German Exchange Program Focuses on Unification Issues

As was only fitting given the timing, the RIAS Berlin Kommission Exchange program for American electronic journalists in October focused on the unfinished work of integration of east and west Germany into one cohesive country.

The program began in Berlin two days before the Federal Republic of Germany celebrated its 10th anniversary of unification on October 3. University of Georgia. Participants, including University of Georgia professor Dr. C. Ann Hollifield and Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker, joined the celebration ceremonies at the Brandenburg Tor, in the heart of unified Berlin but in the former no man's land just east of the Berlin Wall only 12 years earlier.

"To see our country unified in 2000 is something we didn't expect and probably didn't deserve," Thomas Habicht, a journalist, told the Americans at a lunch on the Day of Germany Unity, as he marveled at the accomplishments of Germany in the last 10 years.

A bit more cautious note was sounded by Reuter Berlin Correspondent Erik Kirschbaum two days later. "Easterners feel a bit run over by westerners," he said. "They don't feel this was a merger of equals."

Hildegund Neubert, a member of the German Democratic Republic (East German) opposition movement in the 1980s, offered a historical perspective. "Why the Wall fell on November 9, 1989, isn't known," she said. "That it had to fall eventually was very clear."

"When we said we stood for peace and justice, these were code words. We stood for political change as well. We were more than just a peace movement."

Participation in the program gave Dr Hollifield a chance to update her knowledge of Germany and Dr. Becker a chance to see how the American component of the ongoing German-American exchange program for broadcast journalists actually works.

Dr. Hollifield, who worked in the German media while a Robert Bosch Fellow in 1991-1992, is a professor in the Telecommunications Department in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA. Telecommunications Department faculty, including Dr. Hollifield, are participating in the RIAS exchange by helping to host German broadcast journalists who visit the Grady College. The UGA part of the exchange is administered by the Cox Center.

Three German television journalists will spend 10 days at UGA in late October and early November. Four radio and television journalists spent a similar amount of time at the Grady College a year earlier. In addition, UGA doctoral student George Daniels joined American broadcast journalists for a two-week program similar to the one Drs. Hollifield and Becker participated in during the summer of 2000.

The October program in Berlin included interviews with members of the German parliament, with German and American journalists, with former prisoners of the East German prison system, and with specialists dealing with the problem of youth violence in Germany. The program also included a visit to a former concentration camp and to memorial to the Berlin Wall. Participants also toured Berlin, listened to a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic, and spent a day at the Expo 2000 world fair in Hanover.

"Freedom is not an empty phrase," Hans-Eberhard Zahn told the group. "Freedom has to be maintained. It has to be argued for."

Zahn was arrested in East Berlin in 1953 when he was 25. He was imprisoned for seven years. His crime was writing an article against communism in a student newspaper. His mistake was traveling from then partitioned but not fully divided western Berlin, where he lived, to visit a friend in eastern Berlin, where he was arrested, tortured and ultimately imprisoned for his crime.

Fifteen U.S. radio, television and web journalists formed the core group for the exchange program. A representative of the Radio Television News Directors Foundation in Washington, a collaborator on the exchange program, also joined the group. All of the participants except Drs. Hollifield and Becker spent a second week in Europe. Included were visits to the European Commission and NATO headquarters in Brussels and to Dresden, Leipzig and other cities in the former German Democratic Republic.

"This is a well conceptualized and well executed program," Dr. Becker said. "I am very impressed with what RIAS Berlin Kommission is offering American journalists and very glad to have seen first-hand how it works. I am very proud that the Cox Center and UGA have been asked to collaborate on the American side of the exchange program."