German-Romanian Pact Aims to Curtail Attacks
Right-wing violence prompts review of development and asylum policies
IT is quiet again here in Rostock, and has been since the end of August, when 5,000 citizens marched through the streets to protest the anti-immigrant violence that put their city on front pages around the world.
Attacks continue in other parts of Germany, mostly, but not exclusively, in the east, in the "new federal states."
On Saturday night right-wing radicals clashed with police for the sixth successive night in the eastern city of Wismar. Thirty young protesters were arrested.
Virtually every night, bands of several dozen young people attack homes where immigrants, largely from Romania, await processing under Germany's liberal asylum law. Police have increased their presence at these centers considerably, but troublemakers continue to throw their stones and Molotov cocktails.
The problems in Rostock have been addressed in a way that local citizens clearly feel can be only temporary: The asylum-seekers whose center in suburban Lichtenhagen was attacked last month have been moved some miles out of the city to an isolated, out-of-use Army barracks.
The situation illustrates the problems east Germany has in making a new democratic system work during a rocky period of reconstruction. It also shows the challenges reunified Germany faces in deciding what the constitutional "right of asylum" should mean at a time of unprecedented immigration - nearly 280,000 asylum-seekers this year. Training for Romanians
Last week, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government announced a new treaty with Romania to take effect Nov. 1: Romania has agreed to take back would-be emigres who arrive in Germany without valid identity papers. In return, Germany is providing some 30 million deutsche marks' worth ($20 million) of job training for Romanians, to make them more employable at home or abroad. Similar agreements are being sought with Bulgaria and what remains of Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, asylum-seekers, most of them Romanian, and most of those gypsies, continue to arrive in Rostock at a rate of 40 to 60 per day.
They come to a city with an unemployment rate of 15 percent, nearly three times that of the west, and effective unemployment much higher still. When 65 apprentices were graduated the other day at a City Hall ceremony rooted in the Middle Ages, they were told that only the best of them could count on jobs. The building-renovation sector is booming; but the shipbuilding industry and its suppliers have fallen on hard times, and many firms are closing down under the discipline of the free market. Overcrowded center
Ironically, Lichtenhagen, the site of the August attacks, was chosen in 1990 as the site for an intake center for asylum-seekers because over the years so many foreigners had lived there without incident. But the flow of immigrants was so heavy that the resources of the center were overwhelmed. "The place was already full," says Fred Mahlburg, a Lutheran church official. "There were people sleeping outside. It wasn't a matter of `cultural differences,' but of basic sanitation." Residents were also unhapp y about increased petty thefts and break-ins in the neighborhood, and an alleged gang rape.
After a year of what they saw as unavailing complaints to City Hall, residents made what started out Aug. 22 as a peaceful protest march against conditions at the intake center - but became violent when 150 hooligans broke through the crowd and started throwing stones at the building.
The violence continued every night and culminated Aug. 24 in the torching of the asylum-seekers' building, as well as the building next door, home to over 100 Vietnamese "guest workers."
Local sociologists estimate that about 13 percent of Rostock's population, and 15 percent of Lichtenhagen's, support far-right political groups. The first couple of nights of violence appear to have been spontaneous outbursts, local "fascists" cheered on by some of their neighbors, says Dr. Mahlburg. But by the third night, with the arson, "There was some sort of organized right-radical group involved."
Eckhart Werthebach, head of the German antiterrorism office, was reported Saturday as saying that east Germany's 3,000 neo-Nazis have no central organization but that they did have some "connections" to their 1,200 counterparts in the west.
Peter Magdanz, a Social Democratic city official, counters, "Fascism has nothing to do with it;" rather, the situation is a case of economically pressured individuals striking out emotionally, and violently, in response to a serious social problem, he says.
The television coverage of the episodes drew widespread complaints. "They were just advertising for more hooligans to come join in," says a Lichtenhagen cab driver.
In Mahlburg's view, the city government has wanted to get the state government to take responsibility for the problem, and the state, in turn, has been trying to get more help from Bonn. "But I think the people were surprised that the problem escalated so; I think they didn't count on that."
A local newspaper editor concurs: "It's hard for the people to work with this instrument, democracy."
Dr. Magdanz denies that the city government was unresponsive to citizen complaints.
Shortly after the asylum-seekers moved to their new quarters, city and church officials met with local families to address some of their concerns, for example, the lack of telephones at the compound with which to summon help if needed.
These meetings were "extraordinarily important," says Horst Vogt, provost of the Lutheran church in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. "For one thing, they showed us that the residents were afraid of the attackers rather than feeling any sense of common cause with them."
"We in Rostock are not against foreigners, I must emphasize this," one man said. "But this situation cannot continue."
Of the larger immigration issue, Magdanz says, "Three things must be done. First, the fundamental right to political asylum must be maintained, but more narrowly defined. Second, immigration must be regulated. And third, there must be a fully thought-through discussion on development policy in this country, in terms the citizen can understand. If these people had been getting their 10 marks a day [the dole granted asylum-seekers in Germany] in their homelands, for economic development, would they have wa nted to emigrate?
"It's a discussion we should have had before this. People have been asleep."