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Resentment against the Support for East German Refugees (January 22, 1990)

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Only with a drastic reduction in services was it possible to slow the rise in health insurance premiums at least temporarily. Unemployment insurance is still dependent on federal subsidies in the billions. Local authorities are groaning under the burden of welfare payments.

The housing shortage, millions of unemployed, empty social security coffers – and now hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who will intensify all these shortages and hardships.

By now, politicians all over the spectrum, especially the unofficial SPD chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine, have recognized that a dangerous mixture of resentment and existential angst is brewing.

Ethnic German remigrants and GDR resettlers and the alleged or actual preferential treatment they receive with respect to jobs and apartments, pensions, and health costs – this subject threatens to become a major issue in the 1990 election campaign in the Federal Republic. The parties are diligently preparing themselves for this dispute.

Suddenly everyone is noticing that, 45 years after the war, the law aimed at mitigating the consequences of war for ethnic Germans and victims of the NS regime [Kriegsfolgerecht] is inadequate when it comes to mass migration in the age of freedom of movement. “The whole law needs to be given a new foundation,” says social policy expert Gerhard Scheu of the CSU.

The CSU nimbly pushed itself into the spotlight with its own program last week. The party aims to cut pensions for ethnic German remigrants and resettlers. This shot from the hip aims to please the public by preventing known SED functionaries and members of the state security services [Stasi] from collecting lush pensions in the Federal Republic.

At the coalition meeting on Tuesday of last week in Bonn, CDU labor minister Norbert Blüm showed that he was prepared to keep GDR military and Stasi retirees far away from West German social coffers. It was decided at the meeting that a governmental working group would also quickly review the entire pension law. The heads of the state governments want to decide this week on scaling back numerous special benefits for ethnic German remigrants and resettlers.

The politicians, for a change, have a good sense of the mood at the grass roots. The people in government know this from years of experience: sharing with an anonymous collective has never been among those skills that are particularly pronounced among West German citizens.

Development aid for the Third World was pushed through by the Bonn government basically against the will of the majority, because foreign policy considerations demanded it. Foreign nationals living in Germany were always objects of social envy, no matter how much they contributed to the gross national product.

Tolerance toward Germans from the GDR is certainly greater – neither their skin color nor their native language makes them conspicuous. But the more people start talking about what the newcomers are costing or could cost the country, the more decisive the defensive posture is likely to be. Especially since the GDR citizens possess well-developed “resource tapping” skills. About sixty percent of the East Germans who came to West Berlin in the first six months of last year took immediate advantage of sick leave. Doctors willingly issued attestations for “migration syndrome” or “adaptation difficulties.”

There were certainly signs of illness here and there, but the main incentive to start their new lives in the West by getting sick surely lay elsewhere: Sick pay is considerably higher than unemployment benefits. [ . . . ]

Source: “Circuit Overload” [“Da brennt die Sicherung durch”], Der Spiegel, no. 4, January 22, 1990.

Translation: Allison Brown

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