Eastern Germans Face Fourth Election in 34 Weeks
BERLIN (AP) _ After four decades of rigged elections that gave the Communists a numbing succession of imaginary landslides, eastern Germans are suddenly awash in the freedom to choose.
On Sunday, they will join their western countrymen for the first united German elections since 1932.
It is the fourth free and fair election in the past 10 months in what used to be East Germany, however, and some people have lost their enthusiasm for ballot casting.
″I won’t vote Sunday,″ said Andrea Fischer, who also skipped the last two elections. ″The more I know about these parties, the more they seem almost comical.″
After overthrowing the Communist hard-liners, East Germans jubilantly chose a democratic government in March. In May, they elected new local leaders, throwing out hundreds of Communists still clinging to power.
On Oct. 14 - a scant 11 days after German unification - they chose the governments for the five states their nation had become.
But with another historic chapter about to be written Sunday, a definite air of apathy hangs over the former nation.
Some of it has to do with the seeming inevitability of the outcome. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose conservative Christian Democratic Union dominated the first three races in eastern Germany, is expected to handily retain his post.
A little of it has to do with a growing familiarity with democratic political campaigns. The novelty has worn off, the euphoria is gone. Political rhetoric is greeted with Western-style cynicism.
Most of all, pressing problems have come to dwarf the small thrill of voting. The eastern Germans are expecting a dramatic surge in joblessness as their sputtering enterprises use up what little credit they have left in coming months.
″I have a child and a job that I only work four hours a day,″ said Ms. Fischer, 33, a postal employee who lives in the village of Schildow, north of Berlin.
″I just believe my vote won’t make a difference,″ she said.
Ms. Fischer, who would have supported the environmental Greens party or the left-leaning Social Democrats, says she believes even they don’t have a strong enough message to lure her to a voting booth on Sunday.
Karin Wernecke, a 30-year-old Berliner and former Communist, will vote as she always has: for the Communists, now reformed and renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism.
″We won’t win, but we need this voice,″ she said. Ms. Wernecke, a single jobless mother, says she has little hope for the future under the Christian Democrats.
Harry Schneidereit is one of the optimists. At 65, he has a chance to finally do what he always wanted to do.
″I have been a watchmaker for 40 years,″ said Schneidereit, who runs a small shop in northern Berlin. ″This is the first time in my life I can decide what I want. This is the essence of life for a shopkeeper.″
Schneidereit could not visit his parents in West Berlin after the wall was built. He had to let the government decide what he could stock in his shop, what prices to charge, how much he could pay his employees.
Now he has a new product line but is struggling to compete with the lower prices of the big retailers.
Still, he said he would have it no other way. That’s why, he said, Sunday’s election is important: To continue the former nation’s evolution.
″It is important that we have no apathy,″ he said. ″This man, this big man, he has promised that he would help and now he should help. This is the way to hold him to his promise.″
The ″big man″ is the rotund giant Kohl, who promised East Germans both unity and Western-style prosperity if they elected his party in March.
Unity came, but prosperity still has not.
Schneidereit detects apathy among the people in his shop, stunned by the realization that times are hard and things are likely to worsen before they get better.
Schneidereit will vote for Kohl, but he says eastern Germans themselves carry much of the burden for making the chancellor’s promises come true.
″We can’t say ‘Oh, we poor people,’ ″ he said. ″Look at the Soviet Union.
″We have to find the right way,″ he said. ″We have to take our destiny into our own hands.″