Dawn: The Peril Ignored

Hello, dear reader,

the tide of war in Ukraine seems to be turning, the troops of President Zelensky are regaining ground. Even on Russian state television, where propaganda otherwise likes to stifle any truth, a military expert warned on Tuesday in unusually critical words about the influence of the Ukrainian military and the consequences of the geopolitical isolation of Russia: “The world is against us,” he said. . “The situation is not normal.”

It’s kind of a beacon of hope for Ukraine and the West. But the end of the war is far from in sight. Ukrainians will continue to die under Russian bombs and bullets, and the rest of the world will feel the social consequences of embargoes and power games in the energy market, among others. In Germany, this development threatens to deepen a divide that is often denied in state records but runs deep across the country more than 30 years after reunification.

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East Germany is more dependent on energy supplies from Russia and Ukraine than the west of the country. This is due to the geographical location, but also to the socialization of many politicians and industrialists. In the GDR, for example, it was compulsory for all schoolchildren to learn Russian. What was an advantage when cheap gas and oil from Russia was still in demand around the world is now becoming a disadvantage that is increasingly taking on devastating proportions.

Schwedt refinery: more than 1,000 people work there - and the Russian state company Rosneft owns the majority of the shares.
Schwedt refinery: more than 1,000 people work there – and the Russian state company Rosneft owns the majority of the shares. (Source: Frank Ossenbrink / imago-images-bilder)

It’s not just about the refinery in Schwedt, Brandenburg, which until now was 100% dependent on Russian oil. These are the chemical parks in Saxony-Anhalt, the glass industry in Thuringia, automobile production and agriculture, which could run out of fertilizer without Russian gas. Thousands of jobs are potentially at risk.

Glassmaker at work in Lauscha, Thuringia (file photo): The place is considered the birthplace of glass decorations for Christmas trees.
Glassmaker at work in Lauscha, Thuringia (file photo): The place is considered the birthplace of glass decorations for Christmas trees. (Source: epd/imago-images-pictures)

Regarding the Schwedt plant, Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) also warns against a proposed EU oil embargo fuel shortage especially in East Germany and Berlin. It can happen “that there is not enough oil and therefore too little gasoline available for a limited time”. Prices at the pump will then inevitably climb to unprecedented heights. It also hits many people in the East hard – the number of commuters is particularly high here.

Demonstration in Annaberg-Buchholz, Saxony: Dozens of drivers and transport companies demonstrated at the end of March against high petrol prices.
Demonstration in Annaberg-Buchholz, Saxony: Dozens of drivers and transport companies demonstrated at the end of March against high petrol prices. (Source: Bernd March/imago-images-pictures)

New problems join old injustices. After all, workers in the East still earn much less than workers in the rest of the country. The figures from the Federal Statistical Office for 2021 are difficult to read: workers in the West received an average hourly wage of 26.81 euros. In the east, it was only 20.91 euros. Calculated over a 40-hour week, that makes a difference of 240 euros. So it’s about 1,000 euros less per month. Thus, the increase in the cost of living and energy is felt more clearly in the East than in the West.

The East is often described as “structurally weak”. But it is more precise: left behind, neglected, ignored, forgotten. East German Angela Merkel only put this into words at the very end of her 16 years as chancellor in a speech that spoke of deep pain: It was as if life before the German unit didn’t really count, as if it were ballast. “At best suitable for weight compensation, but fundamentally to be dismissed as an unnecessary burden.”

Ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel: On German Unity Day 2021 she gave probably her most moving speech.
Ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel: On German Unity Day 2021 she gave probably her most moving speech. (Source: Jan Woitas/dpa-images)

With the left and the AfD, these feelings, which are widespread in the East, are aimed above all at the political fringes. Both sides are also making themselves felt in the current situation, calling for the suspension of the EU oil embargo on East Germany. As if this part of the republic was an independent country.

It is precisely with this subject that the crack becomes too clear again. And the big task that now falls to a federal cabinet that is made up of only two eastern ministers: With the ignorance, the chatter, with the Wessi, the ignorance must finally end. The Federal Government must recognize the special problems of East Germany, it must listen to East German politicians, it must urgently take precautions so that the mood does not change. Public relations appearances at oil refineries are not enough.

Economy Minister Habeck takes the podium during a visit to the oil refinery in Schwedt: he promises that his ministry has East Germany
Economy Minister Habeck stands on the podium during a visit to the oil refinery in Schwedt: he promises that his ministry will “keep an eye on” East Germany. (Source: Frank Ossenbrink / imago-images-bilder)

Otherwise, the East threatens to be left behind again. Poor regions would become even poorer and people would be even more deeply affected. Political frustration would increase – and populists would take advantage. Don’t be fooled by the recent regional elections, in which the AfD and the left were among the losers. Because they all took place in the West.

A start would be to finally realize a popular slogan – and to effectively ensure “equal pay for equal work”.

The social bomb is ticking. The chancellor and his cabinet must defuse them more than ever.

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