Tuesday, November 09, 2004

November 9th, 1989

A few weeks ago I visited a colleague in his class to speak (together with another colleague) about life in a communist country. Before we started our talk the students and I watched a movie about Ceaucescu and the Rumanian revolution of 1989. In this movie we also saw coverage from November 9th, 1989 - the day the wall came down. It sent a shiver up my spine. I still remember that day and the following day well.

November 9th, 1989 I was a teenager in Leipzig/ East Germany. I was 13 years old and my parents were in the middle of their rather ugly divorce.
November 9th was a Friday (if I remember correctly). It was a friend's birthday. So we had a great party. Played and laughed, had nice food. The friend lived in the same house as we did, just a floor above us. At 9pm the party was over and my sister and I went home. We saw mom in front of the TV looking at the pictures with disbelief. The wall was open. People could freely go to West Berlin. People could travel to West Germany. We thought, this is not gonna last, this is just gonna be for the weekend, then they close the wall again.
The 10th of November was spent entirely in front of the TV. Seeing the kilometers of Trabis and Wartburgs rolling West, people dancing on the wall. It seemed surreal. We were in disbelief and excited at the same time. Would we be able to go to West Berlin or West Germany ourselves?
The wall stayed open. Not just that weekend. It stayed open the week after, and the month after and the years after. The weeks after were characterized by reports of people traveling to the West, very crowded trains. We too went to West Berlin. Must have been late November or early December that we went. Mom, Grandma, my sister and me. The train was packed. It took forever to get to Berlin. And then we arrived, crossed over to West Berlin without anyone stopping us. We drove with one of the double decker busses through West Berlin to a place where we could get the "Begruessungsgeld" - 100DM given to every East German that arrived for the first time in the West. I think we stood in line for this for hours (but then again a kid's perception of time is always different). My sister and I did not like standing in line and were running around a bit, seeing the fruits the stores sold. I remember after we got the money, we went shopping. We did not buy much. We bought some fruit and I remember we bought an umbrella for my mom. The rest we saved. We spent it the next March for a real trip to the West - not to West Germany, but to Paris. Paris for a day. For a cold and rainy day in March.
I remember I wasn't truly impressed with either of the two "Western" places we went to first: West Berlin and Paris did not impress me much. But I liked it when we traveled to Bavaria and to visit relatives in Lower Saxony in 1990.

To be given the chance to travel around was for me the most significant gain from the fall of the wall. And of course, with the opening of the wall and unification of Germany we got better produce - more fruit, a better selection of groceries. As a kid of course, I never realized any restrictions on freedom of expression. I think this is why the freedom to travel was one of the greatest accomplishments to me from that time. I really appreciated it when I went on a school exchange to Sweden in 1993 and was in disbelief when I got on a plane to "move" to the US in 1999. Who would have thought that all this would happen when we watched the wall come down November 9th, 1989?

PS: You want to read more personal accounts of this day look here and if you are able to read German definitely look here.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Lacky's retreat and East Germans in the Media

East German singer and songwriter Reinhard "Lacky" Lakomy will give his last concert for an adult audience on Monday. In an article released by the MDR he criticized the low level of sophistication of current German popular culture and comedy. He furthermore criticizes that Radio and TV stations keep blocking artists and that this especially affects East German artists. Lakomy is one of the most creative artists of the former GDR not only writing for adult audiences but also creating music for children (many East Germans remember Schlapps and Schlumbo, Mimmellit or the Traumzauberbaum) and musicals as well as film music. And while he will retire from concerts for adults he will keep on writing music for children.

Now I have never been a fan of Lacky's music, even though I remember his song "Heute bin ich allein" very well. But something in his criticism strikes me: I miss East German musicians in the German music scene. Culture and Mass media are just two more areas where East Germans are under-represented according to the Potsdam elite study from 1995. This study has found that in mass media out of 281 surveyed respondents only 33 (11.8% ) were East Germans. In culture the representation e was only slightly higher (out of 101 surveyed people 13 were East Germans = 12.9%).

I myself am having a weekend of East German music playing my list of East German songs, including the new arrangements from OSTENde. I enjoy the poetry of the lyrics and the musicality of the songs . And I am wondering why aren't they more successful? I am wondering why people like Dirk Michaelis (who impressed me tremendously with his vocal ability) and IC Falkenberg (whose recent work Agony + Ekstase is lyrically superb) aren't more successful if they rank (in my opinion) at least in the same class as Groenemeyer, Pur and Xavier Naidoo. Are they too critical? Are text's like Michaelis' "Gott in not" and Falkenberg's "Osten 3.1" too tough for the German radio audience? Are their messages too complicated for easy listening TV or radio? Would a ratio for German music in radio help those artists to get more exposure?
I do not have answers to these questions, the only thing I know for sure is I'd love to see more quality in German culture and I'd especially would love to see more of the East German artists in German media.

"Und wenn ich durch die Wände sah,
da waren Blumen im Gras.
Doch wenn ich nur einen Schritt gemacht,
stiess ich schon gegen Glas."
(Glastraum/ City)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Rhine Valley

Coming back from Birmingham/ England this is what I saw when we were approaching Frankfurt Airport.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

East Germans in Political Parties

Please note that the data are scattered here, they are coming from different sources and from different years, but may be able to show a trend about East Germans' participation in Political Parties. If we are thinking adequate representation of East Germans in political institutions, then we need to note that parties are in control of selecting the people they assign the positions.
The data I gathered show that East Germans participation in German parties are below their share in population, party membership is mainly West German (exept for the PDS of course).

Out of 693 894 members of the SPD approximately 30 000 are East Germans (4%)
Within the FDP (liberals) 12409 members out of 67000 are coming from the East (18%).
The greens that are now an alliance of the West German Green party and the Buendnis 90 movement for Civil rights from East Germany have approximately 3000 members from East Germany. Since there are 48 600 members in total the share for East Germans is 6%. There are no reliable numbers for East Germans in the CDU/CSU. The only note that can be made is that the CDU lost 54.4% of its members in the East since 1990. The CDU was the only party that had a direct East German counterpart prior to the reunification. Most of the members of the East German CDU have left the CDU since. It should not come as a surprise that the majority of the PDS comes from East Germany (94%) as the PDS is the successor party of the Social unity Party (SED) and has established itself as an East German people's party, spanning a diverse group of the East German population.

Surprises? Well first, the representation of East Germans in the Liberal Party comes a bit as a surprise, as it almost mirrors the share of East Germans within the population of Germany. This comes even further as a surprise, because the Liberals are pretty unpopular in East Germany, only being represented in 3 of the 5 state parliaments.

The question that arises out of the data is what is adequate representation of East Germans then in elite positions? Should it be descriptive of their share within the party? Or descriptive of the share within the population?

East Germans in Elite Positions? Here's a first

Ostblog (and yes that is a second mentioning of this blog and there are more likely gonna be more in the future) pointed me to this article. The article talks about that Ingolf Bettin has been appointed as leading judge for the state court of Thuringia. Why is this worth mentioning? 14 years after reunification Bettin is the first East German to assume a possition that high. Saxony had just in 2002 appointed a leading judge - a West German. All other leading judges in East German state courts are West Germans. All other leading judges in state courts in Germany, are West Germans.

This is very much in line with the finding of an elite study from 1997. That study claimed that in the judicial branch, East Germans have not been been able to reach elite positions. Atrid Segert, who reported on this study and tried to investigate the reasons in her article "Allokationsprozesse deutscher Eliten" (Allocation processes of German elites) argued that East Germans are underrepresented in Elite positions in general. Based on the survey that elite study did in 1997, Segert found that only in political positions East Germans were overrepresented (a claim I will get to later). In all other types of elite positions (administrative, economic, economic interest groups, unions, mass media, academia, military, culture and jucial) East Germans were underrepresented. The worst underrepresentation of East Germans was found in the administrative branch (East German quota: 2.5%), the economy (0.4%), the military (0%) and the juducial area (0%).

Acording to Segerts analysis the recruiting processes are largely responsible for this underrepresentation putting in entrie barriers that have unintended consequences to the disadvantage of East Germans. Those entry barriers are college degrees (many GDR college degrees were/ are not acknowledged as equal degree and were devaluated in the reunification process), a desire for long-term experience in the area one wants to work in (which is difficult for East Germans to achieve as most have just started careers in those institutions post 1990), a long time record of subordinating life to careergoals (which did not happen to that degree in the GDR) and a record of uninterupted continuity in their careers (which is impossible for East Germans as they had clear turning points caused by the reunification. Segert furthermore argues that only the generation that started their education post 1990 has a clear chance of correcting the underrepresentation of East Germans in elite positions. However, she argues, the background one needs to be from in order to have better access to elite positions - a good upper middle-class upbringing- is not the case for many East Germans at this point of time, as East German wages are only 60% of the average wage of West Germans and most members of that generation will have been socialized in a working class environment. So it is most likely that East Germans will remain under-represented in higher positions for a long time, more than one generation.

Now being interested in East German representation in political positions I found the claim very interesting that East Germans there are overrepresented. However taking a closer look at the results of the elite study from 1997 I have some serious doubts. The study results are based on a survey of 2341 people, 272 of which were East Germans. This already constitutes a bias towards West Germans in the study (a fact Segert acknowledges) East Germans make represent 11.6% of the surveyed in this study, while they occupy about 16-20% of the population. Furthermore, based on a sample of 272 it is hard to get reliable results.
The study looked at 499 elite positions in politics, 160 of them being occupied by East Germans. Hence the result of overrepresentation (quota of East Germans being 32.1%). The 499 positions do not represent all possible elite positions in politics, as even the Bundestag already has more members than 499. Therefore it puts the results in doubt for me any further. However, I need to look at the real data to make further evaluations.
On the other hand, even though I will be focusing myself on East Germans in the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Cabinets, Ministries, standing committees and parties, I consider supreme court positions and leading positions in unions and interest groups to be political positions. Even top level positions in the administrative branch are political positions. So the claim of overrepresentation of East German in political positions needs to be considered carefully. However, I will have to look at the data used and how they compare to my own data.

It is furthermore notable, that Segert tells us that studies on the distribution of elite positions among East and West Germans have been understudied, the 1997 study mentioned in this entry, was the only kind of data she could look at when she wrote the article (published in: McFalls and Probst: "After the GDR: New Perspective on the Old GDR and the Young Laender" Rodopi 2001).

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Return of the wall

Ostblog cites an article from the Welt the return of the wall. Within the framework of an artproject, Alexandra Hildebrandt (chief of the Wall museum in Berlin) plans to rebuild the wall with some leftover fragments of the original Berlin Wall. Purpose of this project is to recreate the scenery as it looked during the time of the wall. Her original plan is to keep the wall fragments exhibited without a time limit, however the city counsellor for city development is against that idea.

I find it a bit ironic that this project comes at a time when the mood of the Germans is that bad, that many of them wish for the return of the real wall, not just the art-project. A recent study published in the Stern shows that of all the East Germans 12% want the wall back, but even 24% of the West Germans would like the wall back. 15 years after reunification the mood in unified Germany is at a low.

The main criticism from the west comes with regards of transfer payments to the East. The nettransfer to the East is 83 billion Euro (about 100 billion US$). 45 % actually cover social cost (unemployment benefits, social benefits, pensions). Only 13% are invested in infrastructure and 9% of the money are used to attract businesses in the region. The net transfer amounts to 4% of the West German GDP. Since 1991 950 billion Euro have been net-transfered to the East.
Many West Germans feel the amount is too high (37%). On the other hand, 31% of the East Germans argue that the net-transfers have been not high enough and need to be increased.

But the division goes further. Not only are there stereotype images of the other. Many West Germans argue that it is possible for anyone who just wants to work to actually get a workplace. Statistics however defy that notion. In the East there are 52 000 open jobs - but about 1.6 million unemployed people. For 4 million unemployed people there are a total of 400,000 open jobs. 6 out of 7 are in the West. That simply means that the East is lacking an adequate amount of jobs. This furthermore increases the tendency of brain drain. More and more East Germans (especially the young ones) leave the areas they grew up in to follow careers in West Germany or abroad.
But it is not only the lack of jobs available that disprove the notion of everybody who wants a job can get one. An article by the Zeit's Wolfgang Uchatius quotes a study done by work sociologist Michael Behr. He argues that only very few East Germans are willing to accept their employment and to live by what the state provides them. He calls the East Germans "work spartans". According to his studies East Germans will keep working full time till retirement age if it is possible for them healthwise. And even though salaries for low-paying jobs are only a little bit higher than social benefits from the state, these low-paying jobs tend to be filled very soon. What about the notion of inflexibility? Would it help East Germans to be more flexible in finding a job? The Uchatius' article says no. East Germans are often willing to accept less of working rights and less of pay. In the Sparkasse Schwerin (a bank) employees from the West receive still 11% more in wages, but work 1 hours less a week than their East German colleagues. Security personell are willing to work 60 hours a week for just a little more than 4 Euro an hour and their lives on the line. Every second person in the East has lost his job at least once since the fall of the German wall and only few work in the profession they originally trained for. Every 5th East German who employs at Ranstadt (an agency for temp employment) is willing to work somewhere in Germany, in the West only 10% of the applicants are willing to do so. The economist Karl-Heinz Paque says: East Germany is the America of Germany when it comes to wages, union influence and flexibility.

So why those misunderstandings? Why those misconceptions about the others? 60% of the West Germans have never been in the East. They do not know much about East German culture. East Germans often feel they are not accepted as equals by the West Germans. Furthermore many will argue that mismanagement by 3rd class management and the deliberate destruction of competitors on the East German market have done more harm to what had been left over of the East German industry after 1989. Often they feel as if it is not even desired that the industry in the East becomes successful as they may raise their own competitors. It is hard to explain to those people why the wall should not be reconstructed again. It is hard to explain to those people why East and West Germany wouldn't be better off as seperate entities.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Der Aufbau Ost ist Chefsache

The reconstruction East is the priority. A promise made by Chancellor Schroeder. A promise I make for this blog. This blog will mainly cover East German matters, but I will also write on politics and other subjects. Welcome readers.