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Vol 3, No 14
23 April 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 14 April 2001

Jens Boysen

View today's updated headlines from Germany


A difficult relationship

The federal board of the post-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) has published a statement this week in which, albeit with minimal emotional input, the party comes close to presenting a veritable apology of the 1946 forced unification in the Soviet Zone of Occupation (later to become the German Democratic Republic) of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) with the then Communist Party of Germany (KPD), producing the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) that ruled East Germany all the way from 1949 to 1989.

After the German re-unification of 1990, the PDS (the name adopted by the SED after being expelled from the East Berlin corridors of power—keeping, however, most of its huge property) kept justifying, in true Marxist historical interpretation, the act of 1946 as a natural process of the "unification of the German working class". This hinted at an age-old Communist accusation against the Social Democrats who, in 1918 and 1919, had decided to stop the Socialist revolution then under way in Germany in favour of a "bourgeois" parlamentarian democracy.


Historical fratricide has not been forgotten

Ever since, Social Democrats and Communists have been blaming each other for the victory of Weimar Germany's "right-wing reaction" and the final takeover by the National Socialists in 1933. The (limited) co-operation between the two banned parties in the German resistance against Hitler could not effectively bridge their widely differing views on freedom and democracy.

When, in mid-1945, the Communists took power in East Germany with the support of the Soviet Union, many Social Democrats remained—next to Nazis but next to liberal and conservative prisoners as well—in the concentration camps that were then "re-used" by the Soviet occupation forces. Many of them ended up in long imprisonment, and several hundred Social Democrats perished in those camps.

The West German Social Democrats, while initially critical of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's Western integration—which they saw as "cementing the German partition"—retained, at the same time, their position as even more ardent anti-Communists than the conservative forces ruling the Federal Republic in its first twenty years.


A new start in the Berlin Republic?

Although after 1969 the West German SPD continously sought to enter a "dialogue" with the East Berlin rulers, the ideological gap could not be bridged. To the present day, any "Red-Red" co-operation—at least at the federal level—is officially off limits as far as party policy is concerned. And this is where most observers locate the motivation behind the recent (still rather half-hearted) attempt of a rapprochement on the part of the PDS.

In Berlin, the PDS is openly striving for a left-wing umbrella coalition with the SPD and the Greens, to end the forty-year rule of the Christian Democrats. A "Red-Red" coalition has already been acting for some time in the northeast land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which at the time incurred a real "battle of faiths" within the SPD. Now, nobody even thinks about it anymore. And the ambition of the "Democratic Socialists" goes even further to the federal level, where they hope to one day replace the Greens as partners of the Social Democrats.

They are pinning their hopes on the growing weakness of the Greens (mostly West German "bourgeois" left-wingers) and the likewise growing discontent of a large part of the East Germans who already vote "pink" (ie more "red" than "red") in growing numbers, out of deep disappointment with the first decade of post-unification politics.


Free Democrats emulate the Greens

Guido Westerwelle, federal chairman- to-be of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), has already found a successor to himself as party secretary general. East German (and female) Cornelia Pieper is to fill an attractivity gap with the electorate and to secure a loyal party board next to Westerwelle, who has just replaced long-serving chairman Wolfgang Gerhardt himself through a veritable coup d'etat.

Pieper, who by profession is an interpreter specializing in Polish and Russian, stems from the city of Halle&—as does fromer foreign minister and living unification legend Hans Dietrich Genscher, who "found" her in 1990 and promoted her through the (thin) ranks of the small but influential liberal party up to the federal party board, where she has been a deputy chairperson until now.

It remains to be seen whether her likeable appearance will help the party's big business image and allow them to widen its base of "steady voters" to include more of East Germany and the female electorate.


Poor neighbours are seen as a threat

The Saxon Minister of European Affairs, Stanislaw Tillich, has warned that the East German länder might lose their present "target-1" status regarding EU structural funds as soon as the Central European countries enter the Union, because the latter will lower the absolute figures for the entry threshold to the structural funds due to their economic backwardness.

The minister urged the federal government to exert pressure in the Council of Ministers in the same way certain other governments do in order to ensure continued support at the same level for East Germany after enlargement.

Jens Boysen, 20 April 2001

Moving on:


Der Spiegel
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Die Zeit

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