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Raymond J. Learsy Headshot

Frau Nein: Angela Merkel and the East Germanization of Europe

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Frau Angela Merkel's obdurate nein, nein, nein has its genesis in both personal and regional history.

The daughter of a Lutheran pastor with all the rigidity and determination that upbringing inculcated into her persona, she is also a product of a formation vastly different from those of her West European brethren, be they in Greece, Spain, France or Italy. Her youth was formed by a culture that may have lacked the freedom of expression and cultural expanse of her European brethren, but was strengthened by a sense of communal sharing and communal goals. People worked together for the common good, and the excesses of lifestyle and consumption barely ever played a role in that there was neither excess of material goods nor personal expression. Yet there was a sense of shared solidarity, of pulling together to get the job done and helping each other. It became the core of their being, and achievement rested with the group's success, at the factory, in the office, or in the field. Yes, there was the Stasi and their restraint of personal freedoms. In compensation, it was a society that shared its pain and pleasures with few material comforts but with a sense human accountability and humble pride.

The temptations, the freedom of expression brought forth by reunification, were heady yet augured in a painful transition. Where there had been a level of security and personal satisfaction, the new freedoms and material temptations imbued restlessness and self-questioning few were equipped to deal with. They were impoverished by West German standards and powerless in their inability to understand or function in a system that left them to their own devices and for which they were grievously unprepared.

Yet they worked unflinchingly, as hard as they could with their 'group' to restore a sense of accomplishment and self respect. And the difficulties were enormous. Their spartan lives contrasted sharply with the prosperity of West Germany, a prosperity that permitted the transfer and infusion of hundred of billions of Deutsch Marks toward rebuilding East Germany and integrating it into the newly unified nation. It was a selfless undertaking but, as with so many well meaning endeavors, it had a major flaw. It lacked an intrinsic understanding of East German culture and formation, that of hard work, commitment and community, yet totally unschooled in the roughhouse give and take of a then modern economy. East German institutions were too often swept aside or became adjuncts of West German enterprise.

And yet, as the years went on and East Germans were integrated into the "Gesamt" (combined) German culture, they began to adapt -- often becoming entrepreneurial and changing the landscape from an economic charter house to a mighty contributor to Germany's economic rise and importance.

In turn, many of the attributes of East German formation, communal responsibility, teamwork, measured consumption, and abhorrence to fiscal irresponsibility began to take root throughout the landscape of the unified Germany. What had once been a patronizing relationship, West over East, turned into one of mutual respect and the dynamic partnership that has turned Germany into the economic engine of Europe.

The merging of the two societies and their contemporary history has now been fully celebrated and validated with the emergence of Frau Angela Merkel, East German born and raised, as Chancellor and Joachim Gauck, erstwhile pastor, East German born and raised, as Bundesprasident of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

To this new East-Germanized Germany, the excesses of Europe's fiscal irresponsibility and staggering debt are anathema. It is to them the height of irresponsibility and counter to their very formation barely a generation ago. Add to this the "specter of the financialization of the economy which has enriched one small segment of society at the expense of everyone else" (please see Joe Nocera, "Turning Our Backs On Unions" New York Times, 06.05.12) to get a sense how in measure it applies to us, applicable far too broadly to a Europe unhinged to fiscal restraint, and thereby unacceptable to current German formation, thinking and action.

And for good reason!