Homesick For Dictatorship: East Germans Liked It Better Under Communism
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"Driven Out of Paradise"
Schroeder has made enemies with statements like these. He received more than 4,000 letters, some of them furious, in reaction to reporting on his study. The 30-year-old Birger also sent an e-mail to Schroeder. The political scientist has now compiled a selection of typical letters to document the climate of opinion in which the GDR and unified Germany are discussed in eastern Germany. Some of the material gives a shocking insight into the thoughts of disappointed and angry citizens. "From today's perspective, I believe that we were driven out of paradise when the Wall came down," one person writes, and a 38-year-old man "thanks God" that he was able to experience living in the GDR, noting that it wasn't until after German reunification that he witnessed people who feared for their existence, beggars and homeless people.
Today's Germany is described as a "slave state" and a "dictatorship of capital," and some letter writers reject Germany for being, in their opinion, too capitalist or dictatorial, and certainly not democratic. Schroeder finds such statements alarming. "I am afraid that a majority of eastern Germans do not identify with the current sociopolitical system."
Many of the letter writers are either people who did not benefit from German reunification or those who prefer to live in the past. But they also include people like Thorsten Schön.
After 1989 Schön, a master craftsman from Stralsund, a city on the Baltic Sea, initially racked up one success after the next. Although he no longer owns the Porsche he bought after reunification, the lion skin rug he bought on a vacation trip to South Africa -- one of many overseas trips he has made in the past 20 years -- is still lying on his living room floor. "There's no doubt it: I've been fortunate," says the 51-year-old today. A major contract he scored during the period following reunification made it easier for Schön to start his own business. Today he has a clear view of the Strelasund sound from the window of his terraced house.
Part 2: 'People Lie and Cheat Everywhere Today'
Wall decorations from Bali decorate his living room, and a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty stands next to the DVD player. All the same, Schön sits on his sofa and rhapsodizes about the good old days in East Germany. "In the past, a campground was a place where people enjoyed their freedom together," he says. What he misses most today is "that feeling of companionship and solidarity." The economy of scarcity, complete with barter transactions, was "more like a hobby." Does he have a Stasi file? "I'm not interested in that," says Schön. "Besides, it would be too disappointing."
His verdict on the GDR is clear: "As far as I'm concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today." He wants to see equal wages and equal pensions for residents of the former East Germany. And when Schön starts to complain about unified Germany, his voice contains an element of self-satisfaction. People lie and cheat everywhere today, he says, and today's injustices are simply perpetrated in a more cunning way than in the GDR, where starvation wages and slashed car tires were unheard of. Schön cannot offer any accounts of his own bad experiences in present-day Germany. "I'm better off today than I was before," he says, "but I am not more satisfied."
Schön's reasoning is less about cool logic than it is about settling scores. What makes him particularly dissatisfied is "the false picture of the East that the West is painting today." The GDR, he says, was "not an unjust state," but "my home, where my achievements were recognized." Schön doggedly repeats the story of how it took him years of hard work before starting his own business in 1989 -- before reunification, he is quick to add. "Those who worked hard were also able to do well for themselves in the GDR." This, he says, is one of the truths that are persistently denied on talk shows, when western Germans act "as if eastern Germans were all a little stupid and should still be falling to their knees today in gratitude for reunification." What exactly is there to celebrate, Schön asks himself?