By Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarević.
2019 sees the 30th anniversary of the European 9/11 – the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dislike the 9/11 that came 12 years later, which many now associate with the demise of the Anglo-American dominant capitalism, for the most – this European 9/11 marks the final end of the Cold War. Downing the Wall brought about the subsequent collapse of communism – narrative goes. Hence, it should be a date to celebrate annually as a final, everlasting opening of the road to universal freedom prosperity, globally shared rosy future – in word: a self-realisation of humankind.
The counter narrative claims something else. All the major socio-political movements, since the Enlightenment until the end of XX century, offered a vision for the entire human race: Universally concepted (or to say ideologiesed) for a universal appeal. Each of them had a coherent theory and strong intellectual appeal on fundamental issues (i) redistribution and (ii) access. E.g. the redistribution of knowledge and access of illiterate mases of burgeoning societies to it; redistribution of means of production and access of proletariat in critical decision-making; redistribution of production locations and access for all through unconstrained trade over the free oceans and seas, open to all. So, the claim goes that the collapse of the Berlin Wall was not an end of Communism (marked by the unilateral takeover of the Eastern German society). That meant far more. It marked an end of the planetary visions. Two competing ideologies heavily contested each other all over the globe, particularly in Berlin. And there, on 9/11, they lost both – beyond recovery. Ever since the 9/11 (of 1989), nobody is able or willing to offer any universally conductive vision for all.
Finally, it is wrong to conclude that it is (only) the end of coherent universalism – it might be rather an (irreversible) end of the redistribution and access.
9/11 as a De-evolution ?! Let us take a closer look.
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Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (Sweden and Poland being later replaced by) Prussia, the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Russia have pressed and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground. At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asian and MENA proper. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany had appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politico-militarily press onto peripheries, including the two European mega destructions, known as the two World Wars. Therefore, this new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma lasting from the 1814 Vienna congress up to Potsdam conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germanies and Italies should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?
At the time of Vienna Congress (1814-15), there were nearly a dozen of Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. But, than after the self-defeating entrapment of Napoleon III and its lost war (Franco-Prussian war 1870-71), Bismarck achieved the illiberal unification. That marked a beginning of vertigo for the Germanophones, their neighbors and rest of the world. The Country went from a failed liberal revolution, hereditary monarchy, authoritarianism, frail democracy and finally it cradled the worst planetary fascism before paying for the second time a huge prize for its imperialism in hurry. Additionally, Germany was a serial defaulter – like no other country on planet, three times in a single generation. All that has happened in the first 7 decades of its existence.
The post-WWII Potsdam conference concludes with only three Germanophone (+ Lichtenstein + Switzerland) and two Italophone states (+ Vatican). Than, 30 years ago, we concluded that one of Germanies was far too much to carry to the future. Thus, it disappeared from the map overnight, and joined the NATO and EU – without any accession talks – instantly.
Today west of Berlin, the usual line of narrative claims that the European 9/11 (11 November 1989, fall of the Berlin Wall) was an event of the bad socio-economic model being taken over by the superior one – just an epilogue of pure ideological reckoning. Consequently – the narrative goes on – the west (German) taxpayers have taken the burden. East of Berlin, people will remind you clearly that the German reunification was actually a unilateral takeover, an Anschluss, which has been paid by the bloody dissolutions affecting in several waves two of the three demolished multinational Slavic state communities. A process of brutal erosions that still goes on, as we see it in Ukraine today.
Sacrificing the alternative society?
What are Berliners thinking about it?
The country lost overnight naturally triggers mixed feelings. In the case of DDR, the nostalgia turns into ostalgia(longing for the East). Prof. Brigitte Rauschenbach describes: “Ostalgia is more like unfocused melancholy.” Of the defeated one?! It is a “flight from reality for lack of an alternative, a combination of disappointment with the present and longing for the past”. The first German ever in the outer space, a DDR cosmonaut, Sigmund Jähn is very forthcoming: “People in the East threw everything away without thinking… All they wanted was to join West Germany, though they knew nothing about it beyond its ads on television. It was easier to escape the pressures of bureaucracy than it is now to avoid the pressures of money.” Indeed, at the time of Anschluss, DDR had 9.7 million jobs. 30 years later, they are still considerably below that number. Nowadays, it is a de-industrialized, demoralized and depopulated underworld of elderly.
If the equality of outcome(income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunitya tangible reality offered the day after to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition?
Wolfgang Herr, a journalist, claims: “The more you get to know capitalism the less inclined you are to wonder what was wrong with socialism.” This of course reinforces the old theme – happiness. Why Eastern Germans were less discontent in their own country than ever since the “unification”? Simply, happiness is not an insight into the conditions; it is rather a match with expectations.
Famously comparing the two systems 15 years later, one former East Berliner blue-collar has said: “Telling jokes about Honecker (the long-serving DDR leader) could lead to problems, but calling your foreman at work a fool was OK. Nowadays anyone can call (Chancellor) Schröder names, but not their company’ supervisor, it brings your life into a serious trouble.”
The western leftists involved in the student uprisings of the late 1960s were idealistically counting on the DDR. When the wall fell, they thought it marked the start of the revolution. After sudden and confusing ‘reunification’, they complained: ’But why did you sacrifice the alternative society?’
They were not the only one caught by surprise. In the March 1990 elections, the eastern branch of Kohl’s Christian Democrat party, passionately for ‘reunification’, won an easy majority, defeating the disorganized and dispersed civil rights activists who – in the absence of any other organized political form, since the Communist party was demonized and dismantled – advocated a separate, but democratic state on their own. The first post-‘reunification’, pan-German elections were held after 13 months of limbo, only in December 1990. “Our country no longer existed and nor did we,” Maxim Leo diagnosed. “The other peoples of Eastern Europe were able to keep their nation states, but not the East Germans. The DDR disappeared and advocates of Anschluss did their best to remove all trace of its existence”. Vincent Von Wroblewski, a philosopher, concludes on Anschluss: “By denying our past, they stole our dignity.”
Defeated Greece conquering Rome
30 years after abandoning and ridiculing socialism, its (German-born Marx-Engels) ideas seem regaining the ground. That is so especially among the US Democrats and Greens, and the millennials all over the planet, including a global follower base to the Swedish ‘baby revolutionary’ Greta Thunberg.
In his 2019 International Labor Day speech, the Prime Minister of the turbo-liberal Singapore’ delivers a clear massage of socialism: “A strong labour movement (from confrontation 50 years ago to cooperation today) remains crucial to us. In many developed countries, union membership is falling, and organised labour is becoming marginalised. Workers’ concerns are not addressed, and they feel bewildered, leaderless and helpless. Not surprisingly, they turn to extreme, nativist political movements that pander to their fears and insecurity, but offer no realistic solutions or inspiring leadership to improve their lives. In Singapore, constructive and cooperative unions, together with enlightened employers and a supportive government, have delivered better incomes for workers and steady progress for the country. We must stay on this path, and strengthen trust and cooperation among the tripartite partners, so that despite the uncertainties and challenges in the global economy, we can continue to thrive and prosper together as a nation.”
Back in Berlin, a 29-year-old Kevin Kühnert openly calls for socialism arguing that it ‘means democratic control over the economy’… over a tiger that in the meantime became too big and too wild to be controlled. He doesn’t shy away that his aim is ‘to replace capitalism as such not just to recalibrate it’. Kühnert’s socialism puts needs before skills and collective well-being before individual reward. Companies like BMW would be collectivized, meaning ownership by the workers. “Without collectivization of one form or the another, it is unthinkable to overcome capitalism” – this native of western Berlin claims.
Ideas might sound radical, but this raising star of the eldest and the second largest German political party – SPD, and its current Youth Chair (JUSOS), Kühnert enjoys huge support and popularity among millennials. It is a generation surprised by the social fairness, cultural broadness and overall achievements of the ‘defeated’ DDR.
The same principle would be applied to real estate: “I don’t think it is a legitimate business model, to earn a living from the living space of other people. Everybody should at most own the living space he himself inhabits – everything else would be owned collectively” – he explained in the mesmerizing interview for the leading German daily ‘Die Zeit’.
The triumphant neoliberalism of the German post-1989 dizzy years brought about fast and often opaque financial gains upwards, while the growing list of social risks were shifted downward. Today, the wealthiest are mostly those with the resources and skills to avoid taxes and ship jobs to China. Very often they are not even German; Warren Buffett is a major investor in Berlin real estate. Thirty years ago nobody from either side of the Berlin Wall imagined such scenarios. “Russians were here, but the culture and the restaurants were still German. Look at this now; what is German in this city – neither sports, food, outfits, property nor culture” – laments a baby-boomer Berliner at the Alexander Platz.
Unrestrained capitalism was clearly not what the founders of Western Germany had in mind. “The capitalist economic system did not serve the interest of the German people” – even the center-right Christian Democrats declared already in 1947. That is why – leaning on its own parallel society, that of the DDR – the Western German republic was built on the idea of the social market economy (soziale Marktwirtschaft) in which individual initiative was prized, but so was the obligation of the wealthy to help those socio-economically behind.
Alarming figures of the Gini index (including the income share held by lowest as well as by highest 10%) in Germany display a high child and youth poverty rates which significantly perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Declared dream of the western German founders increasingly becomes a German illusion. The equality of opportunity – so much prized in theory – in practice is just a myth, especially for eastern portions of Germany, minorities, women, but also for an ever larger echelons of the middle-class.
“Socialism is not defeated, it is only hijacked. Nowadays, it is held by the ‘One Percent’ – they enjoy subsides, tax breaks, deregulations and executive bonuses. The rest of population lives unfair system of inequality and segregation, struggling to meet its ends under severe austerity, confusing migration policies, and never ending erosion of labour rights” – explains the Leipzig’s professor of political economy. “Even when Al Qaeda or ISIL strikes Germany, it is not an upper end elite restaurant, but the Munich working class suburban location, in front of inn that belongs to the chain of cheap fast food” – concludes his assistant.
DDR was abruptly eliminated as a territorial reality. 30 years later, for many Germans, it comes back – between utopian dream and only remaining hope. No wonder that the elections, just 10 days before the 30thanniversary of Berlin Wall downing, in a focally important German federal province (Bundeslander) of Thuringia ended up with a total triumph of the Linke. This successor party to the former DDR’s Communists repeated their winning results yet again by late October 2019. This time it was with a stunning 31% of total votes – nearly equalling the combined vote won by the three most established German political parties, that of the Christian-democrats, Social-democrats and Liberals (8% +21%+5%).
About the author: Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarević is professor in international law and global political studies, based in Vienna, Austria. His 7thbook From WWI to www. 1918-2018is published by the New York’s Addleton Academic Publishers earlier this year. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay.