Tag Archives: Berlin Wall

HELMUT KOHL delivered German reunification and the Euro

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl arrives for the unveiling of a bust at the interior ministry in Berlin, June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Noah Barkin
June 17, 2017

BERLIN (Reuters) – A towering figure of post-war European politics, Helmut Kohl pushed through German reunification and was a driving force behind the creation of the euro during a 16-year reign as German chancellor that spanned the tumultuous final decades of the 20th century.

Kohl died on Friday morning at his home in Ludwigshafen, according to German media. He was 87.

A bear of a man whose provincial accent and unvarnished folksy style led opponents to underestimate him in his early years, Kohl was a passionate advocate of European integration whose outlook was shaped by the two world wars that ravaged Europe and claimed the lives of his brother and uncle.

Together with French President Francois Mitterrand, the enigmatic socialist with whom he developed an unlikely personal bond, Kohl helped steer a peaceful course for the continent during the twilight years of the Soviet Union, when the foundations of Europe’s post-war order crumbled and had to be reset.

By committing to anchor Germany within Europe under a common currency, he overcame resistance to reunification from Mitterrand, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister who feared the return of a powerful, united Germany.

In a 2012 tribute, former U.S. President Bill Clinton described Kohl as one of post-war Europe’s defining statesmen. “His vision helped to usher the global community into the 21st century, to build bold and lasting relationships that endure to this day,” Clinton said.

For all his accomplishments as chancellor, Kohl’s life was tinged by controversy and personal tragedy after he left office in 1998 as Germany’s longest-serving leader since Bismarck.

In 2000, he was forced to resign as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party he had led for 25 years, after admitting to receiving $1 million in illegal cash donations during his time as chancellor, which he doled out to local party organisations at his whim.

He refused to reveal where the money had come from, saying he had given the donors his “Ehrenwort”, or word of honour, not to disclose their names. The scandal made him a virtual pariah in his own party for years.

Angela Merkel, the shy physicist from communist East Germany whom Kohl had plucked from obscurity to join his cabinet after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, turned on him at a crucial moment during the scandal, ensuring his exile. Ties between the two had been frosty ever since.

A year after he was dropped by the CDU, Kohl’s first wife Hannelore, who suffered from a debilitating allergy to light, committed suicide.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sits next to Christian Democrat party (CDU) leader Angela Merkel during celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of German unification in Berlin September 27, 2000. REUTERS/Michael Urban/File Photo

SHAPED BY WAR

Kohl was born on April 3, 1930, the youngest of three children, in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine, a centre for the chemicals industry and one of the German cities most bombed during World War Two.

His father Johann, who worked in the local tax office, fought in both world wars. Returning from the front in Poland in 1940, he told his children: “If we ever get paid back for what we did there, we will never have anything to laugh about again.”

Kohl’s parents are described in Hans-Peter Schwarz’s 2012 biography as sceptical of the Nazis in the early years of the regime and quiet critics later on. As practicing Catholics, they opposed Adolf Hitler’s rejection of religion and persecution of minorities.

World War Two cast a dark shadow over Kohl’s youth. He recalled the death of his older brother Walter, killed in an aerial attack in Normandy in 1944, as a “life-changing experience” that shook the family.

Walter had been named after an uncle who died in World War One. Years later, when Kohl decided to give his first son the same name, his mother asked whether he wasn’t tempting fate.

“Mother, I promise you that he will not die in a war between European states,” Kohl recalled telling her. He often described his push for a united Europe as his way of delivering on this pledge.

Just 15 when the war ended, Kohl was drafted into the army and served briefly in a military training camp near Berchtesgaden but never saw combat.

He returned to devastated Ludwigshafen and began history and law studies. In 1959 he was elected to the regional assembly in Rhineland-Palatinate and a decade later, at the age of 39, he became premier of the state.

In 1973, Kohl was elected chairman of the CDU, Germany’s largest conservative party, and, after narrowly losing in his first attempt in 1976, he became chancellor of West Germany in 1982 when the ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Free Democrats (FDP) under Helmut Schmidt collapsed.

At first, Kohl was ridiculed as a country bumpkin lacking the sophistication of predecessors such as Schmidt and Willy Brandt. Cartoonists depicted him as a giant pear, giving rise to his nickname “Birne”. But Kohl soon showed himself to be a skillful tactician.

Defying the leftist German peace movement, he and his foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, backed the deployment of U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Germany, winning friends in Washington.

Kohl became known for wearing his opponents down by ignoring them, a strategy known in German as “aussitzen”, which has been mimicked by Merkel since she became chancellor in 2005.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to well wishers as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (L) looks on during Thatcher’s visit to Germany in this undated file photo. About 60.5 million eligible Germans are called to vote for a new parliament in general elections on Sunday September 27.

FINEST HOUR

Kohl’s finest hour came in the months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when he was able to overcome the hostility of Western allies to unify the communist east and capitalist west.

The breaching of the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, caught the West German political establishment and the rest of the world off-guard.

Kohl was getting ready to sit down for a banquet dinner in Warsaw when he was alerted to the dramatic events by his office in Bonn. He flew to Berlin the next day and, sensing the euphoria at home, soon began work on a 10-point plan for German unification that he presented to the Bundestag on Nov. 28.

The speech, typed by his wife Hannelore on a typewriter at home to prevent leaks to the media, came as a total surprise to Germany’s allies. U.S. President George H.W. Bush was supportive, but European partners seethed.

“Your friend Kohl, your partner, is a hick from the countryside!” fumed Gorbachev in a private meeting with Mitterrand in Kiev a week later.

Thatcher was also furious. “Kohl is capable of anything,” she told France’s ambassador to Britain.

Like the British leader, Mitterrand, a former prisoner of war under the Nazis, was worried about how far German ambitions might go.

Five years earlier in 1984, the French president had linked hands with Kohl on the battlefield near Verdun where Kohl’s uncle had died in the First World War and Mitterrand had been taken prisoner in the Second, creating an iconic image of European reconciliation reprinted in countless history books.

German reunification was another matter.

For decades, French policy had been guided by Nobel prize-winning author Francois Mauriac’s adage: “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them.”

Nevertheless, Kohl was able to win over Mitterrand.

At a summit in Strasbourg a month after the Wall fell, described by Kohl as the most “tense and unfriendly” he had ever attended, he agreed to start serious negotiations on European monetary union, setting the stage for the creation of the euro.

Kohl’s commitment to anchor a united Germany within Europe, and his pledge months later to accept the Oder-Neisse line, the German-Polish border set after World War Two, ensured French support for unification. To convince Gorbachev, Kohl pledged billions of marks to pay for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany and the costs of resettling them at home.

“Throughout 1989 and 1990, Helmut Kohl showed uncommon vision and courage when he seized on the fall of the Berlin Wall to work for German unification,” Bush said decades later.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl waves from a Leopard tank during a visit to German and British troops in northern Germany September 17, 1986. REUTERS/Michael Urban/File Photo

“FLOURISHING LANDSCAPES”

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the march towards unification were a political boon for Kohl, whose popularity had been slumping, forcing him to fight off a putsch attempt by CDU rivals in early 1989.

Ignoring warnings from the German Bundesbank, he rammed through a 1-to-1 conversion rate of east German wages and pensions into west German marks, and easily won re-election in 1990 as “the chancellor of unity”.

Kohl promised east Germans “flourishing landscapes” but the “Aufschwung Ost” – or eastern economic recovery – proved far slower and more painful than he had imagined. The conversion rate increased unemployment in the East, pushed up inflation in the West, and led to higher interest rates across Europe as Germany borrowed massively to finance reconstruction.

The economic hangover from unification and policy inertia in the decade that followed had, by the end of the millennium, turned Germany into the “sick man of Europe”.

Kohl tried to win a fifth term in 1998 instead of making way for his groomed successor Wolfgang Schaeuble, who polls suggested had a better chance. He lost the election to Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, who was forced to introduce far-reaching reforms in response to Germany’s economic woes.

A year later, the party funding scandal erupted and Kohl was pushed out as honorary chairman of the CDU. His wife’s suicide the following year exposed him to accusations of neglect, including from his eldest son Walter, who later wrote a tell-all book about the family.

Kohl suffered a bad fall in 2008 and from then on was confined to a wheelchair, and had trouble speaking. He rarely appeared in public and his second wife, Maike Kohl-Richter, was criticised in the German media for zealously shielding him from his sons and old friends.

Kohl’s biggest achievement, German reunification, looks more of a success today than it did in its first decades. Eastern Germany still lags behind the west in many economic measures, but the gap is narrowing and cities such as Leipzig and Dresden are thriving. Twenty-seven years after east and west merged, Germany is prosperous and increasingly influential on the international stage.

Kohl’s other landmark accomplishment, pushing through the euro despite widespread public reservations, was hailed as a triumph in the currency’s first decade, but now looks less glorious after years of crisis.

Some in Germany now blame Kohl for pursuing the euro without insisting first on closer political and fiscal integration – a decision Merkel has denounced publicly as an epic mistake.

In his 2014 book “Out of Concern for Europe”, Kohl blamed the single currency bloc’s woes on Schroeder’s decision to let Greece into the euro zone and his watering-down of EU budget rules.

In an appearance at the German Historical Museum in Berlin in 2012 to mark 30 years since he became chancellor, Kohl reminded his audience of why he had championed European unity and urged EU leaders to continue on the path of closer integration despite the crisis of the euro.

“Europe can never sink into war again,” he said. “We need to press ahead with the unification of Europe. Let’s make good use of the time we have.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Mark Heinrich)

Related on F&O: Focus on the Berlin Wall, November, 2014: Germany, and much of the world, marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

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A Week of Facts and Opinions

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by  Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons. 
Readings: an essay arguing the siege of Kobane is a battle for a stable Middle East (free*), and Jonathan Manthorpe’s column, War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan (paywall*)

Our schedule at Facts and Opinions in the past week has been packed, with a special series each on the fall of the Berlin Wall and Remembrance/Armistice Day, in addition to our ongoing work. Here’s our stellar lineup, below.

Next week, look for new columns by Jim McNiven, Tom Regan and Jonathan Manthorpe, and a careful selection of reporting and features on some of the most interesting news items in the world — work you’ll find only in F&O’s independent, employee-owned journalism boutique. There will also, of course, be an update on the European deep space probe Rosetta. (See our blog post, Rosetta: love astride a comet.)

Lastly, scroll down for a few items elsewhere that caught our interest this week, from Jon Stewart on “citizen journalism,” and the stark silence of Bill Cosby when confronted by a NPR interviewer with allegations of sexual assault, to an important ProPublica piece that nails the perilous state of the global economy.

We won’t waste your time, and we appreciate your support. 

Mrs. Clooney rushes to the rescue of Greek culture. By Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

It had been a tough day interviewing victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities, and it was with great relief that I slumped down in a chair in the hotel bar in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and ordered a beer. Through the window I could see the sun shimmering red as it sank through the torpid, tropical air hanging over the Tonle Sap tributary of the Mekong River. I was the only non-Asian in the bar, which was humming with the chatter of rich locals and visiting businessmen from other parts of the region, who had come to see what spoils there were to be harvested in a country just emerging from decades of war. … read more (paywall).

The Real ‘Game-Changer’ was not in Beijing. Has the ‘Anglosphere’ lost its Mojo? By Chris Wood (paywall)

Once upon a time an amalgam of rigorous, inquisitive candor about the physical world, and a deep delusion about superior racial entitlement, delivered control of two of the four continents that were up for colonial grabs in the 18th century to Britain. Britain’s legal and political philosophy, its English language, and to a large extent genetic descendants of its families, dominate North America and Australia to this day. Europeans, Latin Americans, and others outside this socio-political clan have resented their exclusion and berated the ‘anglo’ model of cut-throat corporate permissiveness — what used to be called laissez-faire and is now re-branded for global distribution as neo-liberalism. That fewer descendants of Empire persist in their delusions of racial superiority is a welcome development. But it’s worrying to see the Anglosphere also abandoning its realism about the physical world. … log in to read more (paywall*)

Out of the Saddle, Playing Papa to a Super-baby: Glenn Ford. By Brian Brennan (paywall)

John Ford with Rita Hayworth, in 1945. Publicity photo

Glenn Ford with Rita Hayworth, in 1945. Publicity photo

The line was, “Martha Clark Kent, are you listening to what I’m saying?” It was scripted for Glenn Ford, playing a Kansas farmer named Jonathan Kent in the 1978 movie Superman. A spaceship containing the baby Superman had just crash-landed in the Kent wheat field and the farmer’s wife – played by Phyllis Thaxter – was suggesting they keep the apparently orphaned boy as their own. After a brief exchange about the pros and cons of doing this, the farmer put his foot down. … read more (paywall*)

Time to end religious holidays in public schools. By Tom Regan

Recently the Board of Education in the Virginia suburb of Montgomery County (which is just outside DC) faced a dilemma. A group of Muslim parents were pressing the board to add religious holidays that would allow Muslim children to observe the important days to their faith without missing any school. On the surface, I have no problem with this. If we’re going to allow Christian students to observe Christmas, and Jewish students to observe holidays like Yom Kippur, then it only makes sense that we allow Muslim students to observe their religious days. But I do confess I wonder where will this end? .. read more

Evolutionary insights underscore need for new natural-world taxonomy. By Ben Holt and Knud Andreas Jønsson

A cat is, of course, a cat. Lions are cats too, as are leopards, lynxes and so on – the “Felidae” family contains 41 species in total. But what about other closely related species such as hyenas or mongooses? These animals are not in the cat family: they are cat-like “Feliformia”, but are in their own separate families. So why are some species grouped together in the same families and others separated into different families? It might surprise you to learn that there is no general answer to this question, despite the fact that we now know a lot about evolutionary relationships for groups like mammals. Science has moved on and so should the way we classify life on earth. … read more

Carolus Linnaeus's first, or 1735, edition of Systema Naturae is the "In the Beginning" text of animal and plant classification. Shown is a scam of Table of the Animal Kingdom (Regnum Animale).

Carolus Linnaeus’s first, or 1735, edition of Systema Naturae is the “In the Beginning” text of animal and plant classification. Shown is a scan of Table of the Animal Kingdom (Regnum Animale).

Siege of Kobane a battle for a stable Middle East. By Karthick Manoharan

Events in Kobane disprove Islamophobes who believe the Middle East to be incapable of progress and politically correct Islamophiles who push the patronizing idea that religious identity is a top priority for Muslims the world over. In their readiness to defend the Yazidi minority against persecution from Islamic State, the Kurds have essentially been promoting a radical secularism and a vision of tolerance in a region torn by religious strife. What is novel about the Kurdish struggle for self-determination is its very definition of self-determination. … read more

Interstellar’s spectacular view of hard science. By Alasdair Richmond

In Interstellar’s near-ish future, our climate has failed catastrophically, crops die in vast blights and America is a barely-habitable dustbowl. Little education beyond farming methods is tolerated and students are taught that the Apollo landings were Cold War propaganda hoaxes. Against this unpromising background, a former space pilot receives mysterious directions to a secure facility. Therein, he finds the American space agency NASA’s last remnants devoting dwindling resources to sending a spacecraft through a new-found wormhole mouth orbiting Saturn.   .. read more

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

In case you missed them earlier this week:

FOCUS ON THE BERLIN WALL:

BERLIN, 1989: A Photo-essay  NEW
GREG LOCKE

History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing (Paywall) 
JONATHAN MANTHORPE

Critical Assembly: A Drama Critic Remembers Berlin (Paywall) 
BRIAN BRENNAN

Children born just after the Wall fell were lower achievers 
ARNAUD CHEVALIER AND OLIVIER MARIE

Graffiti Interpretations of the Berlin Wall 
GAVIN KENNEDY

Postcard from Poland as the Iron Curtain lifted  
ROD MICKLEBURGH

Remembrance Day in St. John's, Newfoundland. © Greg Locke 2014

Remembrance Day in St. John’s, Newfoundland. © Greg Locke 2014

FOCUS ON REMEMBRANCE  

Remembrance, in photos   
GREG LOCKE AND DEBORAH JONES

‘JACK’ and ELEANOR NASH
MICHAEL SASGES

Why I prefer to remember Remembrance Day  
TOM REGAN

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead?  
JANNA THOMPSON

Body counts disguise true horror of what wars do to bodies 
TOM GREGORY

Recommended elsewhere:

In NPR Interview, Bill Cosby Declines To Discuss Assault Allegations

Bill Cosby, in 2004. Photo by Jeffrey Putman via Flickr, Creative Commons

Bill Cosby, in 2004. Photo by Jeffrey Putman via Flickr, Creative Commons

In an NPR interview with Bill Cosby that aired today on Weekend Edition Saturday, the comedian discusses the loan of 62 pieces of African Art for an exhibition in Washington, D.C. But, there’s one thing the 77-year-old actor would not comment on: accusations of sexual assault that have been leveled against him.

The Real Roots of Hedge Fund Manager Rage (For the “Serious business” file)

by Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

On the “fake” economy and paranoia of hedge-fund managers:

 … corporations have spent the post-crisis years engaged largely in financial engineering. The largest United States corporations took 91 percent of their earnings from 2003 to 2013 and plowed them into buying back their own stock or paying out dividends, according to William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.   

There has been a corporate shift from making investments for the long-term health of the company and the economy toward cutting jobs and elevating share prices, with the end result of increasing top executives’ compensation, Professor Lazonick says. Nobody can say how long this can go on. But it’s not sustainable.

Experience: I founded my own country (For the “Quirky” file)

By Renato Barros, the Guardian

 My father wasn’t a king, he was a taxi driver, but I am a prince – Prince Renato II, of the country Pontinha, an island fort on Funchal harbour. It’s in Madeira, Portugal, where I grew up. …  

In 1903, the Portuguese government didn’t have enough money to build a harbour port, so the king sold the land to a wealthy British family, the Blandys, who make Madeira wine. Fourteen years ago the family decided to sell it for just €25,000 (£19,500). It was of no use to them. But nobody else wanted to buy it either. I met Blandy at a party, and he told me about Pontinha. He asked if I’d like to buy the island. Of course I said yes, but I have no money – I am just an art teacher.

A Finding, last but not least:

Jon Stewart Jon Stewart: ‘Evil is relatively rare. Ignorance is epidemic.’

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique of slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. We appreciate your support: a day pass is $1 and subscriptions start at $2.95 per month.

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Postcard from Poland as the Iron Curtain lifted

Old Town Square in Warsaw, in 2012. Photo by Eirik Newth via Flickr, Creative Commons

Poland was the first of the East Bloc countries to embrace democracy after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Above, Warsaw’s Old Town Square, in 2012. Photo by Eirik Newth via Flickr, Creative Commons

ROD MICKLEBURGH
November 09, 2014

As it happened, I was in the neighbourhood the day the Cold War’s most enduring symbol disappeared in a frenzy of exuberant East Berliners and belching Trabants streaming past the downed concrete.

Alas, however, I was not with the cheering masses, but stuck on a train from hell headed to Warsaw, idling in the East Berlin Bahnhof for a passport check, or some such thing. Gazing at the stolid, uniformed East German soldiers and railway attendants, I remember thinking: “The only country and system you have ever known is about to crumble. What can possibly be going through your minds?” Yet the cliché of stern, unsmiling, uniformed East German guards remained frozen in time. My “papers” were scrutinized with the same thoroughness that had been inflicted for years on Westerners travelling through their communist bastion.

Of course, I should have hopped off the train and witnessed history in the making. But, just as I chose to miss Dylan and the Band at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1965, I let this opportunity slip by, too. Sigh. 

Rod Mickleburgh, 1989

Rod Mickleburgh, 1989

Still, being in Warsaw while East Germany teetered also had its fascination. Once it became clear that the Soviet Union, under Gorbachev, was no longer prepared to intervene in its so-called satellite states, Poland was the first of the East Bloc countries to embrace democracy, Recent elections had been won overwhelmingly by Solidarność. Many of their marvellous campaign posters featuring Gary Cooper in High Noon remained on walls and storefronts. 

Poland was in transition, its rigid state economy crumbling. As I worked on a radio documentary for Canada’s CBC radio Sunday Morning with the theme: ‘Can Poles make it through the winter?’, I visited crowded soup kitchens and poorly-stocked grocery stores. I vividly remember an old woman in tears over her small purchase of potatoes. “It’s all I can afford,” she wept, her meagre pension eroded by inflation. Shaken, my translator, a Solidarity activist imbued with the bright future of a non-communist Poland, quietly slipped her some money.

It was the dawn of the free market in Poland. An entrepreneur had set up the country’s first fledgling stock market on the second floor of the city’s ramshackle, old Fisherman’s Hall. A cab driver told me that now, for the first time, he could buy bananas. The independent, pro-Solidarity newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had just been launched. I visited its offices in a former kindergarten in a leafy, residential area of Warsaw. The paper’s star columnist was ensconced in a cubby hole that was once a washroom. Almost everyone else worked on desks scattered about the ex-school’s large open area. It felt like a student newspaper. Today, the Gazeta Wyborcza is the second largest newspaper in Poland.

But I most remember my first night in Warsaw, when I walked into the darkened main square of its beautifully-restored Old Town. A couple of guys, clearly from the country, were selling cheese by candlelight from the back of an old van. There was such simplicity to the scene as money and cheese changed hands, only the low hum of their voices breaking the silence of the vast, empty square. I thought to myself: “Thus, capitalism begins in Poland.”

There’s still something about being on the ground floor of a revolution, even without the immediacy of East Berlin.

Poles, meanwhile, were transfixed by the joyous scenes in that long-divided city. At the press centre, the lone television was tuned to CNN. Employees watched non-stop. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Hardline East Germany, with the Stasi, the shoot-to-kill border guards and everything else, succumbing to the people? It didn’t seem possible. But in this case, the over-used, simplistic phrase was right. The tearing down of the hated Berlin Wall really did mark the end of the Cold War. Two weeks later, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution cranked up to take Havel to the Castle. Over Christmas, the odious Ceausescu’s were shot in Romania. Hungary consolidated its democratic advances. In no time, the once-mighty Warsaw Pact was history.

To think, when I headed to Europe in the fall of 1989 for a year’s stay in Paris, the big story was going to be the growing consolidation and unity of the EU. (That’s going well…..)

When my train passed through East Berlin on the way back from Warsaw, the guards were gone. A single station attendant checked my ticket and passport with all the attentiveness of a local transit guy.

A while later, I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow from Oslo. He had boarded the train at East Berlin, and couldn’t stop talking about what it was like being among the hundreds of thousands of giddy Wall revelers. He told me that the moment he saw pictures of the Berlin Wall coming down, he booked off work, gathered up his two teenaged sons, and headed for East Berlin. “It is important for them to see history,” he said. “They will remember this for the rest of their life.”

A quarter of a century later, I would wager his prediction still holds.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2014

November 11 in Poland is Independence Day. Poland regained independence in 1918, after 123 years of partitions by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Its status was fleeting: after WW II it became the People's Republic, controlled by the USSR. Since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Poland has again celebrated its independence every November 11. Photo of 2009 parade by Magic Madzik via Flickr, Creative Commons

Since 1989 November 11 in Poland has been known as Independence Day. Poland regained independence in 1918, after 123 years of partitions by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Its status was fleeting: after WW II it became the People’s Republic, controlled by the USSR. Since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Poland has again celebrated its independence every November 11. Photo of 2009 parade by Magic Madzik via Flickr, Creative Commons

 

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Children born just the Berlin Wall fell were lower achievers

Two sides of the Berlin Wall, in 2011. Photo by Osamu Kaneko via Flickr, Creative Commons

Two sides of the Berlin Wall, in 2011. Photo by Osamu Kaneko via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Arnaud Chevalier, Royal Holloway and Olivier Marie, Maastricht University
November 8, 2014

Germany and the rest of Europe are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the associated communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

This event had colossal repercussions in the economic development of the region but also, and maybe less obviously, on its demography. Following the collapse of the Communist regimes, fertility in Eastern Europe went into a sharp decline.

This was especially marked in East Germany which over a short period experienced a 50% drop in births (Figure 1) which was dubbed the “most substantial fall in birth rates that ever occurred in peacetime”.


Figure 1. Annual crude birth rate per 1,000 women from 1950 and 2008. Calculations from population data from the Federal Institute for Population Research. Arnaud Chevalier and Olivier Marie, Author provided

Economic uncertainty was one of the main reasons for the fertility drop. But who were the parents that, despite the distressing level of economic uncertainty, decided to have children? And does this parental selection matter to how their children fare later on?

Theoretically, an economic downturn has two opposite effects on the demand for children: it reduces household income (something called the income effect) but it also reduces the opportunity costs of having children (the substitution effect) where the prospects of finding a job are low, and being out of the labour market and raising a child is not as costly in terms of forgone earnings.

Which of these effects dominates is ambiguous. In fact, it is likely that the relative size of the substitution and income effect depends on family characteristics, which lead to differences in parental composition throughout the economic cycle. For example, for richer families the income effect is likely to be the more important while for less wealthy ones, the substitution effect is likely to dominate.

The fall of the Berlin Wall provides a unique “natural experiment” to study this question. In our research we defined the cohort of children born in East Germany between August 1990 (conceived just after the collapse of the wall) and December 1993 as the “children of the wall”. We provide evidence on parental selection based on the average criminal activity of these children as they grew up, their educational attainment and detailed individual-level data on both mother and child, regarding parental skills.

Using state-level statistics on contact with the police by age group over the period 1993-2011, we found that the arrest rates of these children were at least 40% higher when compared to older cohorts and to their West German peers. This is true for all types of crime and for both boys and girls.

Importantly, these differences in the frequency of contact with the police started appearing as early as six-years-old (Figure 2a). This is despite being part of a numerically smaller group, which is usually associated with positive outcomes and is indicative of a strong negative parental selection; the children of the wall are clearly behaving differently from their peers from a very young age.


Figure 2a: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 6-7, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Figure 2b: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 10-11, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Figure 2c: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 16-17, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Similarly, the children of the wall also had worse educational outcomes. Compared to their class peers who were conceived before the fall of the wall, they had lower scores in international tests such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2001) and PISA (2006), and were over-represented among low achievers. As such, they were 33% more likely to have repeated a grade by age 12, and 9% more likely to have been put into a lower track.

To explore if these negative outcomes are driven by differences in parental characteristics, we looked at very detailed survey data from the German Socio Economic Panel (SOEP) – a longitudinal survey of about 11,000 private households in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1984 to 2012, and eastern German states from 1990 to 2012 – and the Deutsches JungedInstitut survey (DJI).

We found that women who gave birth in East Germany just after the end of the communist regime were on average younger, less educated, less likely to be in a relationship and less economically active. Importantly, they also provided less educational input to their children.

In these surveys the children of the wall also rated their relationship with their mothers and the quality of parental support they received by the age of 17 much less favourably than their peers. Both children of the wall and their mothers were also more risk-seeking than comparable individuals who were not born in East Germany between August 1990 and December 1993.

While these results are in line with negative parental selection, they could also have been driven by biological factors in the timing of their birth: due to the economic turmoil prevalent at the time, these children may have experienced higher levels of maternal stress as a foetus and during early childhood, which may have shaped their future behaviour.

To find out more, we examined the same outcomes for the older siblings of the children of the wall. They also similarly reported having a poor relationship with their mothers and lower educational attainment. So this rejected the possibility that the children of the wall had worse outcomes due to being born in “bad times” and we instead concluded that the negative outcomes observed in this group was explained by the lower parenting skills, on average, of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.

A possible reason for this negative parental selection is that the fertility decisions of these women were not strongly swayed by changes in economic circumstances. Indeed, further analysis of the SOEP revealed that less educated mothers were far less likely than more educated ones to reduce their fertility when they perceived a bad economic environment (Figure 3).


Figure 3. The probability of having a child measured by economic worry and education level over period 1991-3. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Our findings confirmed that parental selection may be one of the best predictors of the future outcome of a group, and that this most likely works through quality of parenting.

These conclusions have potentially important policy implications. First, the provision of public services should not only be based on the size of an incoming group of children – and more attention should be paid on its composition. And second, that interventions need to start from a very young age and should also aim at improving non-cognitive characteristics such as the risk attitude of expecting mothers or children.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Arnaud Chevalier receives funding from The British Academy

Olivier Marie received a Veni research grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In addition to his position in the Department of Economics at Maastricht University, he is also linked to the CEP at LSE, IZA, and CESif

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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In the wake of the Berlin Wall — what if Francis Fukuyama was right?

Potsdamer Platz in the former East Berlin, in 1963. Photo by Roger Wollstadt via Flickr, Creative Commons

Potsdamer Platz in the former East Berlin, in 1963. Photo by Roger Wollstadt via Flickr, Creative Commons

A quarter century ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down, taking the post-WW II world order with it.

Beneath all the headlines, the predictions and recapitulations, recriminations and geopolitical events of the last 25 years can be found signals of profound change. Francis Fukuyama’s bold prediction that history had ended may have been overly optimistic, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. But here’s the thing: the game is not yet over yet. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing:

The world would be a different place if Francis Fukuyama had been right in the essay he wrote, shortly before the demolition of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago this weekend, arguing that the Soviet Union  collapse was indeed “the end of history.”

“What we may be witnessing,” wrote the Stanford University political scientist, “is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

That was a bold prediction to say the least, and Fukuyama has had to suffer a quarter century of guffaws over what appears to be one of the major misjudgements of modern times…. log in to read History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing (paywall*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription.

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Graffiti Interpretations of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall was one of the greatest Cold War symbols. When it came down in 1989 it marked not only the reunification of Germany, but a wider collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. A quarter century later — years in which Germany grew to become an economic leader in the region, and a world leader in providing clean energy — the wall remains a potent symbol. Analysts, historians and academics from every discipline have myriad interpretations of its symbolism, but the most vivid are surely by Germany’s graffiti artists. Here, they have the last word.

— Gavin Kennedy

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

59821_435071273541_2378906_n

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2011

 Copyright Gavin Kennedy, 2014

Gavin Kennedy is a photographer and documentary filmmaker. 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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