A recent survey has revealed that Putin is increasingly becoming popular among Eastern Germans. Conducted by ARD-DeutschlandTrend and published on Thursday, the survey stated that 65% of Eastern Germans strongly support cordial relations with Russia. You see, when it comes to Russia, there exists a wide opinion gap between East and West Germany.
It may be noted that East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR) used to be a part of the Soviet-led communist bloc during the cold war that ended in 1991. So, there are historical reasons why Eastern Germans tend to harbour sympathy for Russia, especially those aged above 50.
Historical reasons why Eastern Germans support Russia
Eastern Germans have lived in a communist country. They have lived in a country that would share friendly ties with the largest nation of the Soviet bloc. Russian was taught at school and Russian culture was present in the East Germany. So, the pro-Russian viewpoint still dominates the public discourse in the East, even as their fellow Germans in the West remain hostile and bellicose.
The other reason behind the rising popularity of Russia in East Germany is the economy. On important economic measures ranging from unemployment to productivity, former East Germany continues to trail former West Germany.
Economic disparity in the East and the West
For instance, in 2018, the average unemployment rate was 6.9% in East Germany, whereas the figure was just 4.8% in the 10 states of former West Germany.
According to Pew Research, among people aged between 15 to 24, the average unemployment rate in former East Germany was 7.7% in 2018, compared with 4.1% in the former West.
In East Germany, people earn less than their Western counterparts. In 2017, the per-capita disposable income was €19,909 per year in former East Germany. In West Germany, the figure stood at a high of $26,300. Moreover, there are still no DAX-listed German corporations headquartered in eastern Germany.
According to a DW report published in May, that could be a major reason for the majority of Eastern Germans supporting strong trade relations with Russia. To justify their tilt towards Russia, these pro-Russia elements in East Germany argue that the economic activities in West Germany also depend a lot on Russian energy; such as the Nord Stream pipeline on the Baltic coast and the PCK oil refinery in Schwedt on the Polish border.
Now, it is believed that the war in Ukraine and the ensuing burgeoning economic crisis in Germany could further fuel the pro-Russia sentiments in East Germany. We already know how nations like Hungary have managed to steer clear of economic doldrums by fostering closer economic ties with Russia. Thanks to its close ties with Russia, today Hungary is able to provide its citizens with the cheapest oil in Europe.
So, Eastern Germans, who support Russia by and large, don’t want to pay the price for the hostility being shown by their Western counterparts against Russia. They have already suffered a lot during the past three decades, and they don’t want to suffer more! They want to develop amicable ties with the Kremlin to shore up their economy.
You see, the Berlin wall that once divided Germany between the capitalist and socialist bloc is cropping up again. And this could end up bifurcating Germany into two nations—Western Germany, which would be virtually controlled by the US and allies to counter Russia’s rise; and Eastern Germany, which would solidify its economic relations with Russia to grow out of poverty and discrimination being conferred upon them by the riches of the West.