Germany: Racism

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Fri Aug 11 03:51:49 MDT 2000

>From todays Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Hate Seems Most Rampant Where the Fewest Foreigners Live

By Kurt Reumann

FRANKFURT. Do foreigners have to be afraid in Germany? Wolfgang Thierse, the
president of the Bundestag, the German parliament, said that during his
travels he found "fear everywhere," among young democrats and young
left-wingers, of violence. That means young Germans and not just foreigners
are frightened of right-wing extremists.

In his comments, Mr. Thierse was largely referring to eastern Germany. While
it would be wrong to pretend there is no right-wing violence in western
Germany, there is much to be said for Mr. Thierse's observation that
xenophobia in eastern Germany is "something dramatically different" than in
the west. "Having something against foreigners is an almost natural part of
popular consciousness for a significant number of eastern Germans, if not
for all of them," he said recently.

There are many reasons why a comparatively large number of eastern Germans
do not particularly like foreigners. For a start, hatred of foreigners is
often a product of the imagination and not experience. For that reason,
xenophobia is strongest in regions where there are fewest foreigners.
According to the Shell study Youth 2000, almost one-quarter of the young
people interviewed said they had "no contact at all" to foreigners of their
own age and almost half said "not very often." Together that is a good

Eastern Germans in particular contributed to this overall negative picture.
If you pool the answers "not at all" and "not very often," this is true of
more than 90 percent of eastern German adolescents. It is hardly surprising.
The percentage of foreigners living in the states that were part of the
former East Germany ranges from only 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the
population. Almost two-thirds of all foreigners in Germany live in the four
western states: Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and

Moreover, many eastern Germans had a latent fear of all things foreign, both
under communist rule in East Germany and then after the fall of the Iron
Curtain when they suffered feelings of uncertainty or even uprootedness.
Foreigners were the most obvious personification of the unknown and the
different, but xenophobia is also directed against western Germans. The few
western German teachers at eastern German schools could write a book about

Without a doubt, right-wing extremists say there are too many foreigners in
Germany more frequently than other sections of the population. Opinion
research institutes that tend to interpret this view as the most important
indication of right-wing extremist attitudes obtain fairly high figures,
although right-wing radicals do not do well at elections in western Germany
and only in certain areas in eastern Germany. So it would be wrong to draw
far-reaching conclusions just from answers to the question whether too many
foreigners live here.

You do not have to be a neo-Nazi to believe that. People annoyed by abuses
of the asylum laws or others who believe that a high percentage of
foreigners stokes right-wing extremism among German workers and the
unemployed often tell interviewers that immigration needs to be reduced.
These are Germans who favor the Social Democratic Party, the Christian
Democratic Union, its Bavarian-based sister party, Christian Social Union,
or even the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor of the former East
German communists. But they do not favor the right-wing Republikaner, the
National Democratic Party or the German People's Union.

However, there is one crucial point for the political climate in a
community: whether the perpetrators of extremist violence can assume their
xenophobic slogans ("Foreigners Out!") and actions will meet with popular
approval. In eastern Germany, they are applauded far more frequently than in
western Germany. It is therefore wrong to assume that xenophobia is
exclusively a phenomenon found among the younger generation.

In eastern Germany, it is also found among older people. Xenophobia and
latent anti-Semitism existed in East Germany, which is why Mr. Thierse
warned against the "secret consent" that starts with the statement "but they
are our boys" and ends with the statement "but there really are too many
foreigners." Particularly in areas where there are no foreigners for miles
around, foreigners have to serve as scapegoats because there are not enough
jobs for Germans.

Such attitudes are all the sadder because they distort the image of young
people in west and east. Most adolescents are friendly, optimistic and
hardworking as the wealth of data and convincing analyses in the Shell study
show. The responses to the question "Can young Germans and foreigners learn
from each other?" are the best proof. "Yes, they can both learn from each
other" is the most frequent reply, although there are interesting
differences between the sexes and nationalities. A total of 69.5 percent of
German boys and 76.7 percent of German girls gave this balanced "polite"
answer, 77.9 percent of Turkish boys and 83.3 percent of Turkish girls, and
81.8 percent of Italian boys and 87.7 percent of Italian girls.

The differences between the nationalities arise because (on average) young
foreigners have more contact with young Germans than young Germans have with
young foreigners. The differences between the sexes are an indication that
boys have a stronger tendency to extreme opinions and violence than girls, a
tendency that is also stronger among less educated boys than among their
better educated counterparts.

It is also young German boys who tend to say "no, they cannot learn anything
from each other," (14.4 percent) as opposed to German girls (9.5 percent),
and more often those with right-wing extremist sympathies than those with
democratic convictions. A total of 2.3 percent of young Germans say they
could learn more from foreigners than foreigners could from them.

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