Extremist Attacks Crop Up in West Germany
RIGHT-WING extremism, so visible in east Germany of late, is spreading in west Germany as well.Since the end of September, when attacks by mobs of skinheads forced the east German town of Hoyerswerda to evacuate its entire foreign population, there has been an explosion of incidents in the west. The first anniversary of German unification on Oct. 3 was marked by nine racist attacks on refugee centers and foreigners in the west German state of North Rhein-Westphalia. The country's most densely populated state, North Rhein-Westphalia registered last week at least 36 such attacks, many involving firebombs. Unlike in east Germany, says Dietmar Zeleny, a spokesman for the state, these attacks have been carried out by a few individuals, not mobs. They do not appear to be centrally coordinated, he says. Mr. Zeleny surmises that Hoyerswerda, as well as the massive press coverage that accompanied it, encouraged right extremists in his state. But he says the "political vacuum" on the subject of German asylum policy has contributed more than anything else to the recent surge. For months, political leaders here have been arguing about the country's asylum policy. Since 1989, when Eastern Europe raised the iron curtain, Germany has been flooded with about 1.3 million newcomers, roughly a third of them non-ethnic-Germans seeking asylum. States such as North Rhine-Westphalia complain that they have already reached their government quota - and social capacity - for absorbing newcomers. POLITICAL leaders realized just how significant this issue is on Sept. 29, when voters in the western city-state of Bremen gave a boost to a small, right-extremist party called the Deutsche Volks Union. After a campaign dominated by the asylum issue, the party increased its seats in the 100-seat local parliament from one to six. And Bremen has already refused to accept any more asylum seekers. Chancellor Helmut Kohl has been trying to gain enough support in the German parliament to change the asylum law in the Constitution. He wants to be able to turn away asylum seekers at the border who come from countries considered free from political repression. Until they took a beating in the Bremen election, the opposition Social Democrats refused to back Chancellor Kohl on reforming asylum law. They only agreed to try to accelerate the asylum-seeking process here. But on last Tuesday, Social Democrat Hans Gottfried Bernrath, chairman of the Bundestag's Interior Committee, said that if speeding up the asylum process doesn't alleviate the problem, a constitutional change could no longer be ruled out. To counterattack the spate of attacks, demonstrators have protested in several west German cities. On Oct. 3, German Unity Day, the country's leaders denounced the assaults. But this did nothing to prevent another eruption of attacks that day, one of which completely gutted a dormitory and left two Lebanese children severely burned.