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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Germany's east-west gulf
Anti-Nazi rally Eisenach
An anti-Nazi rally in the east German town of Eisenach
By BBC European Affairs correspondent William Horsley

When the East German uprising against communism led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then a year later to unification, its people expected to be treated with equality and respect.

But many easterners feel they are treated as second class citizens.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder: Seeking to charm the east
Many leading figures from the east, from the novelist Stefan Heym to top politicians like the serving premier of Brandenburg Manfred Stolpe have been smeared with unproved allegations of involvement with the former Stasi secret police.

And the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the communist party, has become a powerful "third force" in the east, challenging the dominance of the mainstream political parties.

Hollow boast

The economy in the east is still weak and fragile, with an official unemployment rate of 17% - double that in the prosperous west.

There is still much resentment at what many in the east see as western Germany's "colonisation" of the region - even though the west has poured in billions of dollars of government aid as well as private investment.

By some calculations westerners and foreigners own as much as 97% of all assets in the east.

The Berlin Wall
East Germans brought down the Wall, but feel like second class citizens
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's boast, in 1990, that the region which was blighted by communism would soon be transformed into a "blossoming landscape" turned out to be hollow.

There are some pockets of economic success, especially in traditional industrial cities like Dresden and Leipzig, in Saxony. But most easterners still live on much lower wages than their western counterparts, and they resent it.

Resurgent neo-Nazism

A newly-resurgent and violent neo-Nazi movement is especially strong in the east.

In several shocking cases, black African refugees have been hunted down and killed by neo-Nazi thugs in the streets of eastern German towns - including Magdeburg and Guben.

Tenth anniversary celebration
Celebrating the fall of the Wall 10 years on
Opinion polls show many youths in the region blame their problems in part on foreigners.

In the latest regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt, around Magdeburg, an extreme right-wing party, the German Peoples Union, entered the regional assembly with 12% of the vote.

Growing together

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, on his election victory in 1998, sought to lift the mood in the east. He praised its inhabitants for their civic courage during the 1989 anti-communist uprising and appointed a minister with special responsibilities for the east.

The move of the capital to Berlin means that many national organisations, including the big business federations, have moved their headquarters there.

The two halves of the city are growing together, and the mood there last November, during the party on the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, was upbeat.

Now the Schroeder government says it is ready to give more help by extending the "Solidarity Pact" - the mechanism whereby the richer western states transfer part of their wealth to the poorer east.

But in daily life for many ordinary easterners little has changed, and times are still very hard.

Election swing

For most of the past 10 years, eastern Germans have been powerless to affect the course of the nation's politics.

But the 1998 general election, when millions in the east switched their votes from Helmut Kohl's party, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), to Mr Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SDP), showed that the eastern vote can swing elections.

Now the SPD commands only about 36% of the vote in the east - far behind its level of support in the west.

With Helmut Kohl under the black cloud of a party funds scandal, and the CDU in deep trouble as a result, Mr Schroeder is favourite to win a second term.

With two years before the next scheduled general elections, it makes good sense for him to court the electorate in eastern Germany.

But the people of eastern Germany look less likely than before to be bought off with easy promises.

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