Germans Say Extremist Incidents in East Are Not a Threat
BONN — THE Germans call them individual cases, and not yet a trend. But this spring, there have been a number of individual cases of violence against foreigners as well as anti-Jewish incidents - especially in eastern Germany:
On May 3, dozens of young east Germans stormed apartments occupied by African workers in the town of Wittenberg. Two Namibians were injured after being driven onto a balcony and then falling four stories. In March, a Mozambican student in Dresden died after he was beaten up and pushed off a streetcar.
On the weekend of April 20, neo-Nazis gathered in several east German cities to ``celebrate'' Adolf Hitler's birthday.
When Poles were able to travel visa-free to Germany on April 8, some of them were met by gangs on the Polish-German border who shouted Nazi slogans and pelted the Poles with rocks. Since then, there have been regular reports in the press of visiting Poles attacked by radical youths.
What is the German reaction? Mixed. Many local people are incensed and appalled. In Dresden, people responded to the Mozambican's death with a memorial service and antifascist demonstration. The Israeli ambassador in Bonn periodically visits the eastern German states on consciousness-raising trips. The state of Brandenburg, which shares most of the German border with Poland, has set up a committee dedicated to the extremists issue. On the other hand many east Germans have little love for the Poles.
The news media, meanwhile, cover the issue fairly closely, though they ``blow it out of proportion,'' a German journalist confides. And the police and authorities do a good job, says Aviv Shir-On of the Israeli Embassy, ``but I can't speak of any great shock among the Germans.''
About 33,000 people belong to extremist, rightest groups in western Germany, but police don't yet have an overview of the east German situation.
What they do know, is that the radicals there, while fewer in number, are far more violent than in western Germany. They are often confused, angry teenagers who are not well organized. On the Hitler birthday weekend, police had reckoned with 2,000 to 3,000 radicals. Instead only handfuls rallied in east Germany.
East Germany is fertile soil for neo-Nazism and anti-foreigner sentiment. Despite access to Western television during the communist years, east Germans appear to still live in a time warp. One meets more east Germans than one expects whose thinking is frozen in the 1940s.
In a society of long lines and inferior goods, it was easy to blame the Poles or foreign guest workers for troubles. In relation to the holocaust, East German leaders turned blame aside: It was the Nazis in the west who killed the Jews, not the communists; the communists were victims.
Radicals from the west have recognized the vulnerability in the east and fan the flames there, government officials say. Soaring unemployment and concern over price rises also feed the hate.
There's an assumption in western Germany that this violent radicalism is an east German phenomenon that will die down in a few years when prosperity and enlightened thinking take root.
But an evolution to ``western standards'' may simply mean latent, more sophisticated racism. Since at least 1987, for instance, banned computer games based on the Nazi death camps have been circulating among students in Austria and Germany.