Despite an “increasing anti--democratic sentiment” in former East Germany 20 years after German reunification, it is unfair to blame democracy for economic problems, a visiting German academic told a forum in Taipei yesterday.
In a speech titled “Is Everyone Happy with Democracy? The East German Experience,” Stefan Wolle, a professor at the Free University of Berlin and an expert on the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) secret police, shared the country’s experiences in democratization and his views on what democracy means.
Acceptance of democracy in the GDR “dropped immediately after 1990” amid severe economic problems: The industrial base collapsed, traditional markets in Eastern Europe melted away and there were fears of colonization by the West, as well as unemployment, Wolle said.
A growing number of people in former East Germany believe this is “not the kind of democracy we wanted … and I now find myself unemployed,” said Wolle, adding that people “mixed up the issue of democracy and economic systems.”
“Many people [confuse] the two, so that they blame democracy for their economic problems. This is theoretically wrong, of course … People say democracy is only good if it gives me economic benefits,” he said.
“Increasing economic problems resulted in anti-democratic -sentiment … in many cases [this] means that people are fed up with political parties,” Wolle said.
At present, less than 1 percent of the population is a member of a political party, he said, the same level as in the 1950s. The highest percentage ever reached was 3 percent.
Statistics on which expectations have been realized since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 fully account for the discontent with political parties, Wolle said.
As many as 94 percent of residents in the former GDR said “freedom of opinion, of the press and of travel” have been realized, data shows, but only 56 percent agreed that “equality before the law and realization of the rule of law” has been achieved.
As for material affluence, about half said it had been achieved, statistics showed.
On the possibility that “economic problems could lead to a rejection of democracy as a whole,” Wolle said talking about the meaning of democracy was a starting point to change the “atomization of society,” the tendency among a dissatisfied populace to “sit in front of the TV and not take any initiative.”
The solution, he said, was to encourage the public to participate in the political process.
Equally important is to develop a political culture that respects differences of opinion and deals with “new impulses” maturely, he said.
“Democracy is a system that questions itself all the time,” Wolle said.
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