Kohl Plays Down Violence in Germany
DAYS after the German Bundestag passed legislation restricting the right to asylum last spring, right-wing youths fire-bombed the home of a Turkish family in Solingen, killing five residents and setting off the latest wave of violence against foreigners. Despite this, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in a speech before the Bundestag on June 17, denied any "connection between the asylum law and the arson attacks in Solingen and elsewhere."
By failing to aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for anti-foreigner attacks, the German government has contributed significantly to the rise in xenophobic violence. Germans are increasingly frightened by the violence, as well as by the government's inability to get it under control. The Federal Crimes Bureau reported that in 1992 there were 6,300 anti-foreigner crimes, as compared to 2,400 in 1991. There has been further escalation in the first six months of 1993.
Incredibly, Mr. Kohl continues to refer to Germany as a "foreigner-friendly country," making a mockery of the fear and suffering of both foreigners and Germans. Even now, he tries to down play the seriousness of the violence.
The chancellor does not acknowledge that an anti-foreigner climate has been created in Germany that makes such attacks possible. The asylum debate and the intensity with which an amendment to the constitution was pursued by Kohl's government undoubtedly contributed to this climate. It focused attention on the victims, implicitly shifting the blame for the violence onto them.
The German government, after much delay, took steps in late 1992 to deal more aggressively with the growing anti-foreigner violence. Unfortunately, the tone had already been set. While hundreds of thousands protested in candlelight procession, members of parliament were approving legislation that, while theoretically maintaining the right to political asylum, in practice severely limits that right. Thus, as an official in the Frankfurter Office for Multicultural Living said in June: "The message that was
clear from all that occurred in December and since is that [the right wing] was successful. The violence had fulfilled its purpose - and with more violence perhaps even more can be gained."
THE German government must increase efforts to investigate the failure of local and state authorities to intervene to protect foreigners under attack. A message must be sent to local law enforcement officials, as well as to foreigners, that the German state deals severely with police misconduct. The government must also shift additional resources of federal and state crime investigation agencies to monitoring and investigating right-wing violence.
But it is equally important to make it clear that foreigners living in Germany are not hostage to political pressure from the right. In the last month, important political leaders such as Barbara John, the commissioner for Foreigners in Berlin, and Jutta Limbach, the minister of Justice for Berlin, have called for a law to deal with discrimination against foreigners. Kohl should take the lead in passing legislation to protect foreigners from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.
The policy for gaining German citizenship must also be made less restrictive. Those born in Germany should be able to apply for German citizenship, and the time foreigners must live in Germany before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship must be shortened. Consideration should also be given to allowing dual citizenship. While these steps will not bring about a quick end to right-wing violence, they will give many foreigners living in Germany the full protection of German law and will provide them wi th a political voice.
It is time for Kohl to set a new tone. Otherwise, all the law and order measures in the world will not succeed in quelling the violence. He must send a signal that foreigners can expect unqualified protection from the German state.