Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Saying the unthinkable

President Horst Köhler has finally said what most Germans (at least in the western länder) have been muttering for a while: the differences between the various regions in Germany are too great to be bridged by endless subsidies.

In an interview with the magazine Focus, President Köhler said that trying to bridge the existing gap between east and west (as well as north and south he added more for politeness’ sake than anything else) will saddle the younger generation with impossible debts.

Not too many people disagreed with that, though there were several comments suggesting that this is not a good time to raise issus of that kind. In a week's time there are regional elections in two eastern states: Brandenburg and Saxony. The Social-Democrats are expected to lose heavily and the Christian Democrats are wondering uneasily how well they might fare.

Two extremist nationalist parties, the German People's Union, or DVU, and the National Democratic Party, or NPD, who have been exploiting the high unemployment and blaming foreigners for it, are likely to increase their support. The real gainers will be the extremists on the other side, the former Communist Party, now Party of Democratic Socialists (PDS).

The eastern states have seen a revival of the Monday demonstrations against Chancellor Schröder's proposed welfare reforms. Originally these demonstrations, back in the days of East Germany, were in opposition to the totalitarian tyranny of the DDR. Now they are against certain aspects of freedom and are supported by the former Communists as well as the present-day nationalists.

A recent opinion poll showed that one in four in the western part of the country and one in eight in the eastern part would like to see the Berlin wall back in place. What the east Germans would gain from that is anybody's guess. Perhaps ignorance of reality. But in the west there is real resentment of the burden the ossies have become. There had been some hope that the Monday demonstrations would spread across the country but this did not happen. The fact that they remained the preserve of the east has increased western resentment. Though not so high, there is unemployment there as well and the country's economic problems are largely ascribed to the hasty reunification a decade ago.

As the International Herald Tribune put it in an article yesterday:

Köhler's plain-speaking interview confirmed what a special government-appointed commission recently concluded on the state of the East German economy and how difficult it will be to bring it up to West German levels. The report said the massive injection of more than E1.25 trillion, or $1.5 trillion, into the Eastern states since 1990 has not created jobs or helped to create a new manufacturing base.
Other politicians contained themselves with saying that the President was entering dangerous waters and warned against too much discussion of this unpalatable subject.

Nevertheless, it would be worth the rest of the EU's while to pay attention to the fact that simple subsidization does not solve the problem of economic backwardness.

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