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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
For a city proud
to be united, Berlin is now more divided than ever. In its municipal
elections on Oct. 21, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) under
Mayor Klaus Wowereit won a landslide victory with 29.7 percent
of the vote. The successor party to the East German Communists
(PDS) received 22.6 percent (one out of every two votes in Eastern
Germany). The Christian Democrats, who were was ousted in June
2001 amid a banking scandal and their mayor replaced by Wowereit,
suffered their worst defeat in postwar history. But the ensuing
debate over which coalition should govern the citySPD,
Greens, and the more conservative Free Democrats (forming a
so-called ample coalition), or SPD and PDS (a red-red
coalition)kept the city buzzing for weeks.
After direct intervention of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder,
Wowereit passed over the option of a stable coalition with the
former communistswhich would have bridged the division
between East and Westand chose the ample coalition instead.
That fueled anger among East Germans that their voice, yet again,
had not been heard. Their hopes for a first-ever chance to share
power in municipal politics since unification were crushed,
as was PDSs outspokenness in opposition to the U.S.-led
war against terrorism. Berlin will be governed by a broad, more
conformist yet unstable coalition, which will have to tackle
the capitals mounting problemsamong them the citys
US$35 billion debt. The media were left puzzled. Whatever
decision the SPD would have made, they would have alienated
the other half of the city, wrote Der Spiegel (Oct.
29). What weighs more? Stability in the city or a stable
majority for the chancellor in next years election? East
Germans will not forget. Berlins political division
leaves a bitter taste. Two cities voted, opined
Helmut Schödel in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Oct.
23). The [Berlin] wall still exists. This city is united,
yet divided into two. And Oliver Gehrs added in the same
paper: This is a city where we dont give the former
communists an inch. More than that: According to Nick
Reimer, writing in Die Tageszeitung (taz) (Oct. 23) under
the sarcastic headline Again Those Easterners! ...never
before have so many East Berliners voted for the PDS. We have
two separate political cultures in Germany. Interestingly
enough, PDSs largest voter base is under 24 years old.
Thus, hopes that the voters of the ex-communist party
will soon die out have been proved wrong, stated Majid
Sattar in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Oct. 22). Konrad
Adam, writing in Die Welt (Oct. 22), draws a disturbing conclusion:
The election has shown that the political center in Berlin
is eroding. Two world wars, two totalitarian and two monetary
systems have destroyed, driven out, and neutralized the social
stratum that made up the center. That Berlins future
is as grim, however, remains to be seen: The city has always
managed to overcome political challenges.