Chilling as it was to read of German youths parading through Dresden last month spouting Hitlerian hate, this phenomenon needs to be seen in the context of jolting change and disruption in the eastern, formerly Communist regions of newly united Germany. Eruptions of nationalism and racism have been unwelcome fellow-travelers of freedom throughout what was the Soviet bloc. Though eastern Germany may be no different, its history is, and therefore the world watches.
Unlike West German youngsters, East German youngsters were never taught that their nation bore responsibility for the horror and Holocaust of the Nazi era. Communist indoctrinators put out the line that capitalists and imperialists gave rise to Hitler, and they were all in residence in West Germany. Citizens of East Germany were told they were unsullied, Communist victims of the Third Reich, much like their Soviet comrades.
Until 1990, eastern Germany had not experienced a free election for 68 years. It had known only totalitarian rule -- first Nazi, then Stalinist -- with an emphasis on militarism, secret police, informers, and elaborate mechanisms for control of the population. Few foreigners were admitted. Views on life "over there" were seen through the peculiar leftist prism of West German television. Life was drab, orderly and very, very German.
Then abruptly, the Berlin Wall fell in October 1989, free elections swept out the Communists in March 1990, economic and monetary union came in July 1990 and last Oct. 3, Germany was officially reunited. It was a euphoric year that all too soon gave way to a huge dose of angst.
And no wonder. In the five eastern provinces, 1,500 state-owned companies have been sold, hundreds more have been closed, factory output is down 50 percent, unemployment is running at more than 30 percent. East Germans are now suffering constant humiliations from West Germans who regard them as lazy and unmotivated. There is talk of "the Wall in the head" dividing prosperous, bustling West Germany with the demoralized East.
Fortunately, conditions that provide such fertile ground for extremism will not last. Western Germany is pumping an astounding $100 billion a year into East Germany, an investment that has converted it willy-nilly from the world's largest exporter to a net importer. Bad as things are in eastern Germany, it is being propped up by a financial infusion that is the envy of Eastern Europe. The choice of Berlin over Bonn as the official capital will be a boon to eastern Germany.
United Germany is bound to be the economic powerhouse of the European Community, a nation whose security will be tied to Pan-European institutions rather than national conquest. Of course, the world should be wary. But 41 years of democracy in western Germany provide some assurance that attempts for a Hitlerian revival will fail.