1. Archive

German anniversaries point out growing troubles

At the beginning of the month, Germany celebrated three anniversaries, and all of them were troubled.

One was the second anniversary of the reunification of capitalist West Germany with the formerly communist East Germany on Oct. 3, 1990, and it now appears that Chancellor Helmut Kohl bit off almost more than even Germany can chew in less than a generation.

The second was Kohl's 10th anniversary in office. Kohl is now a ponderous 62, and his exuberance at being the chancellor who restored German unity has long since disappeared, along with his smile.

The third was the 50th anniversary of the V-2 rocket, the precursor of those that carried man into space.

The catch was that the V-2 was first of all a terror weapon directed at Britain in World War II. And when the government tried to make the anniversary an official celebration, the howls of British protest added to a new low in postwar relations between the two countries provoked by the recent devaluation of the pound.

In the past two years, Germany has again emerged as the most powerful nation in Europe, the one around which the continent's economy turns. But the mood is one of angst, that black German feeling of depression and uncertainty about the future that has cast a shadow over the nation's postwar success.

"We are quite at a loss what to do," says Stephanie Wahl of the Bonn Institute for Social and Economic Research as she looks at the situation in the former East Germany. In the euphoric days of reunification, Kohl almost airily predicted that what was East Germany would catch up with the prosperous West Germany in five years _ and without raising West German taxes.

In the meantime no one, he said, would be worse off than before. This was his equivalent of George Bush's "read my lips."

With a nearly stagnant economy that may be slipping into recession, West Germany will nevertheless pour 180-billion deutsche marks (about $140-billion) into the east this year and faces doing the same for the next 10 years to bring its infrastructure and factories up to standards in the west.

This annual figure nearly equals the value of the east's own output and for comparison is more than a third of the annual budget of France.

Unemployment in the east runs from 40 to 50 percent in some areas. While some speak of 10 years for the east of Germany to catch up, others believe it will be a generation.

Meanwhile, youths shouting "Heil Hitler" are attacking hostels housing foreign refugees or desecrating Jewish monuments somewhere in Germany almost nightly.

High interest rates to combat the inflation brought on by deficits to pay for the remaking of the former East Germany have made it almost impossible for Germany's neighbors to lower their rates to try to fight off recession.

In that sense, not only Germany but virtually the entire 12-nation European Community is paying for German reunification. Their resentment is showing.

Finally, Germany is suffering not only for its mistakes but for its virtues in throwing open its doors to refugees from everywhere.

Some 300,000 came last year, and this year's total may be as high as 500,000. They have now become scapegoats for the youthful neo-Nazis, who have made their presence a burning political issue that many use to try to explain the violence.

Yet so far, Kohl's government and the mainstream parties have been unable to agree either on how to limit immigration or whether new laws are needed to crack down on the violence.

While the number of the youthful hooligans is small _ police estimate no more than 4,500 _ they are being used by neo-Nazi and right-wing extremists. Add the fact that in some places onlookers have been cheering them on and you get twitches of fear all over Europe that begin to overshadow Germany's exemplary postwar past.

"No other country has had to cope with so many crises at the same time as we have," Wahl said. "Unification, recession and immigration."

With all this money pouring in, parts of eastern Germany look like big construction sites. Roads, bridges and tunnels are being rebuilt along with the telephone system and power stations all several generations outdated.

In the past two years, the Treuhandanstat, the organization in charge of privatizing the east German economy, has sold off or closed an estimated three-quarters of the some 8,500 enterprises and 25,000 small businesses it inherited. The social cost is illustrated by the fact that of the 4-million persons they employed, nearly half the active population, at least 700,000 have lost their jobs. The active population itself is about half what it was.

What makes the economic picture bleaker is that while wages are going up, under the deal the government gave east Germans _ their wages are now about three-fourths of the level in the west _ worker productivity is going down.

Unit labor costs are double those in western Germany, which is not exactly the way to attract the investment that east Germany needs.

"Many said from the beginning that there was no reason to create more production in the east, and it's true," Wahl said.

"There has to be an end somewhere in the transfer of money. Some east Germans seem to feel that they can just sit there and gold will come from the west. Up to now, production in the east just doesn't pay. Few firms are in the black."

For all that, most analysts agree that the psychological problem is even bigger. One wall between the two Germanys has come down only to be replaced by another _ a wall of misunderstanding between "Wessies" and "Ossies" separated by more than 40 years.

Ossies, those in the east, think they are being treated as second-class citizens. Wessies are tired of pumping their tax money into the east when it could be used at home.

President Richard von Weizsaecker has called on west Germans to forego any real increase in their living standard for the next five years in order to finance the transformation in the east _ a call that will go down hard to west German workers used to yearly wage increases.

One of the last pleas by former Chancellor Willy Brandt, who died of cancer last week at age 78, was the same plea for national solidarity and sacrifice.

Brandt was mayor of Berlin when the Wall went up. As chancellor it was he who made the first opening to the communist east and paved the way for a detente in East-West relations. A Social Democrat, he was one of the great figures of postwar Germany, perhaps equaled only by the first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, a Christian Democrat. Together they reestablished German respectability after World War II.

Kohl is a candidate to join them. His great achievement was reunification, but it is not complete. And for many Germans, he concealed the cost they now have to pay. His term of office runs until 1994, but there have been mutterings against him even in his own party.

Kohl's vision is of a united Germany integrated into a united Europe, a European Germany rather than a German Europe. In pursuit of it, he was one of the main architects of the treaty signed last December in the Dutch city of Maastricht for a political and economic union in which the deutsche mark will merge into a single European currency.

The deutsche mark is Germany's most prized possession and one that Germans fear to lose. When the treaty came before the Bundestag last week, he was forced to agree that before it disappears into a European currency, parliament will have another look.

The deadline is now 1999, but few think that will now be kept. However much it is denied, Kohl's compromise gives Germany an unofficial opt out little short of the kind that was formally written into the treaty for Britain.

"I am quite sure that the chancellor will not resign in 1994," government spokesman Dieter Vogel says. "He will run in the elections, and I'm sure he will win."

Between now and then, it is a long time.