Germany's Thatcherite Turn

Germany's Thatcherite Turn

On a bright autumn Sunday in Crimmitschau, Germany, sun sifted through white-trimmed windows onto the floors of a former textile factory, where a group of locals had gathered for an exhibition. Industrial-scale weaving mills and spools of gleaming thread lined the walls. A few thousand people once worked in the textile industry in this small town in Saxony, in the former East Germany. A series of banners displayed the stories of East Germans who fought to keep factories like this one open in the early 1990s. Organized by Die Linke's (The Left Party's) Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, this traveling exhibition focuses on the deeply controversial Treuhand Anstalt, the agency that oversaw the privatisation of the East German economy from 1990-1994. Through individual and collective stories, curator Katrin Rohnstock told me she aims to shed light on the Treuhand's legacy, and why it is seen here as a symbol for what went wrong with Germany's reunification. After the tour, over coffee and sweets, locals recounted their own memories of the Treuhand. Brigitte Klima, who worked in the textile industry in the nearby town of Werdau, described how she and her colleagues in the union petitioned to keep their jobs, to no avail. “They intentionally ploughed down everything,” she said, patches of red creeping up her neck as she spoke. “Nobody had the right to take our work from us.” Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans are locked in a bitter debate over why, although the former East Germany has made dramatic strides in catching up with the West in living standards, wages, and infrastructure, social and political divisions in the region are deepening. 

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