Let’s go back to the spring of 1989. Back then, it took the shock of the initial electoral successes of the [right-wing extremist] “Republicans” [Republikaner] to make the other parties realize this: in the Federal Republic, a society was forming that, if not exactly a “two-thirds society,” was one in which the vast majority of upwardly mobile, higher-income earners had forgotten about the minority that cannot keep up, either intellectually or socially, with the rapid modernization processes of our industrial society. The fringe on the right end of the spectrum was really more a problem of top and bottom. The Republican Party collapsed within a short time, but the problem did not go away.
Quite the contrary: unification did not undo the difficulties; it increased them manifold. In addition to the top-bottom stratification in the Western part of the republic, another gap has opened up: the one between the 62 million who live in the West and the 16 million in the five new federal states. Consequently, social tensions among the population of the enlarged Federal Republic are on the rise.
In the spring of 1989, conflicts over the distribution of resources within the lower rungs of society had already come to a head due to the influx of asylum seekers and ethnic German remigrants [from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union]. As long as the Cold War persisted, and with it the division of Europe, the European boundary of affluence remained intact and hidden behind the Wall and barbed wire. Admittedly, with open political borders, the easy cementing of social boundaries is no longer possible.
In recent years, the end of the “age of social democracy” has been pronounced repeatedly. But the failure of a party by no means eliminates the problem of social justice. Achieving a just balance remains a lasting political task. That also applies to balancing the demands of the present and those of future generations, such as in the area of environmental protection. The “age of solidarity” has yet to really get started.
There was little talk of all these things during the past election campaign. The epochal event of German unification has captured all political senses. But for the time being historic events have come to an end. No one is saying that social conflicts will cease in the future and that alternatives to current party politics will no longer exist. “Keep it up!”—that certainly cannot remain the answer for very long.
Source: Robert Leicht, “Bleibt einfach alles, wie es ist? Vor der Bundestagswahl: Auch ohne Regierungswechsel kommt der Themenwechsel” [“Will Everything Simply Remain the Same? Before the Bundestag Elections: Even Without a Change in Government, There Will Be a Change in the Issues”] Die Zeit, November 30, 1990.