24

I am happy to be corrected that this is not the case, but from fairly frequent news items it seems to me that sentiment towards Russia in historic East Germany isn't all that negative. Or at least is more positive than West Germany's.

For example, Meduza.io, Nov 6th, about the Ukraine War:

In response to the question “Do you believe that NATO provoked Russia for so long that it had to go to war?” 19 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative. Twenty-one percent said they partially agreed with the idea. That means nearly 40 percent of Germans believe that the cause of the war is unclear and that NATO shares responsibility for it, or even forced Russia into war. In the former GDR in eastern Germany, the share of respondents who answered in the affirmative is 59 percent — making it essentially a mainstream belief.

Or, again, Euronews Feb 2022

In East Germany, once part of the former Soviet bloc, more people (43%) blame the US for intensifying the conflict, compared to the 32% who point the finger at Russia, while in the West, the majority (52%) blames Russia, and only 17% the US, a Forsa survey found last Thursday (3 February).

This is in contrast to many - not all - ex Warsaw Pact countries where anti-Russian sentiment is the norm, sometimes veering into Russophobia. Poland and the Baltics come to mind. Many countries who felt the USSR's boot have no love lost for Russia. And typically, some of the harshest sentiments towards Communism comes from people who lived underneath it. Nor are some East German memories very positive, such as the data protection laws specifically passed remembering the Stasi.

I understand that Germany's overall relationship with Russia, pre-2022, is partially motivated by the very well-founded historical guilt re. WW2. But that effect should affect all of Germany, not be enhanced in ex-East Germany.

And this question, BTW, is not limited to just sentiment about this war - although an answer stating that the war itself is causing a step change in relative East German/West German - Russia sentiment would be a good answer as well.

3
  • "This is in contrast to many - not all " Hungary also feels somewhat sympathetic towards Russia. If there is only contrast to some countries and not to others it might also just be chance partly. Dec 4, 2022 at 8:29
  • 1
    I think the West/East Germany divide could vi more interesting. After all, there are non historical explanations for the discrepancies with other Eastern countries, as probably Eastern Germans probably seem easy safer from Russian agression than Polish or Lithuanians (distance, belonging to a more important country, and being less the target of Russian revisionist declarations)
    – SJuan76
    Dec 4, 2022 at 10:35
  • Also Germany in total (East and West equally) made themselves dependent on Russian resources in the last 20 years (as compared to Eastern European countries that tried to diversify more). The question is still why. Maybe they thought that trade with Russia would bring Russia closer to Western standards or they didn't really care and just wanted the cheap gas. Who knows. Dec 4, 2022 at 10:58

4 Answers 4

23

The aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union played out very differently in Eastern Germany compared to the other non-Russian Warsaw pact countries. After its annexation by the FRG, the formerly state-owned companies were dissolved or sold to West German investors for almost nothing. Most leading civil servants were fired (due to their association with the SED dictatorship), and replaced by officials coming from Western Germany.

As such, I would expect that the Russian narrative that Russia is "just trying to stand up to an aggressive expansionism of the West" would find a much better reception in Eastern Germany. In comparison, eg Poles will be acutely aware that Poland joined NATO out of fear of Russia, not out of fear of the US.

A secondary aspect is the narrative of Putin as the leader of the neo-fascist forces fighting liberal decadence (eg "Russia had to invade Ukraine to prevent gay parades!"). This is definitely not a complete success, but (with the notable exception of Poland), overall far-right parties seem to be rather fond of Putin. In Germany, the leading far-right party is the AfD. On the federal level, the AfD is mostly a fringe party, but it had significant success in some of the Eastern German states (scoring eg 27.5% in the last elections in Saxony).

7
  • 2
    Regarding Poland, I wonder if an explanation can be made with countries that were part of the Soviet Union for a time (like eastern Poland, the Baltics, and also Ukraine), and those which were only occupied by the Red Army (East Germany, Hungary, ...). But Belarus defies that explanation.
    – o.m.
    Dec 3, 2022 at 8:53
  • 2
    @o.m. Is your "Eastern Poland" the parts of pre-WWII Poland that were annexed by the Soviet Union (e.g. Brest, Lviv)? But these are not part of Poland now either. Or is it about those parts of modern Poland that were once part of the Russian empire? But those were never part of the Soviet Union.
    – Jan
    Dec 3, 2022 at 10:28
  • 1
    @Jan, I was thinking of the pre-WWII areas east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Line. Many people from there moved westwards, and carried their memories of Soviet rule with them.
    – o.m.
    Dec 3, 2022 at 15:34
  • @njuffa: AFAIK they do indeed. In summer, I head a radio news feature about Schwedt and the oil refinery there (that's where the Druzhba pipeline arrives). That refinery is the local industry, normally it handles about 1/10 of the German gasoline/diesel, and usually almost all gasoline/diesel sold in Brandenburg and Berlin is produced there. It has another connection to the Rostock port, but that can AFAIK deliver at most half of what the refinery is constructed to handle. Plus, it's not so easy since refineries are adjusted to the "local peculiarities" of the oil they handle. ... Dec 4, 2022 at 0:21
  • ... There was a somewhat vague hope that Poland will manage to get sufficient oil via Gdansk to sell it on to Schwedt. BTW, Schwedt lost about 40 % of its inhabitants after the wall fell. New major threats of unemployment now are for sure raising lots of bad memories. Refinery plus related businesses are ≈3200 employees, Schwedt has 33.5 k inhabitants. The majority owner of the refinery is Rosneft, the German federal cartel office gave green light for Rosneft to take over the share of Shell, making Rosneft hold > 90 % share on Feb 21st, i.e. 3 days before the invasion in the Ukraine started. Dec 4, 2022 at 0:29
16

Several factors come together. Being pro-Russian is a way to show that one is nostalgic for the past and/or against the mainstream.

  • The economic dislocations from the fall of the Communist system were both especially cushioned and especially humiliating for East Germans. West Germany stepped in, took over, and effectively did the bankrupcy proceedings of the East German economy (see Treuhand). West Germany also paid for pensions, infrastructure renewal, etc. Having their life work achievements taken away and being turned into a charity case rankled for many. Imagine a 40-year-old or 50-year-old engineer being 'cushioned' into welfare. (Today we're talking about the children of that generation, of course.)
  • The political mainstream consensus of West Germany and then the unified Germany could be represented by the Greens, Social Democrats, Free Democrats, and Christian Democrats. All of these have been in coalitions in some states. Outside this consensus were the Left (on a federal level, their eastern branches are more pragmatic) and a succession of right-wing parties, most recently the Alternative.
    The Left (die Linke) is a successor of the communist party of East Germany. The Alternative (AfD) amalgamated a number of protest movements against the mainstream consensus (against the Euro, against refugees, against Covid measures) under ever more right-wing leaders.

The Russian narrative that Russia was betrayed by the West with the NATO expansion resonates with the East German narrative that East Germany was betrayed by West Germany with the shutdown of their remaining industry.

As to the AfD, populists in places like Poland can be anti-German, that's not an option for populists in Germany.

And both parts of Germany are historically sensitive of inflation. That would explain not wanting hardship on behalf of Ukraine, which is different from being pro-Russian.

11
  • Can you clarify if you are saying that AfD/Linke are stronger in East Germany? You seem to be but I am not sure. Dec 3, 2022 at 17:26
  • 2
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: yes - maps for the results of the federal elections 2021 are towards the end of the following web pages: bpb.de/themen/parteien/parteien-in-deutschland/die-linke/42138/… and bpb.de/themen/parteien/parteien-in-deutschland/afd/273131/… The only other party with clearly different East-West-pattern are the Greens (who are much weaker in the East), for SPD, CDU/CSU and FDP the distribution is more continuous. Dec 4, 2022 at 0:42
  • 3
    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX, there are also strong regional patterns for The Left, who are the successor of the successor of the SED in East Germany, and the successor of a left splinter group from the SPD in the West.
    – o.m.
    Dec 4, 2022 at 6:31
  • 1
    The four mainstream parties you mentioned account for 80 to 90% of all parliament seats in every single one of the West German states, meaning there are always some coaltion options involving these 4. In the East German states their share is much lower, dropping below 50% in some cases.
    – quarague
    Dec 5, 2022 at 7:44
  • @quarague, my point was that they can all agree to work together in a coalition government if the results suggest that.
    – o.m.
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:38
7

Except already mentioned arguments concerning trauma from less than successful unification of Germany, I'd think about a few more factors:

  • Different historical policy. In the link from the question was also mentioned that Western Germans have not that bad opinion about Russians. In whole region the interpretation of history is the following - "there were two genocidal regimes worth each other that jointly started the war", while Germans learn "let's describe in gruesome details how we were the bad ones, and mention as side note the rest of the war". If one takes those regimes as equals, then he is effectively seeing a former Gestapo member trying to rebuild Third Reich.

  • Geographical distance. It's a bit easier to not be worried about Russian imperialism if that's some distant problem in contrast to let's say increasing prices at home.

  • Recent history. Russia has been playing Germans against the whole region with their gas pipeline which was roughly counting twice expensive than land route and was making only sense to bypass some countries. So normies in Germany were taught for last 30 years by their own establishment that Russians are OK. In the same time normies in the rest of region were told that Russians seem to be plotting to cut off their gas supplies. As admitting being wrong would highly unpleasant for average German, thus it better to think for some explanation like the war being NATO fault.

7
  • 4
    It's a stretch to say that WW2 was equally started by both. Russia was an - important - bit player in the attack on Poland, but safely waited till Germany's invasion was well underway. Additionally, all the preceding buildup to Poland - reoccupying the Ruhr, annexing Czechoslovakian lands, the Anschluss with Austria - that was all Germany, no Russia. Not that I am fan of Stalin or Communism, this just seems like an unrelated dig at them. Dec 3, 2022 at 17:34
  • 2
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Technically speaking even if historical policy is insane, but people buy it, then it's a correct answer concerning source of diverging viewpoints. But here, I'd say it's close enough, as long as we accept eurocentric view (not counting Second Sino-Japanese War) that the war started in September 1939 based on Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Equally well one may say that when Hitler was merely a populist demagogue, Stalin already had managed to commit two mass scale genocides like Holodomor and The Purge.
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 3, 2022 at 18:09
  • OK, I think I get what you mean. You're not so much making that Stalin = Hitler comparison wrt Germany. As with regards to say Poland and the Baltics, for whom WW2 had as much Soviet participation as German. Finland probably falls somewhat in that mold too. Which means that Germany in general will be less antagonistic to Russia than countries had those memories of Russian nastiness as early as 39-40. And that's also not, if I understand so much your position as your perception that there is some of that sentiment in other ex Warsaw Pacts. Dec 4, 2022 at 23:54
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica If you look purely through war crimes for Polish Hitler was worse, while for Balts, Fins and Germans - Stalin. But it is an issue of history but historical policy where I actually consider German historical policy as the oddball here as they are not supposed to see those two regimes as simply their mirror images.
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 5, 2022 at 1:19
  • 1
    @toolforger "it worked with the GDR, unfortunately is did not with Russia but nobody could have foreseen that" Even right wing populist who govern my country (Poland) and have an annoying tendency to botch basic foreign policy were able to foresee that. However, this time we had gas storage full, ready gas port and boosted pipe connection. As Germans were desperately pushing Energiewende on themselves and their neighbors for last decades, now from our perspective look busy trying to rationalise what they see.
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 5, 2022 at 21:13
6

East Germany used to be a "technology demonstrator" to show how much better it is to live under Socialism, in comparison to the West Germany. The living standards there were much much higher than somewhere in the depth of Russia. As a result, transition to "Western values" there probably did not make many things a lot better, at least in short terms, and Soviet nostalgia is expected.

6
  • 4
    Not sure, but potentially also a larger fraction of those in East Germany who didn't agree with the GDR system left and went to the west compared to other Eastern bloc countries. According to de.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, 3.8 mio people left GDR, thereof 3.3 mio illegally. For comparison, GDR had about 17 mio inhabitants. That alone can make a substantial shift in less anti-Russian/pro-Western positions in the East and a somewhat smaller (since the West is larger) shift into the opposite direction in the West. That is 30 - 70 years ago, Dec 4, 2022 at 1:01
  • 8
    but the East also had a substantial loss of mostly young people after the wall fell. The result is a noticeably older population in the East, which may comprise more of the "original" pro-Russian/anti-Western subpopulation. Dec 4, 2022 at 1:03
  • 1
    Have grown up in Lithuania. FRG looked like a heaven for us. Lithuania looked like a heaven from the depth of Russia, except Moscow and then Leningrad.
    – Stančikas
    Dec 5, 2022 at 9:31
  • 2
    The transition to the Western system was made under promises that everything would be better - except it didn't work out, and there was a lot of bad governance going around. That was a shock, and while things did get better after a while, over several decades, for many (but not all!), the original shock never fully wore off.
    – toolforger
    Dec 5, 2022 at 21:00
  • 1
    @AnoE that's plenty of time to experience the horrors of landlord capitalism. Maybe they didn't like it? Dec 6, 2022 at 1:08

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .