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.

No comments: