German Unification Are We One People?

A study commissioned by the federal commissioner for eastern affairs gauges the opinions of people in both the east and west of Germany more than 25 years after unification.
Police guarding the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin. Source. Getty Images


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the attitudes of many people in the former East Germany have come closer to those of citizens living in what used to be called West Germany. That’s according to a study from Halle, a city in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany).

“Are We One People?” is the title of the investigation commissioned by Germany’s commissioner for eastern affairs, Iris Gleicke.

The study brought up again the controversial term of the "unconstitutional state" in reference to the former GDR.

Opinions in the ex-East Germany are divided about this classification. Seventy percent of them say the GDR was a dictatorship, but only 46 percent would consider their former homeland to be an “unconstitutional state,” according to the study by the Center for Social Research Halle.

Ms. Gleicke said, “A dictatorship is indeed an unconstitutional state, that is part of what defines it.”

On the question of whether foreigners should leave Germany when jobs become more scarce, a higher share of the population in the former East agreed.

Many in the former East fear they would devalue part of their own personal histories if they were to agree the GDR should be declared a synonym for injustice, the social scientists said.

Commissioner Ms. Gleicke said it was remarkable that 77 percent of people in the ex-East Germany believe reunification was personally advantageous to them, and 62 percent in the West feel that way too.

“In many cases, this positive point of view may be due to professional or familial considerations,” the study’s authors said. “But even more, the high figure points toward an identification with German unity that is also widespread in the western areas of the federal republic.”

Video: Berlin now and then.

During the 1970s, only about 20 percent of GDR citizens considered themselves to be opponents of the regime, and the figure had doubled by 1989, according to the study.

Today, the opinions in the former East and West are no longer dramatically different on many topics.

On the question about whether foreigners should leave Germany when jobs become more scarce, a higher share of the population in the East has traditionally answered with “yes” ― but that divergence has recently equaled out.

For a long time anti-Semitic attitudes were more widespread in the West than the East. Here as well, hardly any difference now exists between the two.

The survey also shows that Germans in East and West have come closer together in terms of trust toward institutions ― although people in the East still tend to be more skeptical. People have the most faith in the police, followed by courts and public administration. The Bundestag, which is part of Germany's federal legislature, ranks in the middle.

Politicians are held in lowest regard in both East and West. The E.U.-related European Parliament does only slightly better. “That is quite a slap in the face,” said Ms. Gleicke about that distrust.


This article originally appeared in daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected].