Two decades after the historic fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany remains a divided nation, united only in name.
For the past fortnight a single, all-consuming subject had wolfed down every scrap of available space on radio waves, television screens, book stores and newspapers — the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“This has been such a massive case of overkill that I have the Wall haunting my dreams and whirring through my thoughts even as I work. I am sick and tired of it — the same old faces with the same banal analysis. The same images repeated ad nauseum. Today [Monday, November 9] absolutely took the cake with every single TV and radio station broadcasting live from Berlin and this evening it will be worse when all the leaders gather at the Brandenburg Gate or Checkpoint Charlie to hold hands and show off,” said Moustapha Mourad, a young management graduate of Moroccan origin.
Many want the wall re-erected
While most people have watched the countless documentaries, films and programmes devoted to the subject with varying degrees of interest, the sustained blanket coverage is beginning to pall. “This astounding amount media blitz underlines the West’s obsession with itself. There are so many other walls — the one between Israel and Palestine, between the two Koreas, in Cyprus and elsewhere but nobody talks about that! And then what about the invisible Wall that remains in peoples’ heads, hearts and minds? East Germans earn a third of what West Germans do. A recent study shows that 34 per cent of the population would like to see the wall re-erected,” said banker Christophe Pinson.
The debate in France of course has been over whether or not President Francois Mitterrand was opposed to the reunification of Germany. Many in France claim that the French President, terrified of the economic, demographic and possible future military might of a reunified Germany fought the move tooth and nail, relenting at the last minute under pressure from then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. This thesis, first insinuated by Mr. Mitterrand’s own former adviser Jacques Attali, is furiously contested by researchers like Frederic Bozo, professor of history and international relations at the Sorbonne University and author of Mitterrand, la fin de la guerre froide et l’unification allemande (Mitterrand, the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany). He claims that though Mr. Mitterrand had personal fears about the consequences of German reunification, he did not oppose it as much as try to manage it. But several specialists continue to maintain that Mr. Mitterrand’s hesitations, his refusal to stand before the breached wall hand in hand with Mr. Kohl dealt a sever blow to the post-War Franco-German bond which has been instrumental in shaping the European Union.
Two decades after the historic fall of the Wall, Germany remains a divided nation, united only in name. The initial euphoria prevented politicians and planners from correctly appreciating the real cost of reunification. According to the Institute for Economic Research (IWF), more than $1.5 trillion have been transferred from West to East since 1989.
Germans continue to pay a solidarity tax or ‘solitax’ — a 5.5 per cent surcharge on every taxpayer first introduced by Helmut Kohl. Initially the tax was to be in force just a few years but Germans are still paying. Today, the tax brings in between $15 billion and $19 billion a year and is widely criticised by politicians, economists and the general population. There is palpable and growing resentment against “paying for the East.”
On the other side, many East Germans now experience reunification as plain and simple annexation where they have been given a raw deal. They see themselves as second class citizens and display an unbridled nostalgia for the old times where housing and health care were free and jobs and holidays guaranteed.