Germany must finally take its East seriously

by Karl Müller

Since the accession of the five East German states to the jurisdiction of the West German “Grundgesetz” (Basic Law) on 3 October 1990, the West German “elites” are operating with prejudices against the people in East Germany. These stereotypes have been aggravated since the elections to the “Bundestag”. But there are also objections.

Unfortunately there are also former East Germans nursing these prejudices. One of them is Wolf Biermann, model GDR dissident in West Germany and proponent of the Iraq War in 2003. After the elections to the “Bundestag”, Biermann has accused the East Germans AfD (Alternative for Germany) voters of disregarding democracy and freedom. But this is not the issue here today. This is about an open letter, written by Angelika Barbe to Biermann in reaction to his accusation. The German journal Cicero has published this letter on 6 October 2017.
Mrs Barbe was a GDR dissident, was member of the “Bundestag” for the Social Democrats (SPD) from 1990 to 1994, was later member of the CDU and is now working for the “Sächsische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung” (Saxon State Centre for Political Education). It seems like her letter is a must read for those who wish to understand East Germany better.
In the beginning she is reporting experiences of East Germans turning towards authorities. Remember: The majority of upper level positions in East German authorities are still occupied by West Germans. They came after 1990 and they are still there. Angelika Barbe writes: “Of more than 500 letters we received from citizens in the Saxon State Centre, more than 90% complained that they received no response to their petitions, letters and inquiries, neither from mayors, representatives or heads of district authorities nor from other members of the establishment.” The logical consequence: “They do not feel accepted, feel mocked and are additionally insulted as racists.”
And Mrs Merkel, the former East German? “Chancellor Merkel lands with a helicopter […], lifts off after an hour and does not solve a single problem. In an election arena she gives a house cleaner the advice to put her meagre salary into a Riester pension [a state-subsidized private pension fund], thus proving that she is unaware of the living conditions of the citizens.”
And the (West German) political culture? One cannot speak about political culture in this country. I am missing the anti-totalitarian consensus, I am missing an open exchange regarding controversial topics, I am missing respect for dissenters. A self-appointed caste of self-appointed opinion leaders is using terms like tolerance, later reversing their meaning. Those following the press can daily watch journalists keeping silent about the truth, well aware that the population is also being informed through the internet, is communicating with friends and relatives in West Germany or is having a first-hand experience of affairs (e.g. in Berlin-Neukölln, in Duisburg-Marxloh or in Essen).”

“Since we know servitude, freedom is sacred for us!”

Mrs Barbe writes: “I understand the grief, the anger, the hopelessness, the helplessness, the powerlessness of many of my East German co-citizens in face of their political, legal and social incapacitation and I understand their election decision which was mine, too. If justice is acted in a state in two different ways, society disintegrates. Because equality before the law  must be the same for all or else it turns into injustice. The precondition for democracy and freedom is the rule of law.” And finally she cites a transparency shown in Dresden every Monday: “Since we know servitude, freedom is sacred for us!”

On 18 October 2017, the Minister-President of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, resigned from his office and also from his position as head of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) in Saxony. In the elections to the “Bundestag”, the CDU had suffered a severe defeat which made it only the second strongest party, after the AfD. On 19 October, the Deutschlandfunk interviewed the head of the CDU faction in the Saxon Landtag, Frank Kupfer. The interview contains a number of interesting passages. For example his response to a question regarding his party’s election blow in Saxony: “Sure there is also a Saxon component. But the main component, I am convinced, is the politics of the Federal Government and especially the refugee politics.” And then: “I have great respect for Minister-President Tillich’s decision to accept the political responsibility. I also hope that there will be rethinking in Berlin.”
And a little later, regarding Angela Merkel directly: “To simply stand there, to defend it all and to say I have done everything right, this is not what the voters expect from her.”

Does this mean that there is still hope that elements of political reason also arrive in mainstream? Or will such voices also be shrugged off in the coming years?    •