Thursday, November 12, 2015

Last Leader of DDR: "It was clear to me that I was not really prime minister but administrator of a giant bankruptcy"

In a 25th anniversary article on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the New York Times' Alison Smale asked six Germans from different generations (roughly 25, 50 and 75 years old) to describe their views on the past, present, and future of Germany. Notably Lothar de Maizière, the first (and last) freely elected prime minister of East Germany, had things of interest to say.

Adapting to a New Life
Lothar de Maizière, 75:
The elections [in spring 1990] were not really elections — they were a plebiscite for the unity of Germany, a state ruled by law, a federal system with a social market economy and the Deutschmark. I knew very exactly studies on the state of East Germany economically, so it was clear to me that I was not really prime minister but administrator of a giant bankruptcy. Back then I had 160 clients a year as a lawyer, now I had 16 million clients, full of unbelievable expectations.
Lingering Differences
Mr. de Maizière, 75:
I visited a lawyer friend in Prague three years ago and asked why people there seemed more content than those in Berlin. Two things, he said: We are comparing with earlier, while you still compare with the West. And we are changing, while you were changed.
The Russian Connection
Mr. de Maizière, 75:
The first time [Mikhail S. Gorbachev and I] met in Moscow on April 29, 1990 ... I had brought a piece of the Berlin Wall … as gratitude for his words, “He who comes too late gets punished by life.” And then he said something that I will never forget: “Didn’t we all come too late?” Gorbachev is for me a hero from a Greek tragedy. He wanted to have a humanized form of socialism, and got a shabby capitalism, pretty much the shabbiest. He wanted a democratized Soviet Union, and got its collapse. And yet he remains one of the great saviors of the second half of the 20th century.
Mr. de Maizière, 75:
I always said there was a 10/10 generation — 10 years too long in East Germany to really make a fresh start, and 10 years too young to retire. And that is tragic, because they were the people who for 40 years effectively carried East Germany. And then they were told we don’t need you any more.