Schroeder Wants East-West United
BERLIN (AP) _ Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder congratulated eastern Germans on Thursday for overcoming communism, but said Germany remains a divided nation 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In a speech to parliament, Schroeder urged richer west Germans to set aside prejudices toward the struggling east. Boosting eastern living standards will require continued government aid, he said.
``Germans must join together to meet the challenges of the 21st century and complete the process of the peaceful unification of our country,″ declared Schroeder, who toppled the chancellor who united Germany, Helmut Kohl, in elections last year.
This week’s celebrations of the Wall’s opening on Nov. 9, 1989, gave Germans a chance to reflect on the triumph of East Germany’s bloodless democratic revolution, as well as on the continuing gaps between the east and west.
Schroeder said ``the impression of alienation and the feeling of disillusionment are still felt very clearly″ in the east, where unemployment is about twice as high as in the west after the collapse of communist industry.
He pledged to strive for equal living standards for all Germans.
Eastern Germans deserve respect for having survived four decades of communism, and should receive tolerance as they continue to adapt to market forces, Schroeder said.
``One thing is for sure: More curiosity about eastern Germany, its history and its people would promote mutual understanding,″ he said in an appeal to western Germans.
The opposition Christian Democrats questioned Schroeder’s commitment to inner unity, and cited data indicating continuing economic division. For example, eastern Germans working for private firms earn on average a quarter less than their western counterparts.
In addition, jobless figures for October showed a widening gap between the east and the west this week. Unemployment in the west was 8.2 percent, compared to 16.9 percent in the east.
Schroeder said state aid to eastern Germany _ a cause of resentment in the west because of higher taxes _ would continue ``at a high level.″
However, the government said it planned to trim aid to the five eastern states as part of budget cuts designed to lower the national debt, boost investment and promote jobs.