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Vol 3, No 1
8 January 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 1 January 2001

Jens Boysen


Is East Germany on the brink of disaster?

In a letter to fellow East German Social Democrats, Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse has expressed his worries for the socio-economic situation in the five new länder (provinces). He fears that any further deterioration in East Germany could lead to a lasting cultural withdrawal from West Germany and rising nationalism.

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Thierse blamed the deterioration in the East on the dramatic deconstruction of East German industrial potential, especially in the field of research and development. As a consequence, there has been a constant brain drain of young skilled people to the western parts of Germany and to Berlin. Those who remained were the older and less skilled parts of the population. As a result, the regions lost both their ability to compete economically and their demographic sustainability.


Agony of a Baltic paradise

Indeed, the poorest German land, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, has suffered the most from negative developments since 1989. Always agrarian and thinly populated, it has gone down to an all-time demographic and economic low. Its acclaim as one of Germany's most beautiful holiday regions allows only a few people to make a permanent living. Long sought-after establishment of new industries has not materialised, due to the emigration of the skilled labour force.

The region does indeed have a skilled labour force in the sectors of nuclear science and engineering from the times of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Bismarck's now famous statement that on Doomsday he would go to Mecklenburg where everything happens after a delay of a hundred years, has become a sad truth.

The most promising remedy for the battered region could come from a neighbour—the Poles. Poland is working towards EU accession, and Szczecin, the capital of the region (also the capital of German Pomerania until 1945), is growing into one of the boomtowns of the new Polish market democracy. This old partnership could be reinitiated, which would draw Germans across the eastern border. This border is likely to become less significant when it becomes an internal EU border.

Eastern borders not yet dismantled

However, dreams of collective happiness in Mitteleuropa will come true at best only after that long process of Realpolitik known as EU enlargement. In a speech delivered in the Bavarian town of Weiden, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called on his EU colleagues to agree to a seven-year ban on the free movement of labour for Poles (and possibly other eastern neighbours of Germany) within the EU single market.

With this move, Schröder clearly sought to address German fears of competition from skilled Eastern labour. These labourers are ready to work for considerably lower wages than Germans.

Polish politicians have sharply criticised the Chancellor's statement. They say it is an unnecessary obstacle before Poland can enjoy the full rights of EU membership. Moreover, it could poison the atmosphere between Germany and Poland, and this co-operation is crucial for the enlargement process.


Irrationality and Realpolitik

The "nightmare of a Slavic flood" has been a constant motive in the last century of German psychological history. However, Schröder is known for a political rationality which borders at times on cold-heartedness. He is rather unlikely to endorse such irrational attitudes. Instead, his statement has quickly been interpreted in Berlin and in the other EU capitals as a way to gain manoeuvring space for the forthcoming "serious" phase of accession negotiations. And one issue where Germany's bargaining power will have to be used has been brought up by the Poles themselves: the Polish claim to an eighteen-year ban on real estate acquisitions in Poland by "foreigners."

The "foreigners" in mind are effectively German entrepreneurs and private persons seeking to buy land, either to establish companies or to spend the last years of their lives in the formerly German territories where they were born. The Polish fear of the "rich Germans buying us out" is the equivalent of the German fear of the "Slavic flood." Fortunately, neither is likely to survive the mills of the Brussels negotiations.


Mad cows of Germany

After years of arrogant finger-pointing, German government agencies, farmers and agricultural lobbyists have been haunted since December 2000 by the BSE disease which has been discovered in more and more of the 16 German regions.

About half a dozen cases have been stated by the regional veterinary services. The fact that some of the farms in question are managed in a "biodynamic" fashion, ie allegedly without the use of industrially manufactured nutritional products was regarded as especially disturbing. This has led experts to suspect that there are more ways the disease can be spread than was previously assumed.


Joschka Fischer has violent past

In a recent interview, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer admitted to having used violence against police officers during street fights in the 1970s.

The man who today is respected as the principled representative of united Germany and a credible champion of a "moral diplomacy" was a so-called Sponti in the 1970s: a militant member of the radical left-wing Ausserparlamentarische Opposition (Opposition outside of parliament). This is the name given to the plethora of anti-state groups which attacked the Social Democratic government for being too compromising on issues of societal reform after 1969.

In 1973 and 1974, Fischer took part in several violent demonstrations and subsequent street fights with the police in Frankfurt am Main. In the end of the 1970s, Fischer turned towards non-violent political activity in the ranks of the newly founded Greens. He is their most prominent member today.

A prisoner of the past?

The Police Officers' Union has called on Fischer to formally apologise to the members of the police force for the use of violence, which "cannot be justified in any situation." Members of the main opposition parties, the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Unions, have called for Fischer to resign. According to Bavarian Interior Minister Günter Beckstein (CSU), it would be "unbearable" for Germany to be further represented by a "former criminal."

Fischer has rejected such claims, saying that he was now aware of his formerly "wrong approach to political issues," but says that today "he is a different person."

Jens Boysen, 5 January 2001

Moving on:


ZDF Online News (Public German TV)
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Frankfurter Rundschau
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Der Spiegel
Die Zeit
CNN Europe

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