West Germans lose zeal for more sacrifices

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FOR the first time there are more western Germans who feel that unification fills them with alarm rather than joy. Reflecting this growing scepticism, a majority of western Germans want the massive transfers to eastern Germany to be cut back, highlighting a worrying development for the government, which is gingerly seeking ways of preparing the public for further sacrifice.

The findings came in a comprehensive opinion poll by the Allensbach Institute published. It described the way the graph line of 'unification worriers' has cut through and is now moving sharply up from the sinking line of 'unification rejoicers' in the west, as 'the beginning of a fateful scissor process'. Only 36 per cent of western Germans find reason to celebrate about unification now, as against 46 per cent who find 'overwhelming cause for worry'. This contrasts starkly with the situation in eastern Germany where, despite the daily difficulties, nearly two thirds of people still view unification positively.

The exploding costs of rebuilding the east, mainly in the form of transfers from the west - running at 180 billion deutschmarks ( pounds 62bn) this year - are the main cause of alarm among westerners, fearful of seeing their economic prosperity undermined. Fifty-four per cent of westerners want the subsidies to the east cut, as against just 28 per cent who see no risk to themselves. Sixty-one per cent of westerners said that if the government were now to demand greater sacrifices, it would meet with 'anger and refusal' from the public.

It is hardly surprising, in the light of such findings, that the Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has shied away from making a blood, sweat and tears speech to the nation, despite the increasingly difficult financial situation caused by the failure of the recovery in the east to take off. According to the Allensbach insitute's analysis, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 'appeals for sacrifice continue to fall on deaf ears in western Germany'.

At the same time, the poll highlights the discrepancy between this growing unwillingness of western Germans to dig deeper into their pockets for the east, and the fact that most of them admit that unification has not led to any noticeable deterioration in their circumstances. Only 26 per cent of western Germans claim to feel worse off - the rest living as they did before unification. In eastern Germany, 51 per cent consider themselves to be better off now.

Allensbach places much of the responsibility with the authorities for this seemingly unjustified decline in willingness to make sacrifices. 'It is remarkable how little attention has been paid by politicians to the question of how to motivate western Germans to make greater sacrifices.' The institute argues that part of the difficulty lies in the fact that, for much of the post-war period, a sense of distance between the citizen and the state was carefully nurtured; patriotism was eradicated.