The Price of German Unity – Reunification and the crisis of the welfare state

The Price of German Unity –
Reunification and the crisis of the welfare state
By Gerhard A. Ritter
Oxford University Press – £79.00

Many consider the reunification of Germany in March 1990, as an initial prelude to the end of European division and the eventual termination of the Cold War. That it may have triggered an altogether different era within that of German history, psychology and ideology, not to mention unity, is perhaps only now, coming to both light and fruition. Coming into some sort of inter-linguistic, political oneness that the country itself, so sorely lacked for the best part of forty-five years.

That the socio-politico manifestation of German solidarity has become increasingly more fragmented over recent years ought hardly be surprising. The country’s capital Berlin for instance, is still the largest conglomeration of Turkish citizens anywhere in the world outside of Turkey itself. With an approximate 300,000 citizens, it has to be said that the Turkish einfluß (influence) does not in any particularly profound way, reflect the consequence of demographics that was predicted during the early nineties.

If anything, said influence was, and still remains nothing short of a political thorn in the side of countless policy makers; and is as such, completely polar to that which is written herein: ‘’For a long time, politicians and policy makers in the Federal Republic ignored the great problems that the dramatic fall in the birth rate and the steady ageing of the population were going to cause to society, to the economy, to the labour market, and, especially, to the various systems of social insurance.’’

The above quote opens chapter 4 (‘The Social Structure and Expectations from Social Policy – 4.1 Demographic Change and its Consequences’) of The Price of German Unity – Reunification and the crisis of the welfare state, wherein author Gerhard A. Ritter – a former chairman of the Association of German Historians and Professor Emeritus at the University of Munich – seemingly writes within the rather linear parameters of factual expectation and normalcy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as no one to my mind has a sixth sense that only a political crystal ball would provide.

But surely the crisis that currently exists, as well as persists, within the country’s social insurance structure alone, really ought not to have been too difficult to foresee. Especially given the (already decided) eastward expansion of the European Union – which was always going to have an enormous effect on the former GDR given its close proximity to Poland.

Upon reading a continuation of the above quotation, one really wouldn’t think there was a drain on (health) insurance, let alone a crisis: ‘’In the autumn of 1992 the German Bundestag set up a commission of enquiry, composed of members of parliament and non-political experts, into demographic change. The commission was charged with compiling ‘general social data relevant to demographic change.’ It was also asked to assess the ‘social, economic and social protection effects that demographic change [would have] on later generations,’ to establish what ‘steps [would] need to be taken,’ and to recommend what ‘policy decisions [would] be necessary;’ in the meantime, any such decisions would be deferred.’’

Far more is then written of the ageing German society, rather than the demographic crossover between Germans themselves and the ever-increasing influx and influence of non-Germans – such as that of Turkish language and culture. Two substantial, very non-concurrent subjects that really ought to have been addressed somewhere within these 469 pages; uniquely so if one is to honestly and coherently address ‘’general social data relevant to demographic change.’’ Reason being, third generation German Turks can speak neither German nor Turkish correctly. When they return to Turkey, they are considered German, and while they remain in Berlin, they are considered Turkish. As for culture, it’s not unheard of for Turkish families living within the city, to have anything of up to eight or nine children; most of whom are funded by the welfare state (an institution which this book supposedly addresses), most of whom will never fully integrate into German society. As from a religious perspective, it’s just not done, let alone considered (socially, let alone politically) correct.

What’s written throughout this detailed and rather expansive book, covers a vast terrain of data; especially within such overtly well researched chapters as ‘The German Economy and Unification,’ ‘The Social Policy of the Modrow Government,’ ‘Welfare-State Institutions in the New Bundeslander’ and ‘Social Policy and its Actors, 1991-1994.’ But in all truth, it’s just a little too dry, a little too didactic for its own good. Furthermore, it shies away from one of the more fundamental drains responsible for the current ‘crisis of the (German) welfare state.’

As such, it doesn’t really live up to its title, for one essential aspect of The Price of German Unity is ignored.

David Marx

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One response to “The Price of German Unity – Reunification and the crisis of the welfare state

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