A legacy of lies traps the East
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland)
Germany celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last week, said Eric Gujer, but this nation is as divided as ever. Fully a quarter of voters in at least three states in the former Communist East now support the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). That political party not only opposes immigration but also spreads dangerous lies about migrants, falsely portraying them as prone to criminality and part of an international plot to displace native Germans. The AfD knows that residents of eastern Germany are particularly susceptible to such nationalist lies. The authoritarianism of the old Communist regime “still reverberates, even in the minds of those too young to have experienced it for themselves.” Dominated by the Soviets for 40 years, East Germans learned “a life of dissimulation and distrust of the state apparatus.” Nobody could determine what was a lie or what was the truth, so today’s eastern Germans still instinctively assume the press is lying. That’s why ideas that many in western Germany regard as conspiracy theories are viewed in the east as rays of enlightenment that let them “look behind the wall of official propaganda.” Such thinking makes easterners vulnerable to populist outsiders peddling scapegoats and easy answers. It may take generations before this schism is healed, and Germany is truly one nation again.