Ten years on, 'Ossis' believe they are the winners

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The Independent Online

With street parties and 10 strikes of the gong at midnight at the Reichstag, Germany was to open celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of unification yesterday. The festivities will culminate today in Dresden, where the French President, Jacques Chirac, will express his country's delight at the great event.

With street parties and 10 strikes of the gong at midnight at the Reichstag, Germany was to open celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of unification yesterday. The festivities will culminate today in Dresden, where the French President, Jacques Chirac, will express his country's delight at the great event.

But the commemorations are not expected to match the excitement of last year, during what most Germans regard as the real anniversary of Communism's collapse - the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989.

The West German parliament merely approved the union on 3 October 1990. Yet this is the official red-letter day because 9 November can never be celebrated. That date is reserved in the history books for Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in 1938 which opened the first chapter of the Holocaust.

All this is of no concern to the many in eastern Germany with cause to rejoice today. Among them are two former Politburo members who are spending their first hours of freedom. Günter Schabowski, the man who inadvertently announced the opening of the border, and Günther Kleiber received an amnesty in honour of the occasion. They had expressed regret for the communist terror, and had to serve less than a year of their prison sentences. Egon Krenz, the party leader, who refused to apologise, remains in jail.

Also cheering in the new decade of unity will be communist functionaries who have been living in fear of the knock on the door for the past decade. Apart from manslaughter and murder, all crimes are wiped off the slate today. Hundreds of sports officials and doctors, for instance, will escape prosecution for doping.

There are many who will be in no mood to applaud the passing of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Some 19 per cent ofworkers in the east are jobless - twice the level in the west of the country. The economies of the new länder are only now crawling out of recession, while the west is experiencing its best boom for years.

Much has become worse in the past decade. Eastern Germany now has neo-Nazis and crime, although admittedly the crime rate in the former socialist paradise was low partly because there was nothing to steal. Now, 78 per cent of people there own a car, only 3 per cent less than in the west.

The latest polls also show that eastern despondency is lifting at last. According to a survey published by the weekly Zeit, 59 per cent of "Ossis" considered themselves winners, and only 19 per cent losers, from unification. A similar poll in 1993 found a mere 32 per cent describing themselves as winners.

Life is getting better even for the minority who still cling to the good old days. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, they shun the unification razzmatazz and take refuge in a virtual world where the GDR is still alive.

Click on an icon of the GDR internet site and the message will flash up: "Warning - You are now leaving West Berlin." Beyond lies a microcosm of forums, chat sites, picture galleries and joke libraries dedicated to the old country. The faithful can even send electronic greeting cards. Special ones, bearing pictures of Trabant cars, have been designed for Unification Day.

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