German unity a success after rocky start: Merkel

German Chancellor is opposed to extending a "solidarity tax" paid by Germans.

Berlin: Chancellor Angela Merkel said German unification had been for the most part a success in the past 20 years even though there are major gaps between the east and west.

Merkel, who was raised in Communist East Germany, said in an interview on Sunday in the magazine Super Illu many easterners initially felt a certain estrangement in reunited Germany.

"All in all, I`d say the results of 20 years of unification have been for the most part positive," Merkel told the eastern weekly ahead of the 20th anniversary of unification on October 03. "There are so many eastern success stories."

There are, however, still major gaps between the formerly communist east and the west. Wages in the east are lower, unemployment is higher. The eastern population has shrunk by two million as mostly young people move west in search of jobs.

Some easterners complain westerners -- or "Wessies" -- treat them like second-class citizens while westerners sometimes moan about ingratitude of "Ossies" and the high unification costs.

"After reunification there was a certain estrangement because everyday life in the east changed completely -- everything from the bureaucracy to the job market," Merkel said. "The easterners have accomplished a lot since 1990."

Merkel`s party, the conservative Christian Democrats, were at first the most popular party in the east -- in part thanks to promises made by then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He said the east would turn into "flourishing landscapes" in united Germany.

But when unemployment soared as eastern plants failed in the face of competition from the west, many easterners mocked Kohl`s words of "flourishing landscapes”. The situation in some areas of the east has since gradually improved.

"I thought then it was a good target to have," Merkel said, referring to the "flourishing landscapes" comment. "But when unemployment rose in the early 1990s I was shocked by the derision about that vision and the man who created it.”

"It was difficult for me to even mention the term `flourishing landscapes` during the 1990s. But now I think it`s a term that accurately describes the reality of large parts of eastern Germany," Merkel said.

Merkel said she was opposed to extending a "solidarity tax" that all Germans pay to help rebuild eastern Germany beyond its projected expiration in 2019 -- "even though there are still considerable gaps between the east and west."

Merkel said she was confident the prosperity levels in the east would equal those of many western states by 2019.

Bureau Report

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