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The grapes of neglect - violence and xenophobia in Germany.

THE arsonists came at night. Fully aware of the likelihood that people might be in their bedrooms they set fire to the apartment house, in which -- according to the namplates near the doorbells -- a couple of Turkisk families lived. The fact that Turks were the sole inhabitants of that house had been the precise reason for the murderers' choice of their target. In the night from Saturday to Whitsunday five people -- all of them women and girls -- became the victims of this treacherous crime which took place in Solingen, a small, until then very ordinary town in the west of Germany. It was the climax of a whole series of violent attacks against foreigners since the reunification of Germany. A deadly series which claimed 49 lives so far. All these assaults had a in common that the perpetrators were led by racist or right-extremist motives. Pictures went around the world showing young men with tattoed arms and closely shorn haircuts, instigated by beer and rock music with explicitly fascist texts, hurling petrol bombs at houses while honest citizens stood by and watched. And the politicians, apparently, are not able or -- as terrified foreigners in Germany claim -- not willing to halt this development. Chancellor Helmut Kohl did not even think it appropriate to be present at the memorial ceremonies. What is happening in Germany at the moment? Has Nazism risen from its grave? Or will Germany turn once more into the scourge of Europe?

The current events make up a very complex issue. Over the past few years facts and statistics with regard to foreigners, aggressors and right-extremism in Germany have been perpetually blurred and distorted -- both at home and abroad -- to serve various interest groups. Right-extremism, nationalism and the ugly face of racism are by no means confined to Germany. But because of her historical peculiarity these phenomena have always been ascribed a specific significance in the country which made Auschwitz happen. In the following pages an attempt has been made to venture upon a careful analysis of the current crisis in German society. First, a short review shall show the differing developments of political consciousness in the two Germanies. Then the social status and economic significance of the various groups of foreigners shall be elucidated. Finally, an inquiry into the nature and origins of the violence in the light of the effect it bears on society shall conclude this analysis.

After the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945 the newly founded non-socialist middle-class parties (CDU, CSU, SPD, FDP) of the Federal Republic of Germany dissociated themselves completely from the bankrupt ideologies of the past. All energies were devoted to the economy as a surrogate for social interaction. Raising one's standard of living was thought more important than living down one's past. Of course a capitalist economy is always based on a somewhat conservative world view. It was only after the economic miracle had been accomplished and in the wake of a general youth rebellion throughout the Western world that an angry new generation challenged the values of their parents and asked embarrassing questions about their suppressed past. And what could be a bigger challenge to a conservative society than a youth embracing left-wing ideologies. But although the dialogue between the generations led to a painful reassessment of political values and even to a politicialization of society the sixties-movement could not change the system itself. Society became more transparent and more permissive but eventually it absorbed the leftist rebels including their ideas and ideals as the incorporation of the environmental movement into the political system shows (cf. the rise of the Green Party but also the platforms of their established parties which adopted some progressive ideas to take away their their parties which adopted some progressive ideas to take away their revoluntionary impact).

Yet the discussion about Nazi-Germany, about the concentration camps and the horrors which had resulted from German nationalism and militarism, never ceased. The Third Reich had become an integrated part of West German school-curricula. No serious politician of the major parties would ever have dared not to reject Nazism. Even the most conservative right-wingers among the Christian Democrats (Christlich-Demokratische Union -- CDU) or in the Christlich-Soziale Union (Christian Social Union -- CSU) were at pains lest their platforms -- at least the official versions of them -- should sound too nationalistic. Exceptions from this rule were always confined to provincial party conferences or more or less closed circles.

For the majority of the young Germans who grew up in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties nationalism was out. And so were all its symbols like the national flag or the national anthem. It would have been unthinkable to sing the latter in school or to play it in cinemas after the performance as it is the custom in some other countries. Intoxicated fans bawled the national anthem and waved the country's flag in the football stadiums. But young (West) Germans who wanted to be politically fashionable defined their politics by the absence of patriotism and their national pride consisted of criticism of their country -- if they were proud of it at all.

The situation in the other German state was different from the start. There the Communist government by definition had seen themselves as not having any links with the brown-shirted past. As a result there had never been any attempt at dealing with the past as there had been in the West.

Consequently, the notion of the nation had retained its positive connotation for the people in the former German Democratic Republic. National pride for socialist achievements was not only condoned but even encouraged by the government. After all, one lived in the better part of the two Germanies. The general public, however, saw it differently. After having been fed -- or rather brainwashed -- with West German advertisements and TV commercials for decades they, indeed, imagined paradise, the land of milk and honey, as the epitomy of German ingeniousness -- but on the other side of the Wall. Whether identifying themselves with or rebelling against the system and embracing the world view of the class enemy -- none of the generations in East Germany ever felt obliged to suppress the sentiment of patriotism.

Even the Eastern version of the Western National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party -- NPD) -- the most right-wing party still legal in the West -- belonged to the political mainstream. Like all Eastern versions of West-parties the NDPD was part of one big bloc, a forced coalition headed by the ruling Socialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party -- SED). They served the government as a proof of their multi-party system. But they did not have any dissenting platforms of their own. And as by definition any party accepted by the government was supportive of socialism the National Democrats were neither more nor less stigmatized then the ruling SED itself.

No wonder the enticers of West German right-extremist groups met with such a fertile ground for their propaganda when the Wall fell in November 1989. While the legal right-wing parties NPD and the Republikaner (Republicans -- REP) have tried to attract conservative petitbourgeois citizens the group which openly profess their loyalty to National Socialism have recruited their followers among East German skinheads and hooligans (a social phenomenon, by the way, which had been anything but unknown in the former Greman Democratic Republic). One of the most active groups has been the illegal Deutsche Alternative (German Alternative -- DA) which was founded by Michael Kuhnen, a professed neo-Nazi and homophobe who died of AIDS in 1991.

The numbers of actual members of the various organizations range between a few hundred and a few thousnad (nationwide) and even the largest legal right-wing parties -- Deutsche Volksunion (German People's Union -- DVU) and the Republikaner -- do not have more than about 25,000 members each in the whole country.

Some of the groups have close connections with the Ku Klux Klan and with the official headquarters of the German Nazi-party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei/Auslandsorganisation -- NSDAP/AO) in Nebraska, USA. (The latter has always been illegal in post-war Germany.) German nationalists were rendered unexpected assistance when the controversial self-appointed British historian David Irving went on tour through East German in April 1990. Irving, who denies the existence of concentration camps in Nazi-Germany, was introduced by the organizers of his lectures as 'the Englishman who tries to save the honour of Germany'.

In spite of the fact that there were hardly any foreigners living in east Germany the various right-wing fringe groups and splinter parties were highly successful in spreading their message of the threat of 'foreignization'. In 1989 less than 200,000 foreign workers and students lived in the East -- representing a mere 1.2 per cent of the entire population -- compared to 5.2 million foreigners in the West -- i.e. 8.2 per cent of the population there. And yet the first violent assaults against Vietnamese workers and Polish tourists in the East were reported as early as December 1989. Shocking pictures of attacks against hostels for asylum seekers in Hoyerswerda (in September 1991) and in Rostock (in August 1992) seemed only to confirm the worst prejudices West Germans hold against their brethren in the East: their society had been inferior, they are not used to hard work in a capitalist world, and now they even turn out to be prone to long-buried ideologies of hatred and violence.

However, the spectacular events of Molln, a West German town where neo-Nazis murdered three Turks by setting their house alight in November last year, or of Solingen now, showed that all is not well in the old Republic either. But the good citizens in the West are only too willing to lay the blame on the sudden popularity of nationalist and neo-nazist ideas in the East, to call West German evil-doers 'imitators', and to lament a spread of xenophobia coming from the former internationalist workers' paradise. On the one hand the East: a hotbed for terror and violence because of all its deficiencies? On the other hand the West: a natural realm of tolerance and understanding because of the long-standing dialogue and exchange of views in its society? Does this picture hold good?

A recent poll among A-level candidates in the West German city of Munich showed that the majority of them believed the actual rate of asylum seekers among the population amounted to a menacing 30 per cent or more, whereas in fact it is less than 1 per cent. Those interviewed were neither neo-Nazis nor skinheads but they belonged to the intellectual elite of the young generation. Such grossly wrong estimates about figures concerning asylum seekers, refugees, and foreigners in general are 'common knowledge' nowadays. This cannot be the work of a few splinter parties alone.

As a matter of fact it is not. A year and a half ago Volker Ruhe (CDU), the current Minister of Defence who was then General Secretary of the Christian Democrats, sent out a circular to all CDU-factions in the various Lander-parliaments urging them to make the issue of political asylum the major topic of their parliamentary debates. Furthermore, he added a standard letter with questions to be addressed to the local administrations like: 'How many asylum seekers are accommodated in the municipality?' 'How much do they cost?' 'Were there any complaints by local residents?' 'Have any incidents of welfare fraud become known?' 'And if not: By which means do the authorities check this?' The declared goal had been to make political asylum a publi cissue and to set the media on it. But why this literally playing with fire? This needs going back a bit further.

Until May this year Germany had the world's most liberal legislation granting very political refugee an individual right to political asylum. The experience of the Nazi-dictatorshiop encouraged the Founding Fathers of the Federal Republic of Germany to write down this right into the German constitution. As a result of the political changes and upheavals in Eastern Europe and of the growing misery in the Third World but also because of improved international transportation the numbers of asylum seekers from all over the world have been increasing over the past few years.

Soon the right-extremist parties focused their attention on this alleged threat to society. At first, coming up with completely arbitrary figures, a differentiation was made between 'genuine' political refugees and 'economic migrants'. Using very emotional language the latter were denigrated as 'scoungers' or even as 'parasites'. Then, right-wing propaganda tried to create an atmosphere of fear using the absolute numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Germany every year. A horror scenario was conjured up claiming that within a few years foreigners would outnumber the native population. According to these figures from 1989 to 1991 alone about 650,000 refugees applied for political asylum.

But these statistics are faulty. Firstly, they ignore the fact that not all of these 'asylum seekers' belonged to the category of political refugees. Quite a few were de facto refugees, i.e. refugees from war zones who under the Geneva Convention cannot be expelled for humanitarian reasons. Their numbers have shot up tremendously from 1991 onwards as a result of the civil war devastating former Yugoslavia. Secondly, the number of applications does not necessarily indicate the actual number of asylum seekers because the appeal of a rejected applicant is treated like the application of a second person. But above all these figures grossly misrepresent the increase of the number of foreigners living in Germany because they do not take into account that in the same period of time almost 1.5 million (B) foreigners left Germany for good. With other groups of migrants coming to the country -- relatives of foreign workers, members of EC countries etc., and because children born of foreign parents in Germany are nevertheless foreigners due to an atavistic law concerning nationality, the overall 'foreign' population is, however, still slightly on the rise.

Right-wing groups have constantly dwelt upon these statistics using terrifying images of 'floods of asylum parasites' etc. Germany has been compared to a 'boat [which[ is full'. Appealing to basic instincts like fear and distrust, providing easy answers to complex problems, offering a clear profile of the enemy to project one's hate and frustration on -- all this won them wide sympathies at a time when cries abound.

The outrageous fact is that the established parties have done so little to counter this development, to thwart these efforts to create an atmosphere of hate. As a matter of fact they soon began to sing the same song. The first one wing. Eager to court their electorate's favour the other political far-right wing. Eager to court their electorate's favour the other political parties followed one by one. The last ones to join in were the Social Democrats whose former candidate for chancellorship, Oskar Lafontaine, declared in 1990 that 'something has to be done to solve the problem of political asylum'.

The established parties, however, did not use such a blunt language and obtuse imagery as the extreme Right did. The further to the Left in the political spectrum the more 'substantial' their statements were. Refugees, abuse of political asylum, difficulties of integration, the overall costs -- all this was presented to the public as a problem. And the media took the bait as well. Hardly a day went by without some politician lamenting the situation and calling for 'remedial measures'. Precisely this helped prepare the breeding ground for the widespread acceptance and understanding among the onlookers when somebody actual took remedial measures, although different from those the politicians had anticipated -- the hooligans rather resorted to Molotov cocktails and baseball bats.

This lack of foresight is what leftist politicians reproach the established parties for; like Gregor Gysi, chairman of the Partei fur demokratischen Sozialismus (Party for Democratic Social -- PDS), the chastened and re-named successor party of the former SED. Gysi criticized the fact that none of the representative men or woman of the government ever stood up and elucidated the situation with all the relevant statistics, connections etc. Instead they gave in to the mob -- and changed the constitutional right to political asylum (a procedure for which a two-third majority in parliament is required). No refugee who has come to Germany via a so-called 'safe third country' is eligible for political asylum any more, but has to be deported back into this third country.

But this move only meant exporting our 'refugee problem' -- particularly to the poor countries in Eastern Europe. One of the relevant facts the public should have been told is that practically closing the legal door to asylum does not mean that fewer refugees from the Third World -- and more and more from the former Second World as well -- will try to enter the safe haven of Europe, or rather Germany. This rash step, so the critics on the Left said, will only foster illegal immigration -- with all its dire consequences. Instead, it would have been more effective to fight more consistently against illegal carrier organizations -- a vastly expanding criminal enterprise. But above all it is necessary to combat the reasons for migration. The Third World is suffering tremendously from increasing economic hardship and environmental disasters. Tackling these problems at home -- i.e. in the respective countries -- would be a costly measure but maybe the only reasonable one on a long-term basis to keep people from migrating into Europe. At any rate, such a preventive migration policy would be a better alternative than exporting German toxic waste into these countries, another fact that has been constantly suppressed in the debate about 'genuine refugees' and 'economic migrants'.

The true economic costs of political asylum have also been perpetually distorted. Asylum has become a shot in the arm of Germany's ailing economy. In 1992 the government spent the equivalent of 3.5 billion [pounds] on approximately 600,000 asylum seekers and recogniseds refugees, i.e. roughly 6,000 [pounds] per capita. But this memory did not go down the drain. Each refugee got about 3,700 [pounds] in each which he spent on consumer articles -- thereby supporting the economy. He has to spend the money in Germany because asylum seekers are not allowed to leave their respective districts. With the rest of the money the government subsidised all sorts of branches of industry; from food-packaging companies and lawyers to the builders of temporary shelters. Most of the small hotels of ill repute in the red-light district of Hamburg would have long gone bankrupt after AIDS had ruined their business if it had not been for the government which stepped in and filled their empty beds with refugees.

Because asylum seekers are allowed to earn up to 200 [pounds] per month they have become an important support of the exploitive catering trade. Their readiness to work for hourly wages which would not attract any unemployed German is the reason why pizzas are still so cheap. On the one hand, having the refugees in the country is a disadvantage, from the taxpayer's point of view, but on the other hand, as a consumer the ordinary citizen profits by it.

It seems to like irony of fate that the first asylum seekers who were rejected on grounds of 'not being prosecuted for political reasons' were as a matter of fact Germans. In the summer 1949, shortly after the foundation on the Federal Republic of Germany -- which comprised the French, American, and British zone of occupation -- the then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) decided that of all the refugees coming from the Soviet zone of occupation -- which was to become the German Democratic Republic -- only 15 per cent, at the most, were 'genuine political refugees'. Illegal immigrants were to be deported back by force because 'they jeopardized law and order'. Depopulation of the East, over-population of the West, infiltration through Communist spies, even an influx of criminals infested with venereal diseases, all these boogies were employed to sell this unpopular policy to the general public. From the very beginning the Social Democrats in opposition endorsed an open-door policy -- which they maintained until last autumn -- and on 23 June 1950 after many heated parliamentary debates the restriction was finally lifted.

After the atrocity of Solingen criticism of the failed refugee policy is no longer confined to the Left but can be heard to a growing extent in the ranks of the established parties as well. In a recent interview Heiner Geissler, another former general secretary of the CDU, deplored the 'furtive rehabilitation of right-extremist issues in everyday politics as the main crime'. But as long as the government keeps playing down the xenophobic attacks and murders as 'acts of a few maniacs without any backing' and, at the same time, yields to right-extremist demands it will continue to fan the flames. Furthermore, by expressing the Germans' solidarity with all those 'who had been called into the country to help to build up Germany's economy' -- and clandestinely omitting the refugees -- Chancellor Helmut Kohl has declared the latter nothing short of fair game.

The turn to right-wing extremism which Germany experiences at present is part of an all-European revival of nationalism: the 'New Right'. Its driving force is an ideology of inequality based upon the assumption that certain groups, peoples, and cultures are inferior to others. The hideous social-Darwinist conclusion is that the 'superior' culture -- always one's own culture -- is more efficient by natural law. Insiduously, the New Right adopted the standpoint and jargon of human rights activists and demand 'self-determination for the German people' and the 'right to cultural distinction' to disguise their racism. 'Miscegenation', thus their argument, 'is genocide'. It is their renunciation of a multicultural society -- which Germany has actually become a long time ago -- and their insistence on the purity of German culture and blood (!) which has won the extreme Right's sympathies. This ethnocentrism makes them focus their hatred not on asylum seekers alone but on foreigners in general.

Of the approximately 6.5 million people currently living in Germany without a German passport, about five million are either foreign workers or members of their families. The West German Federal Agency for Employment commenced recruiting foreign labour in the mid-fifties when a threatening labour shortage became evident. The reasons for this shortage -- apart from a rapidly growing economy -- had been the effect of a prolongation of an improved vocational training, a curtailment of weekly working hours, and the re-establishment of the German army in 1955.

The countries with which bilateral argreements had been worked out -- Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia -- were all characterized by a surplus of unskilled labourers, a lack of capital, and a low technological standard. Critics, however, have always maintained that this policy of labour recruitment has led to a misadaptation of economic structures in Germany. And in the home countries the exodus of those showing the most incentive and flexibility was about as stimulating for the domestic economies as the 'brain drain' for the Eastern European economies during the Cold War. The export of surplus manpower helped the countries to conceal their true problems of employment and to alleviate social tensions. The monthly remittances from Germany, moreover, were more than welcome. In 1984 they increased to a record level of nine billion Deutschmark (about 3.6 [pounds] million) to which the Turks alone contributed almost half. Since then these remittances have dropped by almost 20 per cent which is seen as an indicator of a growing determination to stay in Germany rather than return home.

The final return, however, is what has always been assumed until the discontinuance of recruitment in 1973. Foreign workers were called 'Gastarbeiter' (guest workers) to avoid the term 'Fremdarbeiter' which the Nazis ued during (World War II for their forced labourers from abroad. But the 'guests' first moved their families to Germany and now they more and more seem to intend to stay. The initial failure to take proper integration measures, particularly for the youth, has indeed created a foreigners' problem. But it is a problem of education and cultural identity the foreigners are facing, rather than a threat to German society.

From the outset, recruited foreign workers held mainly unskilled jobs. In spite of the fact that in the meantime the second and even the third generations have entered the work force, half of all employed foreigners still work in the manufacturing and mining industries. Although nominally the two million foreign employees could be replaced by unemployment Germans many of them would still be irreplaceable because of the job structure. The greater part of the unemployed Germans belong to the service industries, and furthermore, foreigners often hold stigmatized jobs which Germans are not willing to perform.

Of all the immigrant nationalities the Turks have a culture the most foreign to German sensibilities. And yet it is not only their Muslim religion and their extremely patriarchal family structure but their sheer number -- with 1.8 million the Turks represent the largest minority in Germany -- which has kindled a subliminal anxiety within many Germans. The foreign loses its exotics facination if it becomes common and usual. It needs malicious incitement, however, to turn this anxiety into fear and hatred: fear of losing one's own cultural identity and hatred of those who appear to threaten this culture.

The search for cultural identity has always played an important part in German history--even before the Nazis misued the concept of 'blood and soil' for their ideology. To understand the Germans' attitude towards nationalism it is essential to keep in mind that unlike other European nations, Germany did not become a country in the modern sense of the word until 1871. For centuries all that the Germans had in common had been their language and culture. The projection of a mythical racial community served as a kind of compensation to support a particularly fragile national identity. But the notion of a German race -- or an Aryan race -- has never been anything more than a mere construct. Since the fourth century the people living within the borders of today's Germany have had a low degree of ethnic homogeneity due to great migrations and a constant exchange of population groups. During World War II a couple of million forced labourers who had been abducted from Slav countries constituted another influx; whereas after the war several million Germans -- so-called ethnic Germans -- were left scattered over Eastern Europe.

The subconscious fear of an uncertain national identity has resulted in a concept of citizenship based upon descent ("ius sanguinis') or upon the profession of German culture reflecting the definition given by the Nazi-Germany's Home Secretary, Wilhelm Frick, in 1939. This can lead to the absurd situation that a Latvian SS-man's grandson who does not speak a single word of German but whose grandfather had proclaimed his loyalty to German culture by joining the SS can be entitled to German nationality. On the other hand a young Turk, who has been born in Germany and who speaks German better than Turkish, still has no right to it. This law governing nationality ensures a steady increase in 'homemade' foreigners.

Of course there remains the possibility of applying for German nationality, but this leaves matters in the hands of local authorities; a procedure which has always been complicated and arbitrary. In addition to the requirements -- e.g. 15 years of legal and continuous residence, financial independence etc. -- there has been one particular stumbling block preventing integration: applicants have to give up their former nationality before they can become Germans. As a result, foreign workers would be deprived of the option of returning home. Turks, for example, would lose their legal standing and be excluded from inheritance in Turkey. It seems, however, the German government, reacting to the massacre of Solingen, is now beginning to consider at least the possibility of dual nationality. This would by no means be a satisfactory solution for successful integration, to say nothing of all the current problems. But at least the younger generation would be given the opportunity of becoming fully recognized members of German society without falling out with their parents. At the moment foreigners cannot even vote in local elections. The Green Party and the progressives among the Social Democrats go even further and call for a proper immigration law with fixed annual quotas to acknowledge the fact that Germany has become a de facto immigration country a long time ago. Accordingly, application for immigration and political asylum would exclude each other. Even this radical ideas seems to catch on with some members of the government. In early August Foreign Secretary Klaus Kinkel (FDP) announced that the was in favour of such a law.

And yet the question may be raised whether integration of ethnic minorities is desirable and whether an apparently unwilling society can be -- or should b -- compelled to accept foreigners at all? Does not a modern industrial state have the same right to determine its own policies as it is, e.g. demanded for tribal communities in the Amazon? But this is beside the point, as Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, one of the leading intellectuals and eassayists in post-war Germany, illustrates. The question is not whether a society without -- or at least with fewer -- foreigners is preferred but, whether it is desirable to live in a society whose political acts are determined by violence, arson, and murder.

Critics on the Left keep askaing what has happened to the government's determination, remembering the State's motto in the seventies and eighties to 'never givke in to [left-extremist] terrorism' -- violence which had always been directed against high representatives of the government and the economy. They bemoan the fact that German authorities tend to turn a blind eye to right-extremist violence. On the one hand, whenever the State itself or its institutions seem to be challenged the German police has been notorious for their excessive brutality. Last year's G7 Summit in Munich, where the leaders of the seven main industrial nations met, was well guarded by a special police force of 10,000 men. A couple of hundred hecklers, whose violent acts consisted to loud whistling and yelling protest slogans, were quickly neutralized, cornered, and beaten up in front of running TV cameras. But when a few hundred youths attached the hostel for asylum seekers in Rostock a poorly equipped police squad were not able to defend themselves, let alone the people in the burning hostel, although they had been tipped off well in advance. After having received a hint that no further harm would be done, they even retreated in order 'not to escalate the situation'.

The damage right-extremist violence has done to Germany's image abroad is tremendous. Big business has long since realized that the current development runs agaist their interest. The tourist trade fears losses, export figures plummeted already, and Japanese investments fell off to a record low in 1992. And they reacted swiftly: companies started to fire employees who molested foriegn workmates in word or in deed (measures which the women's rights movement has been fighting for for years). It was mainly their initiative which brought about the large turnoff of concerned citizens protesting against xenophobia at the nationwide candlelight vigils last December. All this reminded one of the 'public breast-beating contests', as Max Horkheimer used to call the mass abjurations after World War II. And while honest middle-class citizens -- in accordance with the government -- call the perpetrators 'a few demented criminals', the Left -- in accordance with the press abroad -- is busy in conjecturing the scare of reviving Nazism. Who is right?

It is a fact that since the reunification right-extremist terror and aggression have claimed at least 49 lives. The victims, were not only foreigners; 15 homeless and disabled were among them. Pretending to feel a call to 'cleanse' Germany from its 'impurities' themyoung perpatrators insist that they only perform the will of majority. And in a horrifying way they are right. Xenophobic, racist, and eugenic ideas and prejudices are widespread even if they mostly remain tacit. Although there have always been violent crimes committed by youths the nature of th tidal wave of agression currently sweeping over Germany is althogether different. Above all, it is the brutality of the assaults which is shocking. The youths -- two out of three are younger than 21 -- aim at maiming and killing their victims. Where does their readiness to commit acts of violence stem from?

The Left blame right-extremist organisations and the 'skinheads wearing ties' as the novelist Gunter Grass called the MPs who chime in with the mob. Conservative circles -- in a desparate attempt to lay the responsiility at somebody's door -- put the blame on single-parenthood and anti-authoritarian education. Others see the phenonmenon merely as the rebellion of a reactionary youth against their parents who belong to the generation of '68 just as the latter themselves had questioned the values of their parents through political dissent. But these simple and unsatisfactory explanations fail to get to the heart of the problem. It is not true that most of youth come from disrupted families and the so-called 'redskins' belonging to the SHARP-movement (skinhead against racial prejudices) are by no means less keen on violence just for fun than their nationalist twins with their right-wing connections. As far as the danger of fascists usurping political power is concerned: the assaults themselves showed rarely any signs of tactical planning and aggressors and arsonists were in most cases only very lossely organized. More and more analysts and experts see the current crisis as a problem of society as a whole.

The sociologist Willhelm Heitmeyer regards the disintegration of post-modern society as the primary cause. In the West over the past few decades all tradition social ties have been severed: family, church, neighbourhood -- with their double-edged meaning of security on one hand and social control on the other. Values of old have been rendered insigificant as materialism and consumption have come to be preached as the most important sources of happiness. Particularly during the eighties collective responsibility was no longer emphasized and a new generation grew up denying any ethical standards. The message that material success was within the reach of every individual bore the dire implication: whoever did not manage to live up to these expectations was a social outcast. In addition, the society of affluence has developed a new form of child neglect: material wealth and brand name ecstasy instead of love and care. All this did not exactly foster the mentality which would be necessary at a time when people are asked to share with their poor compatriots in former East Germany.

There, the forces of disintegration have been of a different nature -- but not less destructive. Frustration and disappointment prevail with unemployment soaring in a county whose citizens had not known anything but full employment for 40 years and whose self respect had always been based upon work. Only anti-social elements, who refused to work, used to be without a job. Furthermore, despite the snooper activities of the 'Stasi' (the former East Germany Secret Service) there have been a sense of solidarity among the citizens against the bigwigs and party bosses of the ruling SED. Now with jobs scarce and uncertainly everywhere mistrust and envy govern people's minds. Young people are deprived of any perspective for the future. Besides, now that the euphoria about the reunification has long since abated and its true costs are presented by an only too evasive government, East Germans feel more and more excluded as second-class citizens by West Germans. They in their turn exclude those whom they deem even further down on the social scale. And so they fall back on the only identity which they think they can be sure of, i.e., their national identity: Germny for the Germans!

The intentional elimination of jobs due to rationalization leading to a loss of perspective among the young generation is a problem the entire industrialized world is confronted with. So is the growing negation of social values and communal responsibility as a result of a longstanding propagation of consumption and materialistic egoism. What does make Germany such a special case?

As a matter of fact, Germany is not all unique in this respect. The disintegration of society is well-advanced in other countries, too. There are three factors, however, which contribute to Germany's status as a forerunner. For the first time a post-war recession has profoundly affected her economy. Contrary to workers in other European countries German employees had never been compelled to get accustomed to high unemployment rates. Then there is the shock of reunification which -- by a growing number on either side -- is no longer seen a blessing. Considering the dire economic impact it is rather perceived as the compulsory unification to two disparate, formerly even hostile countries. Thirdly, there has been indeed the tradition of a fascist ideology as the leading political power but these dark forces are only exploiting the current crisis of society.

What would be the cure of this crisis? First, it would be necessary to focus the attention of the masses on Gemany's real problems: the decline of ethical standards, the devastation of the environment, the decrease of work, and the reunification which has virtually failed. Equally important would be to restrain the media from offering a forum for the perpetrators. The former were, often rightly accused of depicting the crimes as if there were no victims or rather of portraying the aggressors, the 'misled youths', as the actual victims. Assaulting people is a safe bet to make it into the headlines of nationwide newspapers -- but only if the motives are right-extremist. Some TV teams have been rumoured of having even paid Nazi-hooligans to hurl stones or raise their arms with the illegal Hitler salute.

Above all, there is an urgent need to reintegrate the aggressors. The Bremen criminologist Karl Schuhmann maintains that in dealing with right-extremist juvenile delinquency it is essential to prefer communication and assistance to punitive measures. The latter would desocialize the perpetrators even more and stir up sympathy for them. More money than ever has to be spent on education and social work. School classes have to become smaller. Altruism and social responsibility have to be taught and set as an example again. But only one week after the massacre at Solingen, Martin Kohlausen, the speaker of the board of directors of the Commerzbank, one of the major banks in Germany, lamented in an interview that German politicians cared too much about social questions. And Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder (CDU), a former Minister of Education of the Land Baden-Wurttemberg, declared that 'a thousand new policemen would be a better answer to the current problem than a thousand new teachers'. Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Klaus Kinkel seems to be the only memeber of the government who senses the need to act. Does he anticipate what could happen if the next house set ablaze had Jewish names on the doorbells?
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Author:Krautz, Joachin
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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