Colony of the West? East Germany after 30 years of reunification

30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall and Germany’s reunification, there are still debates about how successfull the process of reuniting the GDR and the German Republic actually was. A recent Spiegel article explored the economic issues that came with the reunification of the East and the West; the mass migration of labour and young people to the West and the consequential lack of qualified manpower in rural areas in the East in the present, as well as the resulting cultural, social and demographical changes that are predominant problems in East Germany today. Cultural scientist Paul Kaiser started a debate about the predominant inequality in representing and exhibiting East German art, leading to a conference called Aspects of colonisation in East Germany since 1990 in April 2019 in Dresden. The aim of the conference was to create awareness of the current situation of social deprivation and disadvantages that people are still facing in East Germany, utilitizing the term colonisation as provocative expression of the economic exploitation of the East by the West. There is a broad consensus that the term “reunification” can be misleading, since East and West Germany did not simply merge and create a new constitution and nation state but the German republic simply expanded and gained new federal states, whereas the GDR completely dissolved, leaving East Germans confronted with capitalism and a whole new culture. As much as it is deliberately provocative and definately not comparable with the oppression and submission of other nations or communities, the term still hits a nerve; according to statistics, only 5% of East German and only 1% of German productive assets are actually owned by East Germany, and East German elite is still strongly underrepresented. West German elite keeps recruiting West Germans, East German universities still attract only 5% of West German students. Most of the decision-makers and companies are based in the West, a factor that provokes discontent and feelings of inferiority among young and old people in the East. Guests and speakers at the plenum in Dresden came up with various solutions; Naika Foroutan, researcher at the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research at Humboldt University Berlin, suggests an “East quota” in companies and businesses in order to decrease inequality. Paul Kaiser, art scholar and curator, and initiator of the conference in Dresden, pleads for more presence of East German and GDR art in museums nationwide. The term colonisation can thus be understood and used as an impulse to join the conversation about West Germany’s take over and economic disadvantages, and to acknowledge the fact that, although reunited, Germany still has a long way to go in terms of equal opportunities.

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