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Fortress Europe?

WHEN THE BERLIN WALL which separated Communist East Germany from its capitalist neighbour in the West was demolished in November 1989 a wave of euphoria swept through Europe and the "free" world beyond. The wall was a symbol of the myriad repressions suffered by those living under Communist regimes, with its fall hopes of a united Germany and, ultimately, a more united Europe rose up.

The dream, however, was short lived. Three years later as a result of major upheavals in Europe since 1989 and the implementation of an asylum policy formulated in the wake of the extermination of millions of Jews, Germany is on the verge of a nightmare. A wave of xenophobia has swept through the country. In recent months political groups of the far right, the neo-Nazis, have proudly claimed responsibility for bombings, beatings and arson attacks on foreigners, giving rise to fears the world may be witnessing the spawning of a Fourth Reich.

Among the first targets of the racist backlash were members of Germany's Turkish community. In a heinous attack in November, for which two neo-Nazis claimed responsibility, one Turkish woman and two young Turkish girls were burned to death in a fire bomb attack on their home in Molln. An anonymous telephone call to tip off the authorities ended with the Nazi salutation "Heil Hitler". Jews are another minority group that have been targeted by the extreme right. Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated - the smashing up of gravestones and the daubing of Nazi propaganda on tombs, are frighteningly reminiscent of the early stirrings of the 1940s holocaust of hate.

The onus of responsibility for the deaths of six million Jews in German concentration camps lay not only with Hitler but with the whole of Germany and with the European nations beyond who kept quiet about what they knew was going on and so must share the burden of blame. However, the shame of policies instituted by Hitler have plagued Germany since the 1940s and, in the light of recent events, will probably long continue to do so. In the light of history is it possible that Germany could fall foul of such desperate, destructive feelings of xenophobia again?

With the memory of the concentration camp atrocities still burning brightly in the German consciousness in 1949, a new "asylum policy" was introduced. It begins: "The dignity of human beings is untouchable . . . The German people therefore commit themselves to alienable human rights." The act further pledged that the country would honour "the individual right to asylum". It is the continuing implementation of this act, designed to show the world Germany had turned over a new leaf, that many say, has led to the recent wave of racism and anti-semitism.

Germany, like the rest of the world, is in the middle of an economic recession, yet since 1989 the country has given asylum to some three million refugees, more than twice the number taken by the United States during the depression years of the 1920s. There is, some Germans argue, simply not enough to go round.

Against a background of growing alarm the German government announced plans to tighten up regulations to restrict the flow of refugees into the country in December. The country will now be empowered to turn back asylum seekers from other European countries, or from nations in which, it is judged, no political persecution exists. Under the terms of the 1949 asylum laws West Germany was previously committed to giving asylum to anyone claiming persecution on political, religious or ethnic grounds. It is now estimated that at least 90% of the 500,000 people expected to apply for asylum this year will be turned down on the grounds they are economic rather than political or religious refugees.

The new laws are a sensible, longer term measure that should have been taken years ago. In the short term, however, there is little to suggest the violent, racist thuggery will cease. Immediate action must also be taken to crush the violence and mayhem on the streets. Take steps, by all means, to restrict the flow of economic refugees, their increasing presence can only add fuel to the fire of disharmony. But to achieve an end to the violence and victimisation that has gone before it is important Germany remembers to punish the wrongdoers not the victims - they have already suffered enough.
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Title Annotation:the resurgence of neo-nazis in Europe
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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