German unity is a success. Although there are still differences between East and West, a large majority is satisfied, living in freedom, prosperity and peace. Germany has become more multicultural and is firmly anchored in Europe.
Differences and similarities
30 years after German reunification, people in East and West have one thing in common: they are mostly satisfied. This is the result of a study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research on behalf of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”. If one compares the situation in Germany with other countries, there are also good reasons for this. Here people live in peace, prosperity, freedom, with functioning institutions and a high quality of life, which is due not least to successful German unification, but also to no less successful European integration. But the same study also shows that, in addition to the positive basic mood, there are many differences, which are objectively reflected in figures – but which also show subjectively and emotionally that we are not dealing with a homogenous people. One example of this is the differences in fears: In the West, people fear above all the consequences of climate change, in the East immigration and crime. This is not merely an expression of personal priorities, but has multi-layered causes and points to different perceptions of the problem and expectations.
There have always been regional and cultural differences – but measured against the promise of the Basic Law to ensure equal opportunities in life, there is still much to be done. This concerns material and status differences such as career opportunities or income and wealth development – but also overcoming the feeling of being adequately represented in the political system and not feeling like second-class citizens. It took a long time in the old Federal Republic to understand that the integration of immigrants – including 12 million so-called guest workers and their families, asylum seekers, late repatriates or EU citizens who made use of their rights to freedom of movement – not only means adapting those who moved in, but that this is also a task for all Germans. Countries in Europe with more homogeneous societies and without such integration experience are today much more reserved when it comes to helping people in need and European solidarity.
In the case of German reunification, it also took time before it was understood that it was not enough to extend the West German system to the East and provide extensive financial transfers, but that it was also a matter of participation and identity for the 16 million new German citizens.
Germany in Europe
In Europe, the unified Germany worked for the reunification of the continent of Europe, which was divided during the Cold War, and profited greatly from the EU’s eastern expansion in 2004. Since the 2006 Football World Cup, Germany appears more hospitable and attractive. As a result, not only more tourists came, but also hundreds of thousands of partly highly qualified workers – mainly from the EU, but also from other parts of the world. This has contributed to prosperity, has not allowed a society with a low birth rate to shrink, has significantly increased the proportion of foreigners and has made society as a whole more multicultural. In 2014 a visibly diverse German national team won the World Cup. Starting in 2015, the country demonstrated a culture of welcome when it welcomed large numbers of people from Asia and Africa who sought protection in Europe from war, violence and expulsion. Germany welcomed the largest number of people from all EU countries and is committed to a responsible European immigration policy.
Setbacks and responsibility
But what shapes the image of Germany abroad at least as much as the positive developments listed above is the reporting of terrorism, forms of xenophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic violence – in both verbal and physical form. The entry of the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) into state parliaments and the German Bundestag is also a recurring theme. This is accompanied by a temptation – in view of Germany’s past and the responsibility arising from the crimes of National Socialism – to draw simplistic conclusions. Thus a gloomy picture of Germany is painted, which is reinforced by negative prognoses.
Every attack and every racist act is one too many. Inhuman demonstrations and speeches are repugnant and do not belong in a free society that places the protection of human dignity at the beginning of its constitution. Despite all the bad news: Compared to other countries and its own past, German society today is not in general more extreme right-wing, polarized, insecure or unstable: Social science studies and crime statistics prove the opposite. This is not reason enough to celebrate 30 years of German unity complacently: because there is much to improve, much to lose and much to defend. Probably life in Germany in 2020 will not be what most East Germans imagined when they took to the streets in 1989. But if I, as a German or a foreigner, could choose when to live in this country, I would choose the present and not historical time – even if we tend to glorify the past in retrospect. In many ways it may not be good today: but neither for me and other Germans in East and West nor for migrants was it better in the past. And this is an expression of successful unity and integration, which is not complete, can also fail and therefore requires further efforts from everyone.
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