Germany united on paper at last

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THE WALL fell, the currencies merged, roads and railway lines were welded together, but in literature a minefield has still kept the two German nations apart, writes Imre Karacs. Now, eight years after reunification, writers from the two sides of the Iron Curtain are about to embrace one another.

In a historic meeting in Berlin, members of the writers' association, Pen (East), yesterday voted to merge their organisation with its western alter ego to form a united writers' association. Provided western German writers agree at their general assembly next month, an all-German association should be set up at an inaugural meeting in Goethe's Weimar at the end of the year.

The wounds might take longer to heal. After 1989, members of the East German body split along the lines of opponents and advocates of the Communist regime. Literature on the dark side of the Wall had largely been a preserve of sycophants, irrespective of talent. Free thinkers had been stifled and denounced, often by their colleagues.

Western writers demanded a purge after unification, but most established Ossi authors resisted it, because they had too much to lose. Over the years, the Communist propagandists crumbled away, but two members of Pen (East) suspected of links to the Stasi secret police refused to budge.

Faced with the prospect of merger with an organisation crawling with Communist spies, Pen (West) also ruptured. Walk-out followed walk-out, particularly when Gunter Grass, the greatest German writer alive, took the side of Stasi enforcers.

Now that the Ossis have dumped the last of their spooks, unification beckons. It will be very much on the same basis as the country's political union: the headquarters of Pen (West) in Darmstadt will take over all functions, though the Ossis will be allowed to keep a regional office in Berlin.