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Germany - Introduction

Germans of the late twentieth century differed greatly from those of its first half. The extreme nationalism of the interwar period found little support in the Germany of the 1990s, for example. Unlike Germany's failure to achieve victory in the Great War, which to many Germans of the interwar period appeared to have been caused by the treachery of Jews and Socialist politicians rather than by military defeat, Germany's unconditional surrender in 1945 was obviously unavoidable given the military situation at the war's end. Moreover, because Hitler clearly started the war, Germany was judged, to some extent at least, to have deserved its terrible consequences. Thus, in contrast to Germans of the interwar period, few postwar Germans demanded revenge for Germany's sufferings or advocated the seizure of lost territory.

Germans also became convinced democrats. They understand and appreciate the workings of parliamentary democracy with its loyal opposition, concessions, and the peaceful passing of power from one government to another; they know the importance of an independent judiciary in protecting individual rights; and they value a free and powerful press.

As of the late 1980s no well-informed observer foresaw German unification as being likely in the near future. In fact, its prospect seemed so remote that some politicians advocated abandoning unification as a long-term goal. Those who remained committed to Germany's ultimate unification frankly admitted that decades would probably pass before it happened. The rapid collapse of the East German regime surprised everyone.

When unification occurred on October 3, 1990, it was a happy, yet subdued occasion. The many problems ofjoining such diverse societies were already apparent. The vaunted East German economy was coming to be seen as a Potemkin's village, with many of its most prestigious firms uncompetitive in a market economy. East German environmental problems were also proving much more serious than anyone had foreseen; remedies would cost astronomical sums. West Germans had discovered also that their long-lost eastern cousins differed from them in many ways and that relations between them were often rife with misunderstandings.

Germany began the major task of bringing the standard of living of Germans in the former German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.) up to that of western Germany. This has been a lengthy and difficult process due to the relative inefficiency of industrial enterprises in the former G.D.R., difficulties in resolving property ownership in eastern Germany, and the inadequate infrastructure and environmental damage that resulted from years of mismanagement under communist rule.

Unification brought together a people separated for more than four decades by the division of Europe into two hostile blocs in the aftermath of World War II. Economically, a division remains between East [Ossi] and West [Wessi], exacerbated by the decision following unification to substitute the German mark (subsequently replaced by the euro in January 1999) for the East German currency, generally at a 1:1 rate, and the adoption of similar wages and benefits in both parts of the country in spite of unequal productivity. Despite massive investment from the western part of Germany into the new German states of the East—a transfer of wealth that totaled about US$1.6 trillion from 1991 to 2004—the latter still suffer from extremely high unemployment.

Economic uncertainty in eastern Germany was often cited as one factor contributing to extremist violence, primarily from the political right. Confusion about the causes of the current hardships and a need to place blame has found expression in harassment and violence by some Germans directed toward foreigners, particularly non-Europeans. The vast majority of Germans condemn such violence.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:06:16 ZULU