Wednesday, March 16, 2005


"Zone" is a term that came up today in a conversation. It's not the first time it came up in a conversation. What does the word refer to? The Soviet occupied zone also known as the GDR. The term has been used in conversations by West Germans only. Interestingly enough by West Germans (in my experience) of different ages. However, it bothers me. It bothers me because it does not acknowledge that the GDR was an indeed existing country. By using the word "Zone" the GDR becomes a second class territory, not a full state. And what are the citizens of that zone then. It wouldn't be the first time East Germans are called zonies, which is rather derogatory.

However in my reality it is a state and only few would deny that for the 40 years it existed it was an independent state. A country that had its own flag, its own national anthem, its own army and made largely its own policy. Of course policy making was influenced by the Soviet Union, but no one would argue Poland was a zone, so why degrade the GDR to just a "zone".So aside from it being a derogatory term there is something else that irks me about it. Because it is not just me who acknowledges the GDR as a reality, as a state. As a state that has citizens who are/were loyal to it. A part of the civil rights movement was of a generation that grew up with the GDR being a reality and a united Germany being an idea of the past. In the same sense they constructed their initial demands for reform - as reform of that state. At the very beginning of the protest movement in 1989 reform was the priority not unification, unification made the agenda much later.

Now most of the people highly identified with the movement of back then have disappeared, but what about politicians of today that are of the same generation, how has the reality of two existing states shaped their loyalties? Are they more loyal to the region now because it is their country and has that affected their ambitions of being engaged in national politics? I am asking and wondering just based on two observations, interview statements made by Matthias Berger (mayor of Grimma) and Wolfgang Tiefensee (mayor of Leipzig). Both became nationally famous, Berger when the flood of 2002 hit Grimma and destroyed large parts of it and Tiefensee when he pushed the application of Leipzig as German Olympic candidate for the Summer Games 2012. Tiefensee declined calls for serving in the German cabinet following the 2002 national election and Berger said in an interview he is more concerned with solving the local problems of his town and not interested in being involved in national politics.

This raises the question whether or not underrepresentation of East Germans in national level elite positions is (at least in part) due to a lack of interest to be involved nationally. Aside from the fact that the national parties suffer from low participation by East Germans to begin with, could be the reason why we do not see more East Germans nationally because the elite is not interested in serving nationally and feel they are more useful getting involved on the local and state level?