Two decades after the forced "reunification" of Germany, large numbers of young people and even many who are well off are among the majority of former East Germans who reject outright criticism of the German Democratic Republic.

Released on Oct. 1 in Berlin, the survey reveals that 57 percent of eastern Germans defend the overall record of the former East Germany.

"The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there," agreed 49 percent of those polled.

Another eight percent agreed with this statement: "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."

These results, according to an article on the website of Der Spiegel newspaper, reveal that "it is no longer merely the eternally nostalgic who mourn the loss of the GDR."

For example, the Der Spiegel article laments the view of many eastern Germans, who say that the present government of Germany maintains security and intelligence gathering bodies, which they regard as no different in principle than the role of the Stasi in the former GDR.

Similarly, the critique that east Germans had "no freedom to travel" strikes many as absurd. In the time of the GDR, they argue, citizens were free to travel to other socialist countries; today, only people with sufficient incomes can travel abroad, while many Germans are completely destitute.

Even a successful businessman told Der Spiegel that he misses "that feeling of companionship and solidarity" in the former GDR. "As far as I’m concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today," Thorsten Schoen says.

Calling for equal wages and equal pensions for residents of the former East Germany, Schoen points out that today’s injustices, from starvation wages to slashed car tires, were unheard of in the GDR.

This tendency worries people like political scientist Klaus Schroeder, director of a university institute in Berlin which studies the former GDR. Schroeder warns against "efforts to downplay the SED dictatorship by young people whose knowledge about the GDR is derived mainly from family conversations, and not as much from what they have learned in school."     (SED – Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party in the GDR.)

"Not even half of young people in eastern Germany describe the GDR as a dictatorship, and a majority believe the Stasi was a normal intelligence service," Schroeder concluded in a 2008 study of school students.

Schroeder received more than 4,000 letters critical of his study, a response he considers "shocking".

One such person wrote that it wasn’t until after the restoration of capitalism that he witnessed people who feared for their existence, beggars and homeless people. Many described today’s Germany as a "slave state" or a "dictatorship of capital," but certainly not democratic.

It appears that what most worries Schroeder and other apologists for the present German state is not the extent of "nostalgia" for the GDR. Their main concern is that increasing numbers of young people are appalled by the injustices of capitalism – and that they know from their own parents and grandparents that a viable socialist alternative existed for decades on German soil.

October 16, 2010