The Grapes of Neglect - Violence and Xenophobia in Germany

Article excerpt

THE arsonists came at night. Fully aware of the likelihood that people might be in their bedrooms they set fire to the apartment house, in which -- according to the namplates near the doorbells -- a couple of Turkisk families lived. The fact that Turks were the sole inhabitants of that house had been the precise reason for the murderers' choice of their target. In the night from Saturday to Whitsunday five people -- all of them women and girls -- became the victims of this treacherous crime which took place in Solingen, a small, until then very ordinary town in the west of Germany. It was the climax of a whole series of violent attacks against foreigners since the reunification of Germany. A deadly series which claimed 49 lives so far. All these assaults had a in common that the perpetrators were led by racist or right-extremist motives. Pictures went around the world showing young men with tattoed arms and closely shorn haircuts, instigated by beer and rock music with explicitly fascist texts, hurling petrol bombs at houses while honest citizens stood by and watched. And the politicians, apparently, are not able or -- as terrified foreigners in Germany claim -- not willing to halt this development. Chancellor Helmut Kohl did not even think it appropriate to be present at the memorial ceremonies. What is happening in Germany at the moment? Has Nazism risen from its grave? Or will Germany turn once more into the scourge of Europe?

The current events make up a very complex issue. Over the past few years facts and statistics with regard to foreigners, aggressors and right-extremism in Germany have been perpetually blurred and distorted -- both at home and abroad -- to serve various interest groups. Right-extremism, nationalism and the ugly face of racism are by no means confined to Germany. But because of her historical peculiarity these phenomena have always been ascribed a specific significance in the country which made Auschwitz happen. In the following pages an attempt has been made to venture upon a careful analysis of the current crisis in German society. First, a short review shall show the differing developments of political consciousness in the two Germanies. Then the social status and economic significance of the various groups of foreigners shall be elucidated. Finally, an inquiry into the nature and origins of the violence in the light of the effect it bears on society shall conclude this analysis.

After the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945 the newly founded non-socialist middle-class parties (CDU, CSU, SPD, FDP) of the Federal Republic of Germany dissociated themselves completely from the bankrupt ideologies of the past. All energies were devoted to the economy as a surrogate for social interaction. Raising one's standard of living was thought more important than living down one's past. Of course a capitalist economy is always based on a somewhat conservative world view. It was only after the economic miracle had been accomplished and in the wake of a general youth rebellion throughout the Western world that an angry new generation challenged the values of their parents and asked embarrassing questions about their suppressed past. And what could be a bigger challenge to a conservative society than a youth embracing left-wing ideologies. But although the dialogue between the generations led to a painful reassessment of political values and even to a politicialization of society the sixties-movement could not change the system itself. Society became more transparent and more permissive but eventually it absorbed the leftist rebels including their ideas and ideals as the incorporation of the environmental movement into the political system shows (cf. the rise of the Green Party but also the platforms of their established parties which adopted some progressive ideas to take away their their parties which adopted some progressive ideas to take away their revoluntionary impact). …