What seems like an academic dispute in fact raises fundamental questions about Germany’s post-Communist identity. How many East Germans wanted the revolution? How many were tired of being “East Germans,” and actively sought unity with the West? Was Mr. Gauck wrong when he said that East Germans “overwhelmed” their oppressors? Or were they passive participants who were themselves overwhelmed, only to see the pain of their sudden dislocation written out of history?
The same thing happened during the migration crisis: Eastern Germans again felt that history was being decided without anybody asking their opinion. This time, they’ve had enough, as three decades of buried rage and fear have surfaced in a toxic, xenophobic nationalism.
This narrative, too, is probably incomplete. It has nevertheless gained traction, not least because the AfD is exploiting it. The party has called on voters to “complete the revolution,” evoking the feeling that whatever injustices East Germans had to suffer since 1989 could be redeemed in a populist uprising. The most popular chant from the 1989 demonstrations — “Wir sind das Volk,” or “We are the people” has become as a right-wing slogan, too.