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Fifteen Years after the Fall of the Wall (September 30, 2004)

The Forschungsgruppe Wahlen [Institute for Electoral Research] in Mannheim gauges the political mood in Germany on a regular basis. The findings from a special 2004 study on German unity showed that it enjoyed very high approval among the population: 80% support. But responses to specific questions – such as who benefited from unity – still revealed considerable differences between East and West. The findings are reported in the following article from Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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Unity with Justice and Freedom

East Germans should get used to lagging behind West German living standards. Federal President [Horst] Köhler recently caused an uproar with this remark. All the more surprising is the discovery that Germans in West and East are increasingly satisfied with unification – even when some differences of opinion persist.

Nearly fourteen years after unification, the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen commissioned a special issue of Politbarometer [Political Barometer].* Despite new East-West discussions, there is little doubt almost fifteen years after the fall of the Wall that German unification was the correct path: today, 83 percent of all German citizens believe that the unification of the two German states was the right thing.

Approval for Unification Grows

Shortly before the anniversary of reunification, a total of 15 percent – 8 percent in the East, but as many as 17 percent in the West – said that unification was “not the right thing.”

With this overall assessment, Germans have almost returned to the base level at the beginning of the 1990s. As early as two years after the merger of the two states, 80 percent spoke of a right and 17 percent of a wrong decision (December 1992).

Since then, approval for German unification has grown in small steps, though it has never crossed the 90 percent mark.

But apart from this exceedingly positive feedback, one in ten German citizens (10 percent) thinks it would be good if there were two German states again, although the vast majority (88 percent) is of the opposite opinion.

East-West Gap is Shrinking

Even though members of all social groups clearly rejected a new division, an above-average number of poll respondents with little formal education, as well as those in personally difficult financial situations, advocated the model of two German states.

Moreover, there are once again East-West differences: in the new Länder, 6 percent favor the reestablishment of two states, whereas that figure is 11 percent on the territory of the old Federal Republic.

Despite all presumed as well as obvious shortcomings, the gap between East and West – and this seems especially remarkable these days – is shrinking in the eyes of the population: compared to 26 percent in year five of unification (December 1995) and 30 percent before the last Bundestag elections [in 2002], 40 percent of today’s poll respondents already say that the commonalities between the two parts of the Republic prevail.

But 56 percent are more apt to see differences, with East and West Germans being decidedly unanimous on the question of – of all things – differences.

* Every month, the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen publishes survey findings on Germans’ attitudes and opinions about political parties, individual politicians, and topics of current interests. Sporadically, special issues are published, as was the case on the 15th anniversary of German unification. The Politbarometer surveys are carried out on behalf of ZDF, one of the two major German broadcasting corporations – eds.

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