of unification continues with the fact that the two formerly independent German states were united via West Germany’s special constitutional clause, Article 23 of Germany’s Basic Law.

From the outset, western German capitalism, compliant corporate media, and the government were, unilaterally, setting the economic and legal conditions for eastern Germany’s capture. Eastern Germans would simply have to adapt to the new system. In addition, western German powerbrokers decided early on to unite Germany on an unequal footing in order to ensure the Beutezug [corporate looting] of eastern German firms by western companies and corporations.

Western Germany’s corporate law was there to help capitalism’s pillaging along. To assure that there was no drafting of a new constitution for a new Germany, capitalism and its western representatives simply had to expand western Germany’s constitution and legal system to cover the newly engulfed eastern territories. Why change something that was working well for the capitalist enterprises?

At the same time, a new national anthem for a new Germany was rejected as well. Bertolt Brecht’s Children’s Hymn (1950) was merely a fringe discussion and it never really had a chance to be adopted. Western Germany’s power elite preferred Das Lied der Deutschen, Germany’s old and very imperialist-sounding national anthem which in its original first line included the words: “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt” (“Germany, Germany above all, above all in the world”).

To placate the rest of humanity from thinking that Germany might still harbor expansionist desires, the national anthem was trimmed and limited its text to the third stanza, which touts “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (“Unity, justice and freedom”) and is more appealing to the elites than a children’s song which urges Germans to be reasonable, work to repair the damage done and hold out their hands in friendship to other nations.

Added to that, western Germany’s power elite also turned down the chance to get into conversation with eastern Germany’s independence movement which had contributed so much to ending East German Stalinism.

Doing this little thing would have, at least, been a symbolic act of reconciliation. Still, western German kingmakers felt no need for that. Instead, western German neoliberal capitalism assured that fatal signals with significant long-term effects were sent out in 1989 and the early 1990s. Eastern Germany was quickly and comprehensively downgraded to the status of being merely an appendage to western corporate capitalism, which lingers on to this day.

The targeted and purposefully engineered exclusion of millions of eastern German citizens from participating in shaping a new Germany and their elimination from an equal role in decision-making on socially and economically relevant issues is a black mark on the so-called unification. Consequently, blaming the victim was engineered and encouraged.

Today, there is still an implied insinuation that eastern Germans are anti-democratic or at least skeptical towards democracy. And making things even worse, western German politicians have seen next to no need to change that perception for the last 30 years.

Instead, it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that has been cemented with great success into the fabric of eastern Germany’s population. Unfortunately, it poses an authoritarian danger – not for German capitalism – but for German society as a whole. One might care to pose a very legitimate question: “What is one to think of a democracy in which millions of citizens have been excluded from adequate participation?” Instead of participation, eastern Germans were processed en massegnadenlos abgewickelt (mercilessly manhandled) – as one major German newspaper described it.

For example, in academic positions, professorial university chairs were occupied – almost exclusively – by scientists from western Germany. And even today, eastern Germans are still disproportionally underrepresented at, not just eastern German universities, but even more so at western German universities and colleges.

A professional career is still a matter of “not really having a chance” as a German living in the eastern part of the country. For the lucky few who made it into Germany’s institutions, it helped to study, conduct research, and teach as a visiting professor abroad, particularly the USA.

Meanwhile, the deliberately engineered “lack” of representation of eastern Germans at corporate management levels is only one side of the coin. Simultaneously, there is a marked and substantial gap in wages and salaries.

This is a much more existential threat for many eastern Germans than western Germans. On average, eastern Germans earn 22.6% less than western Germans when doing the same job. This is a serious difference. In Germany’s mighty car industry, it is 40% and in its textile industry it is a whopping 69% less pay for the workers stuck in the eastern federal states.

In other words, behind “unification” lurk scandalous and unacceptable conditions. In short, Capitalism: A Love Story didn’t only damage the USA, it also didn’t work in eastern Germany, despite the false promises of neoliberal capitalism and compliant politicians.

Neoliberal capitalism and the harsh and unconditional takeover led to a solidification of social and economic inequalities. Unequal remuneration has a negative effect so that eastern Germans cannot accumulate enough money to create private assets or financial reserves. As a consequence, opportunities for individual development remain relatively low – social mobility is significantly reduced.

Of course, there are social inequalities everywhere, whether in Switzerland, France, the USA, Bangladesh, or even Qatar. But nowhere is this on such a massive scale as in a historically, geographically, and ethnically rather homogeneous country like Germany.

Such stark inequalities are usually only seen as a result of colonialism. Not surprisingly, many eastern Germans, rather correctly, see the annexation of eastern Germany to western Germany as colonization. On top of that, the takeover was followed by the arrogance of western cultural colonialism.

And even today, eastern Germans are abused as backward Ossies, brainless cogs, stupid and willing subordinates living in Dunkeldeutschland – a dull Dark Ages backwater, a Hillbilly-like eastern Germany. To make matters even worse, eastern Germans are defamed as having only quasi-knowledge (Halbwissen) that is completely useless.

As a consequence of such condescending, arrogant, and semi-colonial attitudes, western Germany’s power elite at one point demanded, a “long-term re-cultivation of the East” and a “new colonization of the East” – both actual statements from 30 years ago. Unfortunately, such sentiments still have relevance today. They are views that still haunt some minds.

Only recently a prominent rightwing journalist demanded that: “the East should be transformed into an agricultural state with a single wage.” It carries deliberate connotations to the Nazi’s Generalplan Ost. The idea is that western German capitalism demands a virulent colonization of eastern Germany. As it stands, much of what is in these fatal narratives has actually become a bitter reality under neoliberal capitalism as it has been mercilessly rolled out in eastern Germany.

For example, western capitalism made sure that the East was systematically and deliberately deindustrialized. Meanwhile, eastern Germans have been dehumanized and discredited – seen as second class citizens. Capitalism’s takeover was sold as blooming industrial landscapes by the arch-conservative and corrupt Helmut Kohl during the 1990s.

The bitter reality, whether people want to admit it or not, is that there are still two Germanys. One is prosperous and the other is dependent. That is why, recently, eastern Germans were once again defamed as being either communists or fascists by Mathias Döpfner, a former boss of the Springer media empire, a German media empire comparable to Rupert Murdoch’s rightwing megalith.

Deplorable as that might be, such insults don’t just come from western Germany’s elite, they can also be heard from some eastern Germans. Most prevalent among them is the former pastor, right-winger, and ex-president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, who never grows tired calling his eastern German compatriots “dictatorship-damaged” and “resistant to democracy.”

Interestingly enough, even after 30 years, some people still believe that the differences between western  and eastern Germans will eventually be erased over time. Most people don’t actually believe this.

Rather, the fear is that there will be a continuation of inequalities between East and West. Injustice and inequality are being inherited. They have become ingrained in parents and grandparents and live on in children and grandchildren. Many eastern Germans have experienced it for themselves. Careers are only possible in the West or by going to the West.

Careers cannot be realized in the East in the same way. Meanwhile, the real economic, financial, social, cultural, and even democratic-symbolic inequalities persist.

There is a rather widespread assertion that eastern Germans are anti-democratic. Much of this lies in misunderstanding the fact that socialized former GDR citizens have a different view of democracy. Democracy not only means freedom of opinion, free assembly, free speech and a free press, for which they took to the streets in the autumn of 1989.

It also applies to what might be called “social democracy”, which many eastern Germans still miss in the so-called united Germany. In short, eastern Germans miss advances in women’s emancipation, one aspect that didn’t improve under the new democracy.

In fact, even the little of what they formerly had has been in terminal decline. Having better sex in eastern Germany actually has gone into reverse under democracy. Moreover, eastern Germans don’t necessarily want to live in a two-class society: rich vs. poor and East vs. West. Under post-1989 democracy, eastern Germans suddenly received an education and health care system that was based on neoliberalism’s user-pay system.

This too transformed eastern German society into two classes. They miss “the right to work” which the former East Germany had but which of course doesn’t exist in western capitalism. Finally, eastern Germans also miss the right to have an input into culture. Many eastern Germans do not enjoy being culturally dominated by the west’s Culture Industry, as philosopher Theodor Adorno called it.

In other words, the 1989 promises made by western elites did not materialize. Instead, the opposite happened under the conversion of the previous ideology into neoliberal doctrine and the forced integration of eastern Germany into western Germany’s capitalist system.

To camouflage the pathologies of unification, western German corporate media and conservative politicians – Kohl, Merkel, etc. – hyped up nationalism and created an imagined Germanic community. As a consequence, the usual scapegoats were quickly wheeled out of storage: virtually anyone not-German looking is now being blamed for the problems created by neoliberal capitalism.

Of course this has wonderfully (for monopoly-minded capitalists) assisted the rise of the Neo-Nazis and their electoral masquerade, the AFD, in both western and eastern Germany.

Paradoxically and unlike western Germans, eastern Germans still take their understanding of democracy more personally. Historically, democratic self-empowerment led to the end of the GDR. This is an experience that the West never had.

In the West, post-Nazi democracy was installed from above. Meanwhile in post-1989 eastern Germany, democracy and its capitalist system were reinterpreted and incorporated into a right-wing populist success story. It was sold as the victory of a superior economic system. An adjacent problem between East and West is that the wealth of experiences that one has in the eastern states is not recognized and respected by the those living in the West.

Contemporary western Germans lack the experience of dictatorship, democratic self-empowerment, the abolition of a dictatorship, the chaotic years during the final stage of the GDR, and then the brutal takeover by western-style democracy and capitalism.

In this respect, eastern Germans are much more politically experienced. Yet this has never been addressed in any way. It’s not part of the democratic discourse in German society as a whole. If one were to acknowledge this, other perspectives – perhaps non-right-wing viewpoints – could arise in the assessment of eastern Germany’s past and present.

However, there is no interest among the western German elite to enable such a discourse. Instead, over the last three decades, they have fostered rampant nationalism in eastern Germany, and as a result, the dominant view from the West about eastern Germany has been solidified and will remain fixed for a long time to come.

This pigheaded attitude is asphyxiating eastern Germany, helping to maintain the divide between East and West, while simultaneously legitimizing the swaggering parade of “All that glisters” in western capitalism while importing the principle of “Greed is good” into the eastern half of the country, thus proclaiming: Capitalism wins! But, lamentably, with “profits over people” (Chomsky).

Thomas Klikauer is the author of German Conspiracy Fantasies – out now on Amazon!

Edited by Danny Antonelli


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