Did the Berlin Wall really fall?
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Image courtesy of TVNZ
It is thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the anniversary celebrations should be getting underway. However, Germans have never been the wildest bunch and in this instance, they are justified. In the last couple of months, the far-right populists Alternative Für Deutschland (AFD) have doubled or even tripled their vote share in state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg (all in the east). After the initial euphoria of 1989, there is now an increased concern that a liberal and united Germany cannot sustain itself.
To see the divisions between the east and west you only have to look at a survey in 2018 by the German federal government. In the east 57 percent of the citizens feel as though they are second class citizens. Moreover, only 38 percent of Germans in the east believe that reunification was a good thing. There is a sense that free market capitalism has left eastern parts of Germany neglected because no one wants to invest or live there. The German government has been a victim of its own success as it has helped fund the redevelopment of the east; yet the east still wants more.
There have been errors from ‘elite’ politicians. There has been the complete collapse of the German Social Democrats; by failing to provide a different vision to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the status quo left-wing party has collapsed in the polls. The SPD has been stuck in Mrs Merkel’s grand coalition and has failed to adapt to the collapse in union membership and the rise of the Green Party. Mrs Merkel must also take some blame because she has given the AFD legitimacy with her policies. She has rapidly increased deportations and reduced asylum applications. Mrs Merkel does not have to accept everyone into Germany, but her shift to a hard line against migration and asylum seekers has shifted the goalposts of political discourse towards the AFD.
The future of German unity looks bleak. Angela Merkel is stepping down in 2021 with no clear successor in place. She wants the current Christian Democrat leader Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer to follow her, but she has come under scrutiny from the party over the recent failures in state elections. Like France in 2017, there is a building consensus that the old parties and elite need to be replaced by something fresh. Yet, there is little sign of a Macron-type figure emerging.
To add to the political issues there is a high probability of a German recession soon. Germany relies on its high amount of exports. With Brexit coming up and a likely USA-China trade war this system will be damaged.
All the volatility is likely to increase tensions between Germany’s east and west. The AFD will ramp up its anti-immigrant sentiment as the probable recession hurts the east. Worse, many politicians in the west may want cut funding to the east to stabilize the economy and to punish intransigence. After a decade of Germany acting on the international stage, the 2020s look like they will be a decade of internal German strife. Let’s hope it doesn’t go as bad as last time.