The Challenges of Unified Germany

Tuesday, October 27, 2015, 6:00 to 8:00pm
Lecture & Discussion at the GHI
Speaker: Gregor Gysi

The GHI's 2015 German Unification Symposium was delivered by the leftist ex-politician Gregor Gysi who discussed "The Challenges of a Unified Germany." Born in 1948 in East Berlin, Gysi addressed the issue as a Zeitzeuge and from the perspective of the Left Party (Die Linke), which he helped found and which he represented in the German Bundestag until recently. According to Gysi, the challenges of a unified Germany began quite literally with the notion that Germany was essentially a "unified Germany." Discussing aspects of Germany's integration on several national and international fronts, Gysi offered a rich account of the tensions that prevail in the term "unification" itself. 

On the national level, Gysi saw the ongoing economic, social, and cultural differences between East and West as mainly related to the German constitution. As he explained, the West German constitution made provisions for the GDR to "join" the FRG, and hence solidified the notion that the East had to be adjusted to the West. While Gysi praised the peace-keeping effect unification had in Europe and the resulting financial and structural improvements for the former Soviet zones, he posited that unification also led to the neglect of some of the GDR's more pioneering policies. East German approaches to professional training, childcare, and medical care, he argued, were capable of meeting many of the challenges that unified Germany is facing today. "If the German people had been more interested in the East," Gysi surmised, "Easterners would have gained self-esteem, and Westerners an encouraging view of unification, as they would have benefitted from the process, as well." 

On the international level, Gysi discussed how German unification was the precondition for integrating Germany into the "West." The two institutions that helped achieve this integration were the NATO and the European Union. While Gysi was utterly critical of a Germany that complies with the NATO as a military alliance inherited from the Cold War, he emphasized that Germany's commitment to the European Union was the central tool for avoiding war and for leveling social inequalities all across Europe. In this context, Gysi was critical of Germany's changing role in Europe from a motor of integration to a hegemonic power that uses the European Union to impose German austerity policy onto its neighbor states. He warned that Germany's domineering role could erode the integration and solidarity that was built in the past 25 years since German unification. Gysi saw Europe's disunity dawning in the current refugee crisis, in which Germany stands alone in its attempt to integrate the rapidly growing foreign population in Europe. Gysi beseeched Germany to make the joint handling of the refugee crisis' origins (war, hunger, poverty, technological innovation) a national and international priority. 

After the speech, Gysi was interviewed by the German journalist Marcus Pindur (Deutschlandradio). The conversation focused on the Left Party's transformation from a radical political margin to an all-German party and its chances at forming a part of the German government in the future. Unification, all of Gysi's comments showed, was not an event but a foundational and ongoing project in German history. According to Gysi, this project will continue to involve many new fronts and many future generations. 

Elisabeth Engel