Kohl sees glimmer of light in the east

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The Independent Online
HELMUT KOHL, riding high after his party's unexpectedly strong showing in the Bavarian state elections last week, launched a final push against his Socialist enemies yesterday in the former Communist heartland of eastern Germany.

The impact of this final leg of the campaign for the Chancellorship, covering states where parties on the far-right have done well in recent elections, could prove crucial in the final polls in 10 days' time.

Through a high-profile TV and newspaper advertising campaign painting the eastern states, many of which are blighted by industrial wastelands and high unemployment, as "flourishing landscapes", Mr Kohl hopes to capture up to 40 per cent of the vote in five crucial regional states.

But the Chancellor may have his work cut out; the latest opinion polls show support for his party to be at least 10 percentage points down on the target figure and the Social Democrats are also making a last-minute dash for votes in the impoverished east.

Resentment at wealthy "Wessis" and simmering social discontent are pervasive in a region where youth unemployment is, locally, above 50 per cent. Analysts suggest the CDU needs to win at least 35 per cent of the vote in the east to win nationally: with the high number of undecided votes in the east, Mr Kohl's task is difficult but not impossible, depending on his ability to convince enough of the populace that he is better than any of the alternatives.

Mr Kohl appeared to stake a slice of his political future on the regeneration of the east after masterminding the hastily arranged reunification process in 1990; more than DM1bn was pumped into the area's industry and social infrastructure, only for the mass closure of factories and businesses to continue. The result is a culture of resentment and isolation, an ideal breeding ground for the far-right parties, which continue to achieve double-figures in opinion polls.

One recent survey showed that neighbouring areas of western Poland across the Oder river, which benefited from none of Bonn's largesse, are currently flourishing with low unemployment and 20 per cent growth, much to the chagrin of the deprived Germans of the states of Lower Saxony and Brandenburg.