GERMAN Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced yesterday that he wants to reform the country's narrow citizenship law before elections take place next year. Under present law, citizenship is granted mostly to those of German ethnic background.
Speaking before the Bundestag on the subjects of right-wing extremism, the integration of foreigners, and German-Turkish relations, the chancellor said he especially wanted to make it easier for Turks born in Germany to become German citizens.
In this light, he said, Germany should examine the possibility of granting multiple citizenship to foreigners living here, although he confirmed that he still fundamentally opposes the idea.
The talk, which kicked off a two-hour parliamentary debate on Auslanderhass, or "hatred of foreigners," came nearly three weeks after five Turks were murdered in an arson attack on their Solingen home May 29. Aside from a statement immediately after the attack, the chancellor has kept a relatively low profile on the issue, most notably in his absence at the funeral for the Turkish victims.
The bulk of Kohl's speech, however, was a vigorous defense of measures already taken by the German government to stop hate crimes and to integrate foreigners here. He emphasized that Germany has taken in vastly more asylum-seekers and war refugees than any other Western European country.
"We haven't the slightest reason to hide before the international [community]," he said.
Kohl also devoted much of his 45-minute speech to reinforcing friendly relations between Germany and Turkey, and came to the defense of the Turkish government on the subject of human rights abuses. A government spokesman in Ankara said Kohl's speech overshadowed all other domestic subjects in Turkey yesterday.
Kohl's talk was met with little enthusiasm by Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen. "Turks will be disappointed," he said, since the speech proposed "incredibly little" in the way of changes in Germany's narrow citizenship law.
Although Germany eased its citizenship requirements for long-term foreigners in 1991, Turks argue the law is still too restrictive and demand dual citizenship instead. In 1991, only 3,529 Turks became German citizens, although 1.8 million Turks live here.
Mr. Sen said Kohl's proposals of yesterday were far less generous than the chancellor's suggestion of a five-year dual citizenship, which he made on his state visit to Turkey last month.
The chancellor has been severely criticized for his handling of rightist extremism in Germany. His absence from the funerals for the Turks killed in Solingen and last November in Molln, is being read by right-wing extremists as tacit encouragement for more violent xenophobic crimes, his critics charge.
Germany has been hit by a wave of "copy-cat" antiforeigner arson attacks since Solingen and an increasing number of attacks on Turks. Herbert Schnoor, Interior Minister for the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where Solingen is located, commented last week that "it's pure luck that Germany hasn't had to mourn new deaths."
Werner Hoyer, secretary general of the Free Democrats, the junior partner in Kohl's center-right coalition government, suggests that Kohl has kept a low profile on the extremist issue until now "because he wants to keep the right-wing [voters]" in his party.
Rather than talking about further measures to stop extremist measures, politicians now are discussing ways in which to integrate foreigners in Germany. This, says Social Democratic member Karsten Voigt, is "because there are no more easy solutions" to combating extremism.