Divided We Stand

An Analysis of the Enduring Political East-West Divide in Germany Thirty Years After the Wall's Fall

in German Politics and Society
Lars Rensmann University of Groningen

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Germany continues to face an inter-regional political divide between the East and the West three decades after unification. Most strikingly, this divide is expressed in different party systems. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany and the left-wing populist Left Party are considerably more successful in the eastern regions, while German centrist parties perform worse (and shrink faster at the ballot-box) than in the West. The article discusses empirical evidence of this resilient yet puzzling political divide and explores three main clusters of explanatory factors: The after-effects of the German Democratic Republic's authoritarian past and its politico-cultural legacies, translating into distinct value cleavage configurations alongside significantly weaker institutional trust and more wide-spread skepticism towards democracy in the East; continuous, even if partly reduced inter-regional socioeconomic divisions and varying economic, social and political opportunities; and populist parties and movements acting as political entrepreneurs who construct and politically reinforce the East-West divide. It is argued that only the combination of these factors helps understand the depth and origins of the lasting divide.

Contributor Notes

Lars Rensmann, Ph.D. is Professor of European Politics and Society at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands, where he also serves as the Director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics and as Chair of the Department of European Languages and Cultures. Prior to joining the University of Groningen, he was the Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at John Cabot University in Rome and daad Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Rensmann has also held various research, teaching and honorary appointments, including at Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Vienna, Haifa University, and the Freie Universität Berlin. Rensmann has published widely on comparative German and European politics, international political theory, populism, authoritarianism and antisemitism, politics and historical legacies, as well as global politics and sports. His books include The Politics of Unreason: The Frankfurt School and the Origins of Modern Antisemitism (Albany, 2017), Arendt and Adorno: Political and Philosophical Investigations, co-edited with Samir Gandesha, (Redwood City, 2012), Politics and Resentment: Antisemitism and Counter-Cosmopolitanism in the European Union, co-edited with Julius H. Schoeps (Leiden, 2011), and Gaming the World: How Sports are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture, co-authored with Andrei S. Markovits (Princeton, 2010).

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