Germans look east for inspiration

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The Independent Online
ON THE threshold of the Berlin Republic the attitudes of Germany's two nations are at last beginning to converge. "Ossi" (eastern) aspirations increasingly resemble "Wessi" dreams, according to a study by the Allensbach polling organisation. Somewhere along the Elbe, the twain will soon meet.

This heart-warming trend is unlikely to be relished by Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of German unity, as the rapprochement owes little to the perceived superiority of the Western way of life. Allensbach's findings, based on years of research, show that the former citizens of East Germany, the so-called German Democratic Republic, have changed little. It is the Wessis who have moved east in their mindset, their sub-conscious lured by the much-maligned achievements of state socialism.

It seems that at a time of mass unemployment and insecurity, West Germans are grasping for an anchor and many are prepared to foresake the luxuries of individual freedom and enterprise. Liberty is abstract, profit an evil. What Wessis yearn for today is a pay cheque pegged to the cost of living.

"Our society is turning back towards a Socialist interpretation of freedom," writes Professor Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, head of the Allensbach institute, "a freedom safeguarded by the state: freedom from unemployment, from poverty in old age, from consequences of illness".

Allensbach has been asking West Germans since the Seventies to make a choice between liberty and the nebulous concept of "social justice and equality". For 20 years, libertarians were on the march, beating equality into a distant second place. The period coincided with the eclipse of the Social Democrats by Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats.

Since the last elections in 1994, however, liberty has been on the wane. This year, only 47 per cent of the same electoral panel chose freedom as their top priority, while the equalisers have shot up to 42 per cent from near insignificance. In eastern Germany, social justice scored 60 per cent, up 10 per cent in the last four years.

Further questions revealed that more than half of West Germans, and three- quarters of Ossis, thought it was the duty of the state to provide jobs. Two-thirds of Wessis looked to the state to guarantee their pensions and 61 per cent wanted the state to protect them from the consequences of ill health.

As for the Chancellor of unity, who put hard graft ahead of state hand- outs but failed to put Germans to work, he seems redundant in the new world.