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The Unification Crisis (December 31, 1992)

Munich historian Christian Meier argues that the problems facing Germany should be subsumed under the heading “unification crisis,” since the term does justice to their true dimensions. He sees the crisis as being caused by the different identities of East and West Germans, the unequal distribution of the burdens of unification, and the expectations associated with it.

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Nothing Separates People More than Unification
The German Crisis: Why Both Sides are so Mistrustful

Germany is currently experiencing a crisis – the unification crisis. It is still too early to tell how serious it is. Although it is playing itself out chiefly among the Germans, it is occurring in the broader context of the long-term crisis of the former Eastern Bloc and of the global system as a whole, the crisis to which unification owes itself and which, at the same time, greatly exacerbates the difficulties surrounding it. The integration of German society is already being severely tested before it has made any appreciable headway.

Crisis originally meant decision or a situation calling for a decision. Applied to a system, it refers to a state of severe disturbance or existential challenge. A basic aspect of crisis is the possibility that defensive forces will develop. Crisis does not – at least not invariably – mean catastrophe.

I believe it is a mistake that the word “crisis” is not usually applied to the unification process. This mistake contributes to the matter being taken too lightly. Military campaigns generally run into great difficulties (or are even lost) when the situation is not analyzed correctly. Evidently, the same holds true for unification processes of this magnitude.

There is a long history behind the different positions of East and West Germany. More than forty years of drifting apart, first in separate zones and states, then in a united Germany. As a result, two contradictory collective identities evolved in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Thanks to its extraordinary successes, the FRG was able to move beyond numerous uncertainties and doubts to a sense of robust self-confidence. There was a feeling of agreement with this society. The same cannot be said of the GDR: most of its citizens wanted neither the regime, nor the system, nor their own state. But they still had to come to terms with it; they, too, needed some kind of pride. They had to suffer the gradient of the great insecurity between the two German states and the manifestations thereof, which were quite unpleasant in part.

In the West, on the one hand, the old fear of Communists, the hatred of the SED regime (in sum: the anti-Communism that was virtually constitutive for the beginnings of the Federal Republic) was still alive. On the other hand, there was sympathy with the so-called brothers and sisters [on the other side]. Then that feeling began to be contaminated. The brothers and sisters were somehow suspected of also being perpetrators (or perpetrators and victims at the same time); at least one didn’t know what to make of them. And if one pushed the issue, the situation became even more complicated, because for the most part they were unwilling to profess their opposition to the regime in such simple or at least such convincing terms – and to uncomprehending Westerns, on top of it. And so people were partially familiar, partially foreign to each other.

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