Lessons from a unified Germany

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Lessons from a unified Germany

When I say I’m from Germany, Koreans often ask me about German reunification. Since I was only four years-old when West and East Germany unified, I don’t know much about the process or the social impact that came afterwards.

In fact, I only came to take more interest in it after coming to Korea. While preparing for the “Non-Summit for Unification,” held at the Institute for Unification Education, I reviewed the German unification process and learned many new things.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of German reunification. During that time, former Eastern German cities like Dresden and Leipzig grew culturally, and they have made a great contribution to the German economy as a whole. While differences between former West Germans and former East Germans still exist, the gap is narrowing considerably. Germans accept each other’s differences.

Current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck are from East Germany.

However, less-than-desirable consequences also accompanied reunification. The economic level of the former East German region is still 30 percent lower than that of former West Germany. As East Germany switched from Communism to capitalism, East German companies became privatized, and those who failed to adapt went bankrupt.

As a result, unemployment went up and spending power declined. As the overall economy was aggravated, young people couldn’t find jobs. They grew antagonistic towards foreigners, and the juvenile crime rate went up in the 1990s.

The tremendous cost of sudden reunification by absorption was considerable. It cost more than $2 trillion to build new infrastructure in former East Germany, and it was a heavy burden on the German economy.

In order to finance the reunification, various taxes, including a value-added tax and a tobacco tax, were increased. Most of the unification expenses came from taxes paid by the middle classes.

The situation for German reunification is not comparable to that of South and North Korea. At the time of reunification, the population of West Germany was 60 million, four times that of East Germany’s 16 million. West German territory was three times larger than East Germany. Despite the division, West Germans were allowed to visit East Germany, and East Germans could watch West German television.

While German unification was not an easy process, reunification by absorption in the Korean Peninsula will accompany far more challenges as well as a big unification cost, as the South Korea population is twice that of North Korea. While Germans anticipated the tremendous costs and possible problems of reunification, we gladly chose reunification as we valued liberty more.

I sincerely wish for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

The author is a TV personality from Germany who appears on the JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.”

JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 28


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