Berlin – One of the most important questions is asked right at the beginning: A journalist wants to know why the Federal Government’s Eastern Commissioner, Marco Wanderwitz, is still talking about the “new federal states”.
Wanderwitz seems to have expected the question. He replies for a long time, saying that it is too difficult to list all the individual new countries by their names, “because there are many”. He understands that the formulation is the goal of critical considerations, but he also does not want to make a secret of the fact that he is not a friend of the term “East German”. And the new countries are just newer and younger. And “at the end of the day” no “more suitable collective term” had occurred to “everyone together”.
It is Tuesday, July 7th, 2021, almost 31 years to the day after the D-Mark was introduced in the former GDR, the beginning of an economic decline that is unparalleled in history. Companies went bankrupt, institutes closed, millions of people became unemployed and emigrated to the West. And the Federal Government’s Eastern Commissioner presented the new report on the status of German unity, spoke about “suitable collective terms” and had other difficulties in finding the right words.
Catching up, catching up, finishing
Perhaps it is due to the shit storm he got into after recently blaming the “dictatorship socialization” of East Germans for their alleged incapacity for democracy in a FAZ interview. But maybe also because it is a topic that has long been hoped that it will resolve itself if you rebuild the ailing cities and reassure the population often enough that everything is fine.
Wanderwitz also tried this in the federal press conference, stepped tidily to the lectern, apologized for the “small delay”, in the federal cabinet had “been discussed lively” and then announced that “substantial progress had been made”. With German unity. However, he has to put that into perspective: Of course there are still differences, of course the new federal states have to cope with the challenges from a weaker position, and yes, the structurally weakest regions are “still mainly in the new federal states”.
Then there is good news again: At 7.3 percent, unemployment is “only” 1.7 percent higher than in the old federal states. The economic power in the east has meanwhile increased to 81 percent of the national average. Some new countries have “caught up significantly”, so one can no longer speak of a nationwide structural weakness. A mere differentiation between East and West would no longer bring any gain in knowledge, says Wanderwitz. It is no longer about “catching up, catching up or finishing”, the yardstick can no longer be the condition of the former GDR in 1989, but the condition of all regions in Germany.
The Eastern Commissioner can also report good news from the Corona period. The new countries would have suffered less than the old. In Brandenburg there was the smallest decline in gross domestic product in 2020, at 3.2 percent. The Eastern Commissioner sees this as “proof of how solid the economic structures in the new federal states are now”, but then mentions that this is also due to the lower export share in the new federal states and “the industrial cores with a high export share were particularly affected “, Which” by far majority “would be in the old federal states. That doesn’t sound so good anymore.
So it goes back and forth. Wanderwitz proclaims: “Cardinal points no longer matter” and three minutes later shouts: “Ladies and gentlemen, the establishment of German unity remains an ongoing task!” As if he didn’t really know what to think of this unity report But above all from his bad-tempered East German compatriots.
The Center for Social Research in Halle recently investigated their emotional state and found that the living conditions in the new and old federal states have converged strongly, but in the new federal states there are “consistently more skeptical, more distant and also a more critical basic attitude towards politics and democracy” give. In some cases there is the feeling of a “collective disadvantage”, a third see themselves as “second class citizens”, explains the Eastern Commissioner. In the West, adds Wanderwitz, a quarter of those surveyed also say so.
He seems a little excited now. You can tell by the fact that he takes more breaks. It is the topic on which the dictatorship socialization slipped out the other day. The Chancellor even reprimanded him for this. And maybe that is the reason why Wanderwitz is now saying that we should talk more about the causes of dissatisfaction. “We cannot or must not accept a social drifting apart.” He speaks of the future center, which he wants to “get on its feet” with Matthias Platzeck. “We are expecting a lot of positive impulses, dialogue, processing of things that have not yet been fully processed from the nineties and 2000s.” It is not too late for this center, says Wanderwitz. And that it would have been good if you had the idea for it 15 years earlier. It looks as if it has been purified, but then it makes another caveat: The reappraisal applies not only to the new countries, but also to Central and Eastern Europe, where similar upheavals have happened.
The tricky word “dictatorship socialized”
He leaves out some topics entirely. For example the study by the Otto Brenner Foundation, which states that East Germans hardly read the “supra-regional West German quality press”. When asked why there are so few East German executives in important positions, he speaks of a “very nice recommendation for action” and “East German talent promotion”, pointing out that the federal states are responsible for filling the university rectors and not the federal government and ES yes, there is also the reverse phenomenon: trained East Germans in management positions in the west. “Only nobody talks about it. That is a big flaw in the discussion. ”Wanderwitz is completely with himself again. He can even think of a few East Germans in executive positions. The President of Bafa (Federal Office for Economic Affairs and External Control) comes from Görlitz, the head of the new volunteer and engagement foundation from Magdeburg. His conclusion: “We are not yet where we belong, but we have achieved more.”
In the end, the tricky word comes up: “Dictatorship socialized”. Wanderwitz does not say it by himself, he is asked if he continues to stand by it. Yes, he says, he couldn’t think of a better one. He also criticizes the voting behavior of East Germans again. Whoever votes for AfD is voting right-wing extremists, he says. He does not accept the argument that there are also protest voters. The diversity of votes in the democratic parties is simply not small. “I find it difficult to say that this is not a rejection of democracy.”
When asked whether he might not increase the anger of voters with statements like these, Wanderwitz replied: As a thank you for right-wing extremist voter behavior, the answer could not be a particularly loving address.
At the end he gets up, puts on the mask and leaves the room, the report on German unity in hand, as if he wanted to hold on to it. One of the journalists had asked him if, in view of the good results, it was not finally time to abolish the office of the Eastern Commissioner in the coming legislative period.