The remains of the Berlin wall.jpg
The remains of the Berlin wall
Photograph: Photo by Heather Cowper, used under CC BY

Eastern Germany is facing a growing threat from the extreme right-wing, according to the official charged with overseeing post-reunification integration in the once-divided nation.

"Right-wing extremism in all its forms constitutes a very serious threat to the social and economic development of the new states,” Iris Gleicke said Wednesday, referring to the five states that were created out of the former communist east after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Gleicke was speaking at a press conference in Berlin after the release of her annual report on the progress of German unification.

Born in communist East Germany, Gleicke's comments reflect concerns in the German political establishment that the east, the economic performance of which trails the more prosperous western part of the nation, has proven to be fertile ground for radical right-wing political movements.

The mass influx of refugees into Germany during the last year has contributed to a surge in support in the east for a new populist right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany.

"The vast majority of east Germans are not xenophobic or right-wing,” said Gleicke, who called on people in the east to take a stronger stand against the threat from the right.

Gleicke is a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

As the government's commissioner for Germany's new states, Gleicke said that much had been achieved in helping the east to catch up with the stronger economy in the west.

However, 26 years after unification, the economy in the east is still struggling to draw level with the western part of Germany.

Gross domestic product per capita in eastern Germany was 27.5 per cent lower than the level in western Germany last year, Gleicke’s report said.

Surprisingly, given concerns about eastern xenophobia, Gleicke said immigration might turn out to be a key tool in turning around the region's worsening demographics.

The east is growing increasingly depopulated, even as a wave of immigration - including the arrival of 1 million refugees into Germany last year, many of them fleeing wars in Africa and the Middle East - hits the country.

Taking advantage of the one problem to solve the other could help alleviate the aging of the population and the looming shortage of skilled workers.

"The integration of refugees into society as well as the labour market, including through improvements in qualification and training, plays an important role in this," she said.

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