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October 30, 1992 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-10-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

tile soil for its populist, xenophobic ide-
ology in the economically depressed
states of the East as well, Mr. Gohring
said — a problem compounded by the fact
that few foreigners lived in that part of
the country during the decades of com-
munist rule.
"If we had elections now, the right-
wing parties would get a significant
number of votes," he said. "They could
win as high as 5 or 6 percent. But they
do not represent a danger with respect
to German democracy."
Other observers are not so sure.
Karsten D. Voigt, foreign policy
spokesman for the Social Democratic
Party (SPD), the moderate opposition,
and a member of the Bundestag, (par-
liament) predicted that the Republicans
could win up to 12 percent of the Ger-
man parliament in the next general elec-
tion, forcing the Christian Democrats
and the Social Democrats into a "grand
coalition" in order to govern.
Jewish leaders take an even more pes-
simistic view.
"They do represent a serious threat
to German democracy," said Rabbi Stein.
"I can see them (the Republicans) get-
ting 25 percent of the vote in the next
election, thereby blocking effective
democracy."

Article 16

Most outside observers and many in
the German government admit that of-
ficials in Bonn have been slow to respond
to the spread of violence in the past few
months. The anti-foreigner riots in Ro-
stock, the former East German ship-
building center now ravaged by
unemployment, produced only a feeble
police response. Even now, months af-
ter the initial disturbances, there are
widespread complaints that the gov-
ernment is more interested in the po-
litical implications of the disturbances
than in cracking down on the rioters.
Instead, the government has focused
almost exclusively on efforts to change
Article 16 of the German constitution,
a provision that has made Germany a
haven for asylum seekers from around
the world.
`They just stood by at the beginning,"
said Jerzy Kanal, a Holocaust survivor,
real estate magnet and the new chair-
man of the Jewish community of Berlin.
`They condemned (the rioting) — but they
blamed it all on Article 16."
But Brigette Baumeister, a Bun-
destag member and managing director
of the CDU parliamentary group, in-
sisted that modifying Article 16 — which
states simply that Germany must ac-
cept all those fleeing persecution in their
native lands — is an essential first step
in combating the plague of violence.
Ms. Baumeister maintained that po-
lice statistics show that "80 percent of
asylum seekers are involved in some

sort of criminal activity. In my district,
60 percent are in the drug business."
Like other German officials, she also
suggested that Germany is being un-
fairly singled out for its handling of asy-
lum seekers, the large majority of whom,
she argued, are fleeing economic, not po-
litical, persecution.
And like almost every German offi-
cial interviewed, she pointed to Wash-
ington's treatment of Haitian refugees
as far harsher than the Kohl govern-
ment's proposed refugee policies.
She rejected charges that the Kohl
government would be encouraging far-
right extremists by changing the con-
stitution to meet their demands.
"The best way to beat radicals on the
right is to beat them at their own game,"
she said. "Our voters don't care who
solves the problem. They just want the
problem solved. If we can avoid economic
instability, the neo-Nazis do not have a
chance."
But this focus on changing the con-
stitution amounts to treating the symp-
toms without dealing with the
underlying disease itself, critics con-
tend.
"You can educate people — but you
can't give in," said Karsten D. Voigt, the
Social Democrats' foreign policy
spokesman, who despite his rhetoric
speaks for a party that now also offi-
cially supports modifying the constitu-
tion. "They (the CDU) gave in."
Before amending the constitution, he
said, efforts should be made to break the
bureaucratic logjam that delays deci-
sions on asylum cases for up to two
years. Mr. Voigt also suggested that the
CDU is deliberately clogging the asy-
lum approval process to generate new
pressure for amending Article 16.
"I am convinced that most CDU lead-
ers are more interested in their cam-
paign to change the constitution than
in finding solutions," he said. 'The Re-

"Some Germans
like to live in a
Christian-oriented
culture."

— Gerd Langguth

publicans could benefit from that con-
flict. It's a dangerous game."
Ms. Baumeister, the CDU Bundestag
member, bristled at suggestions that the
government simply wanted to remove
the victims rather than tackle the deep-
er problem of German racism. But she
also suggested that the unwillingness
of the Gypsies to assimilate has given
new momentum to the far-right.
That theme — the reluctance of Ger-
mans to accept unassimilated minori-
ties in their midst — was echoed over

Hitler's Birthday: Police take a young neo-Nazi into custody following an outbreak of violence at a march
held to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

and over again during the fact-finding
trip.
Dr. Gerd Langguth, representative of
the Commission of the European Com-
munities in Germany, argued that the
pluralism of American culture is alien
to Germany.
"We don't have the same tradition
that you have," he said, speaking over
an elegant lunch at a Bonn hotel. "Some
Germans like to live in a Christian-ori-
ented culture. What they don't like is,
like in Berlin, where there are non-Ger-
man quarters."
Foreigners, he implied, can be ac-
cepted only if they assimilate into the
broader German culture.
But that can be hard in a society that
— to outsiders — appears strongly tribal.
Despite its liberal asylum policy — which
the government now wants to change —
Germany has no immigration policy. By
law, foreigners remain outside the main-
stream of German culture, even after
several generations. Citizenship is vir-
tually denied them.
In fact, Germany has an undigested
population of 6-million foreigners,
many brought in as "guest workers"
decades ago. Some now lead prosperous,
successful lives; many more live on the
margins of Germany's economic mira-
cle, living reminders that German cul-
ture is still a homogeneous one.
Magid Subh is a refugee from Syria
now living in the Potsdam refugee hos-

tel who said his claim for asylum is
based on his contention that he is a
Palestinian, and therefore "stateless."
Mr. Subh, who clearly delighted in
talking to visiting Jewish journalists
about his political predicament, spends
his days doing chores in the hostel and
chatting with other asylum seekers.
"I tried to get a work permit, but I
couldn't," he said. "Right now the biggest
problem for me is that there is nothing
to do. When a person cannot create any-
thing in his life, he is not a human be-
ing."
His situation is characteristic of most
of the 500,000 refugees who will enter
Germany this year. He is relatively well
cared for by the state, at least compared
to the treatment received by refugees in
other countries, and he knows that he
will not be deported anytime soon.
But he will never be fully welcomed
into German society. It is unlikely he
will find even a menial job, and his ap-
pearance will always mark him as a for-
eigner.
Concluded Rabbi Stein in Berlin.:
"The problem Germany faces is that
it is very difficult for a democracy to de-
fend itself with democratic means. What
can a government do when there are
free elections, and the conditions are
such that these people (the right wing)
have the pull to win votes? What can
you do — go out and shoot them all?" ❑

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