The war in Syria is another reminder of how intractable sectarian divides can be. In that light, it's interesting to read about a form of national identity that has proven to be far less durable: the idea of being an "East German." As an article last week in Der Spiegel discussed, 23 years after reunification, the East-West divide has little remaining salience in German political and cultural life.
After the Berlin Wall fell, Der Spiegel reports, there was an expectation that the "eastern Germany" identity would last for generations. There were also practical differences to smooth over between the reunited countries, mostly involving the different political and economic structures East and West Germany had lived with for the forty plus years of the Iron Curtain. But now, many of the highest profile reunification initiatives have become obsolete. The article reports that the "solidarity tax," which was meant to help East Germany catch up economically, no longer has a purpose, while the Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Files of the State Security Service of the Former GDR- which screens prospective public employees for past connections to the Stasi- is on its way to being shuttered.
In short, knowing someone is an eastern or western German no longer tells you very much about their place in Germany society. The achievement is particularly notable when you compare it to our country (though the two situations are, obviously, far from fully analogous): Nearly 150 years after the end of The Civil War, the north-south divide remains one of the biggest fault lines in American life.
H/T The Browser.
Image of the Berlin Wall by Thierry Noir via Wikimedia Commons.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.