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`Dictator Damage' in East Germany

IT is a question only a German would think to ask. ``Our bank accounts are stronger,'' said a young East German waiting in line to withdraw his country's new hard currency, ``but what about our souls?'' Similar doubts grip many East Germans as they take their first steps toward a free market economy. But the breakneck pace of unification with the West leaves them little time to reflect upon an answer. The race toward union this December threatens to obscure philosophical cleavages between and within the two Germanys. Details of monetary conversion and property ownership leave little time for debate about social problems that could haunt the newly unified nation.

Rifts are especially apparent in East Germany - a people that thought it was one is discovering major differences. The rush toward union has driven a wedge between the artists, writers, scientists, and church people who led last November's revolution and the ``Volk'' in whose name they acted. After brief unity, resentment and mistrust are palpable on both sides.

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Author Walther Petri spoke in nearly mystical terms of the mass rally last Nov. 4 in East Berlin, when intellectuals and workers experienced ``the bliss of feeling at one.'' But his voice grew hard when he recounted bitter experiences since then, culminating in ``the realization that it's not permissible to criticize the people.''

Many who played a role in the revolution betray a sense of resignation. Conductor Kurt Masur was asked whether he thought about remaining in politics after his success as peacemaker in Leipzig last October. ``No,'' he said with a shrug, ``when our parties were so neatly devoured by their big brothers in the West, at that moment we had nothing more to say.''

A small group of revolutionaries remains active as members of the opposition in East Germany's parliament. Their Alliance '90 coalition won just 3 percent of the vote in national elections in March and made only a slightly better local showing in May. At Alliance '90s headquarters in the building that once housed the Communist Party Central Committee, Tatjana B"ohm sighed when she contemplated the changes since last fall. ``The solidarity we felt then is already disappearing. Now it's a Wild West atmosphere: Every man for himself.''

The mood was summed up by a mock street sign that West German author G"unter Grass spotted in front of the Nicolai Church in Leipzig, birthplace of East Germany's bloodless uprising. ``Square of the Deceived'' it proclaimed, with a gentle reminder from the ``Children of October'' that they are still around.

If the erstwhile revolutionaries are disillusioned with the general public, the reverse is also true. Smeared in red paint across the door of a new art gallery in a rundown East Berlin town house, the slogan ``Reds get out'' testifies to the anger directed at the intellectual elite. Neo-Nazis have desecrated the graves of playwright Bertolt Brecht and his wife, symbols of that elite.

Artists and writers were a privileged caste in communist East Germany, with access to hard currency, foreign travel, better cars and houses. In the months since the revolution, East Germans report increasingly frequent manifestations of ``culture-hate,'' resentment against a group disdained as having collaborated with the old regime. Intellectuals have become scapegoats for pent-up anger.

Frustration, insecurity, and mistrust are aftereffects of what some Germans have begun to call ``dictatorship damage.'' Forty-five years of communist dictatorship followed directly upon the Nazi regime - an era itself surrounded by a wall of silence in postwar East Germany. That long history of oppression, said the author Walther Petri, ``has left us with a legacy of spiritual deficits.''

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One hallmark of life in the GDR was the continuing sense of inferiority to the big brother next door, to a country that appeared stronger, happier, more successful. East Germans' national identity was colored by awareness of what their country was not. Another hallmark was the collaborationism now thrown up at East Germany's intellectuals, but prevalent among all segments of the population, according to GDR psychiatrist Johannes Piskorz. He described a thin boundary between collaboration and the adaptation necessary for survival. East Germans became ``camouflage artists,'' in his words. But they do not like being reminded of it, and Dr. Piskorz ascribed resentment against the elite to a generalized sense of guilt.

The events of last fall boosted East German self-confidence. ``For the first time in German history we achieved a nonviolent revolution through our own strength,'' explained Piskorz. Now we finally had something the West Germans didn't and they were proud of what we had done.''

The feeling was short-lived, extinguished by the opening of the Wall, when East Germans traveling to West German shopping centers realized the material gulf separating the two societies.

Now, East Germany finds itself divided between a majority that yearns to make a break with the past, becoming an adjunct of the Federal Republic, and a minority that until recently still hoped to build a healthy East German identity.

The last real attempt at doing so was the new constitution drafted by opposition parties, briefly debated in the East German parliament and now consigned to oblivion. Members of Alliance '90 had intended it to serve as a basis for discussion with West Germany, hoping that its provisions on direct democracy, social justice, and women's rights might find their way into a joint constitution for the newly unified nation.

But the conservative governments of East and West Germany are insisting on a path to unification that will simply extend the laws and constitution of the Federal Republic eastward, annulling all traces of the GDR's legal identity. They say it will be quick and fair and deny that the GDR has made any social gains worth preserving.

The pace of the unification drive leave East Germany little room for the self-reflection needed to heal the scars of ``dictatorship damage.'' Instead of confronting the past, the country is cutting it off. Rather than help East Germans learn the ways of democracy, the West has taken over speaking on their behalf.

Piskorz and others fear that unless they take steps to develop an identity of their own, East Germans will quickly sink back into their inferiority complex vis-`a-vis the West. Only a discussion of the past and its spiritual legacy can ward off future disappointment, he feels: ``Otherwise we'll still be feeling like a second-class society two years from now, when the initial thrill of unification has worn off and we realize that all the movers and shakers here actually come from West Germany.''

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