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Weimar Redux?

VIOLENT attacks on foreigners and their homes have been virtually a daily occurrence in Germany over the past few months. But the recent firebombing of a Turkish residence in Molln, in which a woman and two granddaughters were burned to death, has raised consciousness of the problem to a new level.

From the tangle of conflicting reports about whether the violence is caused by an organized network of neo-Nazis or loose-cannon hooligans, the stark questions emerge: Why are the civil authorities unable to control these attacks? And what is Germany, aware of its history, doing to assure the world that this is not the 1930s all over again?

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Germany must recognize that its credibility as a member of the club of democratic nations is being called into question.

The mitigating factors here are considerable: Germany has absorbed thousands of asylum-seekers into its densely populated land, and given them generous welfare benefits as they make their way through the cumbersome review process. Germany is going through the stresses of reunification, of absorbing and rebuilding the former East Germany at a time of economic stagnation. Effective unemployment rates are above 50 percent in the east, where much, though by no means all, of the violence has occurred. The sec urity pillars of the old communist regime have been knocked away, but the new structures of freedom are not yet fully in place.

Thousands of Germans from all walks of life have demonstrated against the violence. Many decent people are clearly horrified.

But what seems to be missing, particularly from German political leadership, is a broad-based understanding that Germany can't be just for the Germans anymore: that in a world in flux, Germany is going to be an attractive haven for immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, whatever they are called. It goes beyond a mere failure to appreciate the contributions, economic and otherwise, of foreigners, into a failure to see a universal standard of human rights.

Part of the problem seems to be leadership at the top. President Richard von Weizsacker, the head of state, who has on other occasions spoken as Germany's conscience, has forcefully condemned the violence, but Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the head of government, seems to be tone-deaf on this issue.

Mr. Kohl must signal that he understands that for Germany to take its place as a world power, it must find ways to deal with immigration that satisfy both practical concerns and his country's highest democratic ideals.

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