Perhaps East Germany Is Not Atavistic but Rebels against Some Extremes of the Old West
The main difference between East and West Germans 30 years after the Reunification seems to be that the former are less constained by the paradigms of political correctness.
Bashing the former East Germany is in fashion in Germany and beyond these days.
Especially now that Europe is about to celebrate, or at least mark the 30th anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
And especially since the five German provinces, which used to be the communist “German Democratic Republic”, i.e. the ones that were occupied by the Red Army and then used by Stalin to craft a Germany of his own, have kept lagging economically behind the former West Germany despite the latter having poured more than 1 trillion euros (and deutsche marks) in the former.
And especially now that modern-day East Germans have demonstrated a willingness to vote far-right: with the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) recently becoming the second largest political party in the East German provinces of Brandenburg and Saxony.
Truth be told, the population of the former communist East Germany – which became part of the European Union, NATO, and the West immediately after the end of the communist regime by virtue of re-unifying with West Germany – has been spared the worst bashing and insults that the rest of the Eastern Europeans from the former Soviet Bloc have been subjected to in Western media for the past three decades despite the fact that they have also returned to the West (a return formalized by the EU and NATO accessions over a decade ago).
Yet, with the strong popularity of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party in the former East Germany, the former East Germans are increasingly being targeted by the mainstream media in the old West, with ultraliberals, pseudo-liberals, leftists, cultural Marxists, and political correctness crusaders now unleashing hell upon the ex-communist part of Germany.
In that narrative, the East Germans are portrayed as ungrateful, vicious ex-commies deliberately not wishing to integrate and not succumbing to the dominant Old West ideology of political correctness, identity politics, and “multiculturalism” (which is an insipid kind of uniculturalism and uniformity if you dare take an honest, closer look at it), all garnished and reinforced by the temptations of unbridled consumerism.
An article by a German journalist that appeared in The New York Times after the solid results of the Alternative for Germany party in East Germany’s Brandenburg and Saxony has been an eloquent illustration of that sentiment.
Aptly entitled, “30 Years after Reunification, Germany Is Still Two Countries”, the article in essence accuses the East Germans of sins such as acting out against the large-scale migration of people from the Middle East and Africa to Germany championed by Chancellor Angela Merkel back in 2015.
According to the article, while “Germans across the country reacted angrily” to Merkel’s decision to “allow more than a million refugees”, “the backlash in the former East Germany was especially toxic.” It adds that in East Germany “the scar” from the 2015 migrant crisis “remains in the form of rabid support for the far-right, xenophobic Alternative for Germany party.”
The article then says that “three decades of buried rage and fear have surfaced in a toxic, xenophobic nationalism” and that there has been an “upsurge in anger in the east”, questions the desire of the majority of the East Germans back in 1989 to have done away with communism, and concludes that the West Germans and the East Germans don’t have the same culture and history, and that the reunification is still a long way to go – the East Germans’ hostile attitudes towards mass immigration from the Middle East and Africa apparently being the major criteria for that.
It is entirely possible that the former East Germans might be “toxic” xenophobes who enjoy demonstrating “rabid” support for far-right parties, I can’t say for sure.
But perhaps, as they have been through a lot, one should give them the benefit of the doubt, and instead at least theoretically question the rationalization of the overarching, often totalitarian paradigms of political correctness, identity politics, and unicultural “multiculturalism” that have reigned supreme in the old West for several decades now.
I would not allege that these paradigms are evil or don’t work in themselves, or that they weren’t informed by good intentions back when they were developed. They are the product of their time, they might have benefitted Western societies at least to some extent. They might have worked fine, and they might have been perfect for, say, pre-2008 Europe, or pre-2001 United States. Or when a traditional European nation-state was turning into an immigrant-welcoming society gradually and accepting small number of migrants that it could absorb and integrate with relative ease even if the newcomers’ identity and culture happened to be entirely different from its own.
But so much has changed so rapidly in today’s world, economically, demographically, and militarily, in particular in the decade since 2008 that perhaps these paradigms are at least partly outdated, and not quite suitable for Europe anymore.
Perhaps they are no longer a source of strength but a source of self-imposed weakness for the West, and its European pillar in particular.
Because, as Grandpa Marx shrewdly but notoriously observed all the way back in mid-19th century Europe, “quantitative accumulation leads to qualitative transformation”. The self-proclaimed “Cultural Marxists” should be able to understand that.
Heck, it was 2010 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that the German model of “multi-kulti”, the German multicultural society, had “utterly failed” and didn’t work. As far as I remember, she was referring to the fact that large numbers of second or third-generation ethnic Turks in Germany tend to live in encapsulation and barely speak enough German to begin with. Perhaps many people in Germany, both East and West, are rightfully enraged that instead of building upon this conclusion of hers, and maybe figuring out some ways to fix what was broken, Merkel complicated the picture further back in 2015 with her open-door policy to Middle Eastern migrants.
So perhaps the East Germans should be excused for feeling the way they do. After all, they didn’t grow up in the old West where all these doctrines developed gradually overtime. With the German Reunification, they got tossed into the deep waters of political correctness right from the start. And it is not that hard to understand how for an outsider such paradigms might seem utterly irrational and not making much sense.
And that’s not even discussing the fact that political correctness and identity politics have assumed totalitarian forms in the West to the extent of imposing strict censorship. Try questioning their norms, just for the sake of doubt. You will likely be ripped to pieces, hopefully at least metaphorically. Lots of people in the West need reminding that anything that leads to censorship cannot be good, and is anti-democratic.
The East Germans and the other Eastern Europeans from post-communist Europe know that best. After all, they suffered for decades under a very brutal oppression and censorship imposed by Soviet-style communism. So perhaps many of them are disillusioned now as they are encountering a political correctness totalitarianism of sorts and the respective kind of censorship even though they have now rejoined the supposedly fully democratic West.
By the way, the best most eloquent criticism of the excesses or extremes of political correctness and identity politics in the West that I have encountered come from Soviet dissident and human rights activists Vladimir Bukovsky – a hero who fought totalitarianism in the East, and who has easily recognized its ugly head popping up in the West. His speeches, books, and presentations are highly recommended reading if one is interested in objective views coming from a true democrat who suffered through concentration camps for his beliefs.
Perhaps instead of bashing the people of the former East Germany for expressing their anger by voting for a far-right party, the leftist-liberal (whatever that is) establishments in the West must take an honest look at themselves and their own paradigms, which seem to be crumbling under the weight of “quantitative accumulation”.
Perhaps Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School aren’t the best advisers for the West of 2020, or are no better than Karl Marx is.
Perhaps censorship is always a bad idea, even when it is observed for the sake of the lofty goal of not hurting someone’s feelings, or supposedly trying to making up for imperialist and colonialist guilt.
Perhaps a return to classical liberalism is warranted, in which someone’s identity wasn’t the most overarching concern.
The East Germans are no different from the West Germans despite their different histories up until 30 years ago. There are strong reasons to believe the same sentiments are brewing in the West German provinces as well – for example, consider this recent case of an official of the neo-Nazi NDP party becoming a town council head in a West German town. The main difference seems to be that the East German tend to not let themselves be shamed so much into accepting what they feel is not right, and are prepared to act out more openly.
So perhaps declaring that the West Germans and the East Germans are not the same people because the former resent mass immigration to their country quietly, while the latter resent it openly by voting for the far right isn’t a very insightful analysis of Germany 30 years after its Reunification.
The most important thing right now for Germany and everybody in Europe and the West is that the EU survives and grows stronger as a truly democratic supranational entity of the people of Europe – in the face of existential challenges coming from rival world great powers, terrorists, and, most importantly, climate change – thus ultimately benefiting people all over the globe.
For that to happen, many people’s feelings will probably be hurt. Hopefully that will be all. And that really shouldn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t matter that much. What matters is to defend democracy and democratic integrity for there is no other way forward.
At the end of the day, though, the key lesson stemming from the far right’s popularity in East Germany remains: Don’t want the ugly far right to rise and take over Europe (once again)? Then don’t feed into it. Instead of vilifying those who act out now, giving you badly needed wake-up calls, do away with the prerequisites that strengthen the far right because it is ready to devour all in its way, and it can snowball really quickly. It did just that barely 80 years ago.
Ivan Dikov is the author of the books “Got Nukes, Mr. Dictator? You Hold On to Them!”, “Madman Diplomacy: Is North Korea Trying to Bring Back Regime Change?”, and “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together”, among others.
(Banner image: Guvo59, Pixabay)