German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a personal, rare note today (Sunday) in a speech she delivered on the occasion of Germany’s reunification day. The outgoing chancellor, who announced she would retire after forming a coalition that could control Germany in light of the recent election results, gave a speech in the former East German city of Ela, which included criticism of many attitudes towards the former East and towards it. Some media outlets in Germany have described the chancellor’s “most personal speech” so far.
Against the background of what was perceived as West German “arrogance” towards the residents of the former East, Merkel said that “diversity and differences between people are not a threat to democracy, but a proof of freedom of existence” in a democratic state. “But is it not the case that people of my generation from the German Democratic Republic (formerly East Germany) have to prove that they belong to the United State even three decades after unification?” She wondered.
Merkel quoted from an official publication of the Adenauer Foundation of the Conservative Party, the political house in which it grew after the fall of the Wall, which led to victory in four consecutive election campaigns since 2005. Merkel is a political outcast in the party, Germany in the party that shaped West Germany. The publication states that she entered the party at the age of 35 “with all the excess baggage of her previous life in the GDR”. How can her life until then be defined under the East German dictatorship as an “excess charge” that should be disposed of, the Chancellor wondered today.
“Everything has changed: politics, work, society”
Merkel made it clear that she was not saying these things to complain personally about discrimination, and also that she was “not saying these things as German Chancellor.” “I say this as one of the 16 million German residents who previously lived in the GDR,” she said, clarifying that the reference to life in East Germany as “excess baggage” is wrong, even though it is very common in German media and politics.
She noted that while the reunification was “smooth” for West Germans, for whom most of life went on as usual, for those living in the former East the reunification was a drastic shock, in which “everything changed: politics, labor, society”. Many, she said, found themselves at a dead end, unable to adapt to the new situation. “Such experiences and stories are also part of our history,” Merkel said in front of an audience that included all of Germany’s top politicians, church representatives and the judiciary.
Merkel went on to quote another report published in the newspaper De Walt, in which a journalist praised her for her decisions in the refugee crisis. The journalist wrote that she proved “that although she was not born one, she learned to be German and European.” Merkel addressed the audience and wondered “was not born German but learned to be like that? Was not born European but learned to be like that? Are there two types of Germans and Europeans?”.
Later in the speech, Merkel praised the “courage” of former East Germans who overthrew the dictatorship and that the process of reunification of Germany, which officially began on October 3, 1990 and is marked as a national holiday in Germany, is still ongoing.