MOSCOW, November 6 (RIA Novosti) Ekaterina Blinova — On November 9, 2014, Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall; despite the decades of work aimed at reunifying the country, differences between the West and the East still remain.
"Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and at first glance, it seems as if the country is more united than some nations that were never split. But numbers and images illustrating differences in lifestyles and problems between East and West Germans tell a different story," the Washington Post noted.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 triggered nation-wide euphoria. However, the transition to the capitalist economic system was neither seamless nor painless for the East of the country: the Eastern region immediately ran into the market realities of unemployment and economic chaos. Due to the ensuing crisis, East Germany's fertility rates decreased tremendously and sharply. The region experienced a 50 percent drop in births in the early 1990s, which was deemed to be the "most substantial fall in birth rates that ever occurred in peacetime," according to a study, "East German Fertility After Unification: Crisis or Adaptation," which was carried out in 1996 by the Population Council, a non-profit organization.
According to experts, after the collapse of the GDR (the German Democratic Republic) the West was not interested in shoring up manufacturing companies which it saw as remnants of the GDR’s untenable command economy. "The interests of easterners and westerners were conflicting, and the resources were disproportionately distributed in the West German's favor," wrote Dr. Phyllis Dininio, the former senior governance adviser for the US Department of State's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in her study, "The Political Economy of East German Privatization," published in 1999.
Typically, the key posts in new eastern business and industry associations were assumed by westerners, which were inclined to "maintain western hegemony," rather than advocate the economic interests of the East. The BDI (the Federation of German Industry), the main German industry association, demanded that "subsidies given to eastern firms have a time limit and an automatic, self-eliminating schedule in order to prevent eastern firms from gaining an unfair advantage over western competitors," Dr. Dininio emphasized. Furthermore, the rapid wage equalization between the West and the East pushed by the BDA (the Federation of German Employer Associations) in the beginning of 1990s amid the economic collapse in the East placed eastern employers "at severe disadvantage" and hit their business hard. Citing the BDI documents, the expert stressed that "the BDI pushed the THA ("Treuhandanstalt" or Trust Agency) to increase the pace of privatization and forego any restructuring of eastern firms."
It is worth mentioning that that THA, the "formal owner of all former assets of the German Democratic Republic," often violated the interests of the eastern companies while negotiating with western German companies or foreign buyers, notes Dr. Mark A. Young from Humboldt University of Berlin in his research "Privatization in Germany: Lessons from a Third Side Case Study." "The companies themselves (management and employees) were only rarely included in the discussions or even consulted. The consequences for those affected (the company) were dire," Dr. Young stresses.
Although some easterners have become disillusioned with the capitalist model, according to the September poll, 75 percent of East Germans consider their country's reunification a success. Much of this may be due to Berlin’s emergence as a true European capital; indeed, much of the younger population of the country’s east flocks to the city for employment. Still, about 19 percent of respondents are nostalgic for the Communist era. Interestingly enough, only half of West Germans praise the reunification, while around a quarter say it has put them at a disadvantage, the Abendzeitung, a Munich-based German newspaper reports. The media source underscores that 96 percent of young easterners believe that the benefits of reunification outweigh the disadvantages, and only 66 percent of westerners of the same age group share this stance. The Abendzeitung stresses that most East Germans still commend the GDR for its education system, social protection, health system and gender equality.
Graphics and statistics published by Zeit Online, a German news web site, indicate that although many years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, cultural, economic and political differences between the regions remain.
Economy and demography
The West is more prosperous than the East. The rural eastern regions still suffer from higher unemployment rates, lower incomes and youth out-migration. It should be noted that the demographic situation in the East has been tremendously impacted by the sharp drop of birth rates in early 1990s that was caused by the economic upheaval. Therefore, the eastern population is older in comparison with that of former West Germany.
Due to the Communist era legacy, the east has more child-care facilities and residents are more likely to put their children in day care than westerners. In the GDR, women were usually employed while in the West, mothers stayed at home with their children until they reached school age. "There's a huge east-west discrepancy regarding the acceptance of working mothers across all age groups and education levels. In 2012, the western Germans roughly managed to reach the level where the eastern Germans already were in 1991," Zeit Online notes.
Agricultural field size
The East remains predominantly rural, with an average farm size of under 288 hectares. The large size of agricultural fields is another legacy of the GDR. In the Communist period, the fields were usually owned by "a pool of farmers," rather than private owners. Remarkably, since then farms sizes have not changed, the Washington Post emphasizes.
Statistics show a significantly smaller foreign population in the East, with foreigners only making up a large part of the population of Berlin. Before the collapse of the Communist regime, "western Germany invited many Turks to live in the country as guest workers," due to the booming economy, explains the Washington Post, adding that most of them never left. Citing the study carried out by Leipzig University, the media outlet points to the fact that the East is less friendly to foreigners than the West.
Right-wing political parties enjoy greater support in the East: while the influence of socialism in West Germany paralleled Scandinavia in ensuring social guarantees to a broad-based middle class, many East Germans are quick to associate the left with totalitarianism and therefore the majority of East Germans unanimously support the conservatives.
There are still far more agnostics and atheists in the East than in the West. Zeit Online claims the East "remains one of the least religious places on the planet."
According to Zeit Online, there are other numerous differences between the East and the West: from specific linguistic diversities to favorite vacation destinations. However, answering the question if they are proud to be German, more than 70 percent of both easterners and westerners answer without hesitation – "yes."