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Eastern Voters Block Merger With Berlin

May 6, 1996

BERLIN (AP) _ Reflecting the disparities and fears east Germans still fear five years after unification, voters in eastern Brandenburg state have rejected a proposal to merge with Berlin.

A single Berlin-Brandenburg state would have reunited the former heartland of Prussia, creating Germany’s fifth-largest state. Instead, the referendum Sunday confirmed a geographical and psychological division between East and West that has only existed since the end of World War II.

In Bonn today, Chancellor Helmut Kohl said the merger may have been put to a vote too soon ``in view of the dramatic changes that have come over the people in the last few years.″

The proposed state merger was rejected by two-thirds of the voters in Brandenburg, created after unification in former East German territory surrounding the city-state Berlin.

While Berliners as a whole favored the union _ 53 percent voted ``yes″ _ most districts in eastern Berlin voted ``no.″ The merger needed a majority in both states to pass.

The merger was proposed amid the euphoria of reunification. Reflecting the optimism of the times, the architects wrote in the preamble to the merger treaty that it would ``contribute to the internal German reunification.″

Brandenburg Gov. Manfred Stolpe, Mayor Eberhard Diepgen of Berlin and other politicians emphasized the economic benefits of the union, saying a stronger region would attract investment and a single administration would save money by cutting duplicate expenses.

But in the days leading up to the referendum, even supporters said the campaign failed to address fears among former East Germans, disillusioned by the immense changes of the past five years.

``I think the people are afraid of new decisions as long as problems that followed reunification _ unemployment, property disputes _ haven’t been dealt with,″ said Wolfgang Birthler, the Social Democratic party leader in Brandenburg state.

Hellmuth Wollmann, a political scientist at Humboldt University, said the vote revealed enduring differences between east and west, but also a mistrust on the part of rural Brandenburgers toward the former East German capital, where the communist elite and bureaucrats lived well.

``I think everybody underrated the kind of mental legacies which have been created by the former regime,″ in East Germany, Wollmann said. ``People were just too optimistic that this would be a matter of a few years. Now we realize it’s a matter of generations.″

The failed merger is likely to quell discussions over consolidating Germany’s 16 small states to make them more viable.

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