Letter from Berlin

Tonight the German ambassador, Dr Wolfgang Schultheiss, will be hosting a big reception at his residence in Halandri on the occasion of the German Unity Day, which is on October 3. Although I have not a drop of German blood in me, I certainly feel the greatest affinity for the country where I spent my formative years, studying in Heidelberg and Berlin. At the time it was West Berlin, an interesting black-and-white place dealing with its past. It’s a fascinating and colorful place nowadays and a trendy place for architecture. During the days of the Wall, Berlin was my home for more than a decade, since it took me a few years just to finish my first semester at university. It became part of my life and now I return here as often as possible. Although I later lived in several other countries, I still see myself a «waschecht» Berliner. On October 3, 1990, Germany was reunited after 40 years of separation (1949-1989). And this date is regularly commemorated as German Unity Day. In my days, that is before reunification, there was another Day of German Unity: June 17, the day workers in the former East Germany staged a revolt against the communist regime in 1953. Yet the real time to celebrate for a Germany which after World War II almost ceased to exist and ended up being divided into four zones came a year later – after the 3-2 victory over Hungary in the 1954 World Cup. It was the first time a certain feeling of togetherness and collective national consciousness was there once more. Consequently, it was a football match that midwifed a nation still split between children too young to fight in the war, and their parents who did. As matters now stand it is October 3, Unity Day. «Fifteen years after signing the Treaty of Unity, we can no longer conceal or gloss over the fact that, despite the financial achievements, German unity has essentially been a failure,» Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass said last year. «It was so right from the start. Petty calculation prevented the government of the time from pursuing an objective grounded in the Constitutional Act by way of precaution, namely to submit to the citizens of both states a new constitution relevant to the endeavours of Germany as a whole.» And right he was. Today Germany is still divided between a dynamic west and a dependent east. After several years of mass unemployment and depopulation many there feel abandoned by the mainstream parties. «It is therefore hardly surprising that people in the former East Germany should regard themselves as second-class Germans,» Grass continued. «As far as the ownership of manufacturing establishments, the energy supply, newspapers and publishing are concerned, this formerly ‘nationally owned’ fabric of the departed state has been wound up with the occasionally criminal collusion of the privatization agency and ultimately expropriated. The jobless rate is twice as high as in the former West Germany. West German arrogance had no respect for people with East German CVs.» Recently we’ve seen the result. There have been embarrassing gains – 7.3 percent – for the far-right NPD, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, at mid-September regional elections. Furthermore, Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted US President George W. Bush for a July barbecue in her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a rural region known chiefly for its beautiful Baltic Sea coastline. Meanwhile, NPD leader Udo Voigt was set to appear at a far-right rally in Athens. Before leaving Germany Voigt said he plans «to strengthen our current bastions» and then «energetically approach the West.» «Have we dealt carefully with the freedom which we did not win, but was given to us?» Grass had asked. «Have the citizens of West Germany properly compensated the citizens of the former Democratic Republic who, after all, had to bear the main burden of the war begun and lost by all Germans? And a further question: is our parliamentary democracy as a guarantor of freedom of action, still sufficiently sovereign to take action on the problems facing us in the 21st century?» The answer to this last question – offered by turning to Grass again – could apply to several countries, Greece included: «Consequently, Parliament is no longer sovereign in its decisions,» the writer said. «It depends on powerful pressure groups – the banks and multinationals – which are not subject to any democratic control. Parliament has thereby become an object of ridicule. It is degenerating into a subsidiary of the stock exchange. Democracy has become a pawn to the dictates of globally volatile capital. So can we really be surprised when more and more citizens turn away from such blatant scams, indignant, antagonized and ultimately resigned and regard elections as a simple farce and decline to vote?» Two years ago Hans Eichel, Germany’s hard-pressed former finance minister, suggested it was time to dump the Day of German Unity. It was never realized. By doing so, he calculated Germany’s growth would go up by 0.1 percent. It is anyone’s guess that such a novel idea would make our own Giorgos Alogoskoufis happy too.