Mon, 16 Oct 2000

Shadows of German unification

Recently a group of Asian editors, who are members of the Asia News Network, were invited by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation to visit Germany and Brussels, days before the 10th anniversary of the German unification on Oct. 3. The following is a report from The Jakarta Post's chief editor Susanto Pudjomartono who had accepted that invitation.

BERLIN (JP): Watching former Chancellor Helmut Kohl deliver his speech on that sunny day in Berlin, one may think that he has been reborn and the days of keeping himself out of spotlight over. Since the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)'s slush fund scandal erupted last year, Helmut Kohl had consigned to a self- imposed low-profile mode, avoiding the press and public.

But on that morning of Sept. 27, with the 10th anniversary of German unification just days away, a glimmer of the old Helmut Kohl was obviously seen by the hundreds in the friendly audience at a ceremony held in the historic "House of Tears", organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is affiliated to the CDU.

No wonder Kohl got a standing ovation. He had declined to attend the official ceremony to mark the reunification anniversary in Dresden as an "observer" because he never received an invitation to speak. Understandably, Kohl used the event to vent his anger.

Calling Oct. 3, 1990 as the "happiest hours in German history", and "a gift from God to us", Kohl then launched a scathing attack against his opponents. "I do believe that large parts of the political left had long ago given up -- even betrayed -- the goal of Germany's unity and freedom", he said, clearly referring to the ruling coalition, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens.

Kohl, who was chancellor between 1982 and 1998, said prior to the Berlin Wall's fall in 1989, the SPD did little work toward the eventual reunification of the eastern and western halves of Germany.

To back his claim, Kohl, often called the architect of reunification, quoted a number of statements by SPD leaders in the 1980s. Among others, Kohl noted that Germany's current chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, had dismissed the idea of unification only months before the Wall's fall. He also quoted Joschka Fisher, now the country's foreign minister, as having called unification "a dangerous illusion" at that time.

As expected, the SPD and the Greens reacted angrily to Kohl's allegations. They accused CDU of having a "very one-sided view of history". They also said CDU's stinging attack against the ruling coalition was not for the sake of historical record but to "rehabilitate" a politician disgraced by his central role in the CDU slush-fund scandal.

Schroeder himself later quoted a statement made by Kohl in 1990 that reunification had been brought about not by one individual but by the people of East Germany.

The debate on who deserves the credit for German unification -- or blamed for not supporting it -- casted a shadow on the anniversary. It also revealed that despite the remarkable success of the unification, there are still gaps and differences which must be addressed to avoid bigger problems in the future.

One main concern is the fact that the former eastern and western halves of Germany still have sharp ideological differences despite common optimism and hope.

Recent findings from several surveys by the Allensbach Institute, a public opinion research organization, concluded that neither western Germans nor their compatriots in the east would like to return to the old system. All of them want to live together in one state.

But the surveys, wrote Elizabeth Noele-Neumann in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, show that the people from the two former different states have different priorities and different perceptions on basic values and fundamentals, such as on freedom and democracy. In fact, three out of four people who lived in the former East Germany still described themselves as East Germans.

In response to the question: Is Germany's current system worth defending?, a two-third majority of the respondents in western Germany answered "Yes", while those in the east were split into two more or less equal camps. Forty-two percent considered the system worth defending, while 38 percent expressed doubts.

At the same time, 61 percent of those living in the western part of the country and only 33 percent of those in the east, agreed with the following statement: The problems Germany now faces can be solved with democracy.

Most people blamed the 40 years of communist authoritarian rule in East Germany as the main reason for the persistent two perspectives after 10 years of reunification.

"Ten years is not enough. You need as much time to feel at home as you've been away," said foreign minister Joschka Fischer. He compared the German experience with United States of America that needed hundreds of years to heal the wounds of civil war.

"We have done a lot in 10 years but we still have big problems. We are human beings. We need experience to cross the old border", Fischer said.

For Fischer, 52, who was born in Frankfurt and lived there for 32 years, just 90 kilometers to the east, the former East Germany was "another world". There were two realities and suddenly in 1990, it was gone.

"For the people of East Germany it's a strange experience. They grew in dictatorship. We need, perhaps, one or one and a half generations before we can really be unified", he said.

The question is, why was West Germany able to shake off its 12 years of Nazi indoctrination by the mid-1950s while numerous aspects of the 40 years of communist indoctrination in East Germany appear to be still stuck after a similar period of time?

Indonesians would ask a similar question: How long do we need to be able to shake off the supremacy mindset of the military and bureaucracy, the corruption that is part of the national culture etc, after 30 years of mental imprisonment by the New Order regime? What should be done to speed up the process of reform and de-indoctrination of the New Order mentality?

Back to Germany, the feud over who deserves credit for its unification was not the only issue that overshadowed the 10th anniversary.

The result of Denmark's referendum, held on the eve of the anniversary, that rejected the plan to replace the country's national currency, the krone with the euro, the European Union's common currency, also added to the sour mood. Many observers believed that the Danes' rejection of the euro was a sort of vote of no confidence to the idea of European integration.

For Germany, one of the prime supporters of the European integration, the result of Denmark's referendum, following Switzerland's earlier refusal to join the European Union, is a blow to the dream of a unified Europe that could compete and challenge the mighty United States, and which hopefully could also wipe out the stigma of their past dark history.

But, interestingly, a number of Germans seemed relieved with the Danes' and Swiss' rejection. While acknowledging that Germany's future would depend much on a strong European Union, a prominent German journalist who preferred his name withheld, confessed that somehow he does not want to see Germany loose its "hundreds of years old identity".

"A European integration should not make us discard our strong German identity. We should go easy and not be too hasty with this European integration", he said, adding that his view is shared by many Germans.

Surely, old beliefs are hard to die, and it needs more than an earthquake, or a referendum, to shake off one's faith.