25th anniversary of German reunification offers a template for other divided nations to follow

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2015, 1:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2015, 1:42am

The 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany has been a boon for researchers. All manner of studies have been dusted down or carried out looking at the progress on every imaginable economic and social factor since the poor East merged with the affluent West. There are still differences, some significant, but there is no dispute that it has been a success. It is a lesson for Europe, the Koreas and populations struggling to find common ground.

Germans still hotly debate what has changed. Politics was the least of the reunification worries; it was inevitable that the more populous West's democracy would win out over the East's communism. "Ossis", as those from the East are known, earn only two-thirds as much as "Wessis", more are unemployed, they have fewer industries and not many of their products are on supermarket shelves. Ossis are more likely to be discontent and two million have migrated to the west, leaving an ageing population that is in some areas in decline.

But living standards are now equally high and life expectancies similar. No part of the former Soviet bloc has caught up to the West to the same degree. Older generations see more differences than younger ones. Perhaps in another generation, it will be impossible to tell the two apart.

Former West German chancellor Willy Brandt produced the most memorable quote when the sides reunited, saying: "What belongs together, will grow together." Despite the dire predictions of some for the state of German economic health, his prophesy proved right, with Germany now the powerhouse of Europe. For celebrations on Saturday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker took the remark a step further, saying it was proof of what people and politics could achieve "if they overcome national walls, fences and barriers". His mind was on a Europe of "peace and freedom, of fairness and prosperity", but with South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo in attendance, the achievement offers hope for all people riven by divisions.