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Thirty years of walls

More than half a million senior citizens in east Germany have been illegally bruised for their claims from former GDR supplementary pensions for three decades. A year ago, after an eternal political shaming, a concession finally emerged: those affected should be compensated with one-off payments through a “justice fund”. In the sign of Corona, the next change of heart came and the compromise was apparently cancelled. From 2023, very few hardship cases will receive very little and all the others will receive nothing. Critics call this a “biological solution.”

It would be an important sign at the right time. And an act of symbolism that could reclaim lost integrity in the morally degenerate political establishment. Look, the rulers are right to say that 30 years after reunification we are eliminating a piece of german-German injustice! As it stands, Merkel, Seehofer and Scholz do not do just that. Instead, in the Jubilee Year of Unity, they once again teach the fatal lesson, which is well-known from three decades: it is further bricked up – in the east-west reality of life and in the minds.

It is about a group somewhere beyond half a million people who grew up and worked in the former GDR. In their professional life, they acquired entitlements to supplementary occupational pensions and other special pensions in addition to the regulated pension provision. In doing so, the former workers' and peasants' state compensated them for particularly heavy and undervalued activities. After hard and deprived years of work, they should at least be allowed to live with dignity. The sums in question are not huge, but they are so high that the end of life could have been made lighter, more beautiful and better – especially under the conditions of capitalism.

Pension Reconciliation Act

It didn’t get that far. In the course of the turnaround, the supply models in question were quickly cut off and the claims for a reunion were annulled. The starting point for the injustice was the Pension Transfer Act (RÜG) of 1991, with which the GDR pension schemes were introduced into the German Pension Insurance (DRV). Specifically, it revolves around 17 professions (initially over 20) with special regulations, including for nurses, midwives, employees of the Post Office, the Reichsbahn, miners, ballet dancers, visual artists or even scientists such as chemists and physicists who worked in national companies. In addition, there is the large group of women divorced in the GDR, whose interests are still being defended by an association of the same name.

Gerlinde Scheer, who is leading the initiative, spoke these days in a contribution by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk: “Women are all in their late 70s, in their early 80s. I am the one who makes the member file. I get reports every day: died, died, died.” Today, of the estimated 800,000 women divorced in the GDR, less than 300,000 are still alive. On the association’s website there is currently an obituary for a woman from Wismar who is considered a “courageous fighter for pension justice (…) had taken a long legal route to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg”. In their view, “we do not give up and expect compensation from the Federal Government after 30 years”.

Pre-chewed by the Minister of Labour

I don’t think that’s going to happen again. As the MDR reported the previous week, the political leaders have dropped the plan to compensate for the losses of those affected with one-off payments. The broadcaster referred to the “Round Table of Professional and Personal Groups of the former GDR”, which has been working for the interests of those affected since its foundation in early 2019. Until recently, they had hoped for reparations in the form of a “justice fund” promised by the coalition. Now it seems clear that there will be no severance pay for the vast majority, no more than a charity for a few – and not until 2023 at the earliest.

There is no official confirmation of the presentation. If one asks the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) to answer the question: According to this, at the end of July there was agreement in the federal-state working group set up by the ministry “in principle” that “a fund solution should be used to mitigate financial hardships” in order to achieve “financial recognition of the disappointments and individual perceived injustices”. Work on the design “is still ongoing.”

Big rest gets nothing

According to dietmar Polster, spokesman for the “Round Table” and former Reichsbahn employee, the opinion is a standard letter that the BMAS press office has been issuing for weeks and is outdated by time. Polster himself refers to “several members of the Bundestag from different political groups” as well as sources at the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) who informed him of the latest agreement. According to this, only those who receive basic security benefits will receive payments in future, while the large remainder will run out of money. Polster expressed his dismay: “Recipients of the basic security are fed perhaps 100 or 150 euros per month for their lifetime benefit, while the remaining 98 percent of those affected are completely empty.”

Not long ago, a great solution for everyone emerged. By the end of November 2019, the MDR had also announced a breakthrough in the negotiations. At the end of a meeting of the “round table” with representatives of the federal and state governments was therefore the compromise to settle all of the more than 500,000 victims with one-off payments of between 15,000 and 20,000 euros. In addition to Polster, the article also quoted the Bundestag members Daniela Kolbe from the SPD and Albert Weiler from the CDU. Weiler said at the time: “This is about people who have suffered a lot in their lives and who really have problems, some of whom live at the subsistence level, and I think you have to help.” Kolbe said: “Obviously it was time for younger MPs to come to the Bundestag, who are now pointing out that something went wrong at the time.”

Small or large solution?

The aftermath wanted to know from both mPs whether and why the plans were suddenly overturned. Weiler said on Tuesday through an employee that the discussion between the parties in the federal and state governments was still ongoing. On the same day, Kolbe’s office stated: “According to Ms. Kolbe’s knowledge, the Federal Government is currently working on the implementation of the coalition agreement, but not 1:1. Unfortunately, she cannot give further details at this time.” That could, after all, be a residual hope. In their government programme in 2018, the Union and the SPD had only envisaged the creation of compensation “for hardships in the basic pension transfer process”.

Only with the increased pressure and the persistent use of the Round Table was one moved away from this minimal solution, in order to support instead all disadvantaged. As reported well into the spring of 2020, the framework conditions should be defined before the beginning of summer and the Länder should be brought on board as donors alongside the federal government. According to a report by The “taz” in April, a date for the presentation of the fund was already set: a conference on 29 May in Borna in central Saxony.

“Unjustice without end”

The event did not take place and is not on the program until further notice. Referring to his sources, which Polster does not want to name, he complained that the project was not only “totally gutted”, but was also put on hold. “Whether in the end at least the people get something in the basic security, one will have to see”. According to the latest agreement, this should not happen until 2023, “all without guarantee, because in between lies the Bundestag election”. Either way, the Coalition is making the “expropriation of hundreds of thousands of people an injustice without end.”

In fact, the “expropriation” actually took place twice. While occupational pensions (as a change of salary) are now celebrated as one of three pillars of pension provision, the GDR variant is denied recognition. The transfer of pensions not only wiped out the entitlements because they were not paid out. In addition, the RÜG rulebook has been so entangled in the statutory pension pot that they have a lessening effect as a result. In an MDR comment the facts were described as follows:

“Only with a GDR supplementary pension is there a normal statutory pension. If it is missing, there are fewer. This is like the Bundestag deciding to transfer all Riester pensions to the statutory pension and to grant citizens the full, normal statutory pension only if they have ‘rubbed’ before – but without an extra pension.”

“Government makes you idle

The legal situation is clear. In 1999, the Federal Constitutional Court clearly ruled that the entitlements under supplementary and special pension schemes would be protected by the Basic Law, thereby compensating for the losses incurred in the post-return years. In addition, in 1997, the entitlements for members of professional branches who carried out official and state-related tasks in the GDR, such as the police or customs, were recognised by court and the persons concerned were subsequently compensated. Nevertheless, the Federal Social Court (BSG) subsequently repeatedly denied any attempts to enforce the entitlements of the remaining 17 professional groups and demanded instead a political decision on constitutionally secure ground.

There have certainly been parliamentary advances in this. In 1999, the Union made a start, in 2007 the SPD, but each out of the opposition. “The game has been going like this for over 20 years,” Polster said. “In full awareness of violating the Basic Law, the parties have repeatedly marked the healer, but only when they were not in power.” Like other critics, he accuses politicians of wanting to solve the Eastern pension problem biologically. “Most of these people are 70, 80 years and older. They die one by one. And politics is watching.”

Corona Victims?

Until now, the party Die LINKE has always been doomed to watch. In the past, her Bundestag group has repeatedly tabled parliamentary motions with the aim of closing the gaps in justice. Matthias Höhn, commissioner for East Germany, expressed his outrage at the recent development. If the media reports were correct, “the last hopes of those affected for an appropriate solution would be bitterly disappointed.” The pensioners in question lacked “several hundred euros every month,” the LINKE politician said. Sometimes it is about good occupational pensions, “but often also about the crunching at the subsistence minimum, especially for women”. Höhn’s conclusion: “For almost 30 years now, these applications and claims have been rejected by the Federal Government.”

The reasons for the (apparently) new withdrawal can only be speculated on. Is it because of the lack of understanding on funding between the federal government and the Länder? Or because you just don’t want to get the money out under the circumstances? After all, according to Polster, it is about amounts of ‘between four and seven billion euros’. Are eastern retirees perhaps one of the first groups to hold their heads up for the federal government’s (possibly misguided) corona-defense strategy as “social collateral damage”? And what other victims could follow? Who knows, the compromise on the basic pension may soon be overturned – because Corona has come in between.

Declaration of bankruptcy

There is no question that once again the opportunity is being missed to correct the image and reality of a two-tiered republic with a suspended east, at least to some extent. In the new Länder, wages and salaries are 17 percent below the western level. On average, East German pensioners receive 300 euros less old-age benefit than those in the Western countries. East Germany is “front” in terms of unemployment, corporate and consumer insolvencies. Does politics want to continue to deny the East Germans, in all the claims that exist and are constitutionally securitised, and to make pension injustice a historic finality, with the calculus that the death of the victims also puts about the injustice suffered? Financially, it would be cheaper for the government – morally, it would be a declaration of bankruptcy.