IN a scene reminiscent of the 1930s, hundreds of neo-Nazis stormed a refugee center in the Baltic seaport of Rostock, Germany, in late August, terrorizing Vietnamese guest workers and their families with Molotov cocktails, shotguns, and bricks. As the housing complex went up in flames, local residents sang "Deutschland ueber alles."
More disturbing than the latest wave of riots is the German government's ambiguous response to the epidemic of hate crimes sweeping the country. When order was finally restored in Rostock, officials in the German state of Mecklenberg disclosed they knew of the attack a week before it began. They had conveyed this information to the German Interior Ministry, but federal authorities did nothing.
Shortly after the violence erupted, German officials caved in completely to the mob by ordering all refugees out of Rostock. Henceforth this former East German city would be "foreigner free," as the Nazis once demanded. In addition, Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters called for a tightening of restrictions on the German constitutional guarantee of political asylum for refugees. In the Nazi era there were no such guarantees.
Rather than defusing tensions, the government's capitulation to the rioters sparked a wave of terror unlike anything Germany has witnessed since Adolf Hitler. Neo-Nazi thugs went on a rampage, assaulting foreigners in more than 100 cities and towns during the next two weeks. Some of the worst incidents have occurred in former West Germany. Attacks have not been confined to foreigners from Eastern Europe and the third world.
Near the border with Denmark, neo-Nazis attacked a busload of Danish Boy Scouts, beating them with chains and sticks. Bild, Germany's largest daily, reported Sept. 12 that a neo-Nazi gang assaulted a German school for the handicapped in the eastern city of Stendal, injuring five crippled children, including two girls.
"The trail of death from rightists has just started," warned Hamburg state security chief Ernst Uhrlau, who acknowledged that well-armed neo-Nazis were firing live ammunition at asylum-seekers. Stern, Germany's largest news magazine, minced no words about how serious the situation had become: "Germany faces a political catastrophe ... The rule of law has capitulated before the terror ... Events in Rostock have shown that the German security forces have neither the capacity nor the will to protect innocen t people from the terror troops of the radical right."
For the first time since World War II, foreigners are fleeing Germany to safe havens in other European countries. Immigration laws in Britain are more restrictive than the German laws. Nonetheless, this year a British High Court judge halted deportation proceedings that would have sent a Sudanese asylum-seeker back to Germany, where he had been repeatedly brutalized. Similar cases are under review in the Netherlands.
Many asylum seekers in Germany are subjected to procedures that chillingly recall the racialist practices of the Third Reich. ARD's "Monitor," a German TV news program, reported on immigration forms for non-EC and non-US citizens applying for residency in some German states (North Rhein-Westphalia, Saxony and Lower Saxony) that ask what type of nose a person has. A German nose is considered a "normal" nose; "abnormal" nose shapes of people from other ethnic backgrounds are coded. The forms vary from regi on to region, but they originate in the German Interior Ministry.
These days German officials speak of "Middle Germany" when describing what until recently had been East Germany. Listed in the German budget - which refers explicitly to "Middle Germany" - are government funds earmarked for vetriebenen groups seeking to repatriate Germany's so-called Eastern Territories, including Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, Silesia, Pomerania, and Prussia.
Deputy Interior Minister Eduard Lintner, a member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is himself a key figure within the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, a right-wing extremist group founded by SS officers at the end of World War II. Mr. Lintner's organization advocates German expansion into neighboring Czechoslovakia. Franz Neubauer, a leading figure in the Christian Social Union (Bavaria's CDU faction), recently proclaimed that all treaties with Czechoslovakia should be conside red invalid when that country breaks into two parts, as expected in the coming months.
All this is happening at a time when popular support for the neo-Nazi movement is surging. According to a poll last month conducted by the respected Infas Institute, 51 percent of Germans agree with the slogan, "Germany belongs to the Germans," and 37 percent agree with the fascist claim that Germans have the right to resist foreigners with violence.
Such sentiments are not lost on the ruling CDU. German economic hegemony is an established fact in East Europe, but this is not enough to satisfy many of CDU's erstwhile political supporters. They are casting ballots in greater numbers for neofascist parties like the Republikaners. According to exit polls in regional elections last April, the Republikaners drew 130,000 votes from the CDU in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Purporting to be more-nationalist-than-thou, far- right demagogues have seized the initiative, successfully using the issue of foreigners as a political strategy. In an effort to stop the mass defection of CDU voters, Chancellor Kohl has jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon, appearing to adopt the jargon of the neo-Nazis. ("No to false asylum seekers!" is a new CDU campaign slogan.) In so doing, Kohl seems to bestow a kind of legitimacy on the whole range of anti-foreign sentiment, including right-wing
extremists who have been ruminating on the margins of German politics.
Kohl says the CDU won't allow Republikaners to participate in a national governing coalition. But his political future is tenuous. Ignoring Kohl's public pronouncements, local CDU representatives have been negotiating behind the scenes with their Republikaner counterparts about sharing power on a regional level in the future.
The fact that representatives of the leading political party in Germany would consider entering into a coalition with a fascist organization is frightening. Noting Germany's move to the right, Graeme Atkinson, special investigator for the European Parliament's commission on racism and xenophobia, comments: "The Deutsche mob has been let loose ... Germany is sitting on a time bomb."