Yes, it’s true: it is a matter of course for West German interpretations to set oneself as the norm and to perceive everything East German as something different or a deviation. Yes, it is correct: A ridiculous proportion (1.7 percent) of top positions in science, administration, law or business are occupied by East Germans. On average, earnings in the East are 22 percent below those in the West, and far less is inherited in the East than in the West West, East German properties are largely owned by West Germans. And yes, that’s also true: The media coverage of special zones from “Super-Illu” to “Zeit des Ostens” makes the representation deficit of the East in the united Germany, makes a multifaceted German-German asymmetry particularly obvious.
What Dirk Oschmann presses between two book covers in sometimes angry, sometimes mocking, then again analytical prose is by no means new. He knows that himself. Others have spoken his text softly, sometimes loudly, for 30 years. Oschmann’s pamphlet draws its relevance from the fact that it does not deal with Ossi’s sensitivities, but with the democracy of the Federal Republic – and the accusation that it is at best funny, but mostly proll, somehow oblique, mostly speaking Saxon, but in any case damaged by the dictatorship and initially on the left, but currently notoriously right-wing East would damage precisely this democracy.
Dirk Oschmann is a literary scholar at the University of Leipzig, more precisely: the first and for a long time the only East German to be appointed to a regular chair in modern German literature – in 2011, two decades after reunification. Today there are a few more. Oschmann expressly did not make his origins the subject of his profession, but dealt with the literature of the Enlightenment, the Classical Period or the Classical Modern Period in a recognized excellent way. All well-hung canonical texts by authors such as Lessing, Schiller or Kafka.
For the now 55-year-old, the turning point and reunification came during his studies – just right for enjoying the take-off into the new freedom. Oschmann, he makes no secret of that, has been promoted. In Germany, in the USA. And because he was born in 1967, which means that he was too young to have incurred massive guilt in the GDR, but old enough to have solid experience of this society, he was occasionally an ideologically unsuspicious guest on podiums on East German history of science .
However, when he was repeatedly cast in the role of an East German, when he was told – apparently once too many times – how to talk about the East, it was enough. The result: a newspaper article that appeared in the “FAZ” a year ago. The newspaper text, which caused quite a stir at the time, has now become a book: similar in tenor and tone, but expanded to include numerous facts, theoretical foundations and a number of lines of argument.
Incredible Ossi bashing
Oschmann does not speak of an Eastern identity, but – with the French philosopher Jacques Rancière – on the contrary of “dis-identification”: the “right of an individual or a social group to have an identity not attributed to get”. He unearths the origin of concepts such as “Aufbau Ost” in the Third Reich, reviews the incredible Ossi bashing of Arnulf Baring through Wolf Jobst Siedler to Armin Laschet, discusses the erasure of the text and image memory of the GDR in literary and image disputes .
Above all, Oschmann describes the “total exclusion” of the East from a scientific establishment that prides itself on its avant-garde role on topics such as diversity, integration and inclusion, but in which the Western elites installed 30 years ago are happily recruiting from among themselves. And on his very own terrain, literature, Oschmann interprets the success of the post-GDR not only as the accumulation of attention of the commercial label “Osten”, but justifies the quality of the texts with the continued lack of other publics. In all of this, it says with desirable clarity: “There is no question that the GDR was an unjust state.”
So one could think about whether it is actually due to the East that the 30-year German-German imbalance is now endangering democracy. Perhaps this danger also stems from the power-based, arrogant conviction that the current democracy in the Federal Republic is the best of all worlds and criticism of it as criticism of democracy tout court is to be evaluated?
The beneficiaries of the AfD
The East, it should be remembered, has experienced more social conditions first-hand than the West. And sorry: the East has a revolution ahead of the West. Nobody wants to admit that – except for the AfD founded in the West, which profits from it. And could it be that the democracy of the Federal Republic is damaged if its fourth power in the form of journalistic media – to put it mildly – remains below its potential? If in the Corona debates people from the Ore Mountains as Saxony en bloc to be anti-vaccination, ergo AfD voters ergo Nazis and thus gravediggers of democracy – but have they actually been fighting right-wing parties in their villages as a matter of course and with relish for decades as convinced Green Party voters?
One can object to Dirk Oschmann’s book that the polarization and polemics of the newspaper article could have receded here. Yes, there are a few too many exclamation marks, there are one or the other superfluous footsteps in a half-sentence. Self-questioning might help against this excitement. “Trembling”, it is said, after writing the FAZ article a year ago, he “got up from his desk”. The physical reaction is plausible – but why and with what consequences has Oschmann repressed so much over the years that is now breaking ground?
And now? Oschmann’s position is likely to be shaken in academic and institutional terms insofar as a few colleagues no longer speak to him, and in part it is likely to gain in profile. The literary scholar will probably soon be speaking more on political platforms than at Schiller conferences. This is certainly not unfortunate.
From a literary business perspective, of course, a German professor just burst his collar and an alert literary agent scented the book in a newspaper article that is now in the world. This is not unfortunate either. But is it luck? Luck would be if the balance of power and representation balanced out in the medium term and at least the worst humiliations were avoided in the future. And, it may sound paradoxical: Because it is a marked area that was attractive in terms of funding policy, the GDR has been very well researched in its political, social and everyday history. Less light still falls on the old Federal Republic – the supposed German norm. This disorder of things requires one thing above all: a history of German-German relations.
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