Attacks Cloud Key Role Of Germany's Foreigners
Despite rising xenophobia, longtime residents are vital to economy
BONN — GERMANY for the Germans."
Although this slogan is shouted mostly by right-wing extremists these days, it also has some basis in government policy.
"Germany is no immigration country," Chancellor Helmut Kohl insists. Indeed, this country allows no general immigration - only political asylum.
Yet, even without an immigration policy, 6 million foreigners live in Germany, some now in their third generation here, and constitute 7 percent of Germany's population. Foreign workers account for roughly 8 percent of Germany's gross national product. Most of them have no franchise to vote.
As Germany enters recession again and tries to reorient itself after unification, some Germans are making foreigners a scapegoat for their misery. There have been more than 1,800 attacks on foreigners in Germany this year, mostly against asylum-seekers, who are perceived as economic parasites.
The attacks reached crisis level on Nov. 23 when three Turks were killed by neo-Nazi fire bombs. Unlike asylum-seekers, who have been flooding the country for the last two years, the Turkish victims were part of a community that has lived here for more than 30 years.
The 1.7 million Turks in this country, while enjoying the same social benefits as Germans, have no political voice because most of them are not German citizens.
German leaders expressed outrage at the killings, which were an expression of pure hatred and could not be explained as economic jealousy. The attack also heated up a simmering debate over immigration.
Whether the government recognizes it or not, Germany already is a multicultural society, argues Georgios Tsapanos, special adviser to the government on foreigner affairs in Bonn.
"You only have to walk through Frankfurt or Cologne," Mr. Tsapanos says. "You are blind if you don't notice that 40 years have brought foreigners to Germany and that those foreigners have also changed Germany."
Increasingly, politicians are favoring developing an immigration policy, though most people here say it is not likely to come about under a Kohl government.
President Richard von Weizsacker has been boosting the idea for a year. The opposition Social Democrats endorsed an immigration policy at their party congress Nov. 16 and 17.
Some leaders contemplate a system to separate the truly politically persecuted from simple immigrants. Most of the asylum-seekers surging into Germany (about 500,000 this year) were economic immigrants seeking a better life. Less than 5 percent are actually granted political asylum. Economists say Germany needs 300,000 more foreigners each year to support its economy.
"Immigration regulations, with quotas and in coordination with other European states, must come," says Fritz Fliszar, director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, affiliated with the Free Democratic Party.
THE influx began after World War II, when West Germany was desperate to rebuild and short of labor - especially after East Germany was sealed off. In the 1950s and '60s, Bonn set up "guest worker" agreements with Italy, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Foreigners came to work in Germany's coal mines, steel and textile mills, automobile factories, and in the construction industry.
But in 1973, after the oil crisis softened the economy, Germany closed its door to guest workers. Many guest workers already in Germany continued the flow by bringing in family members.
The guest workers and their children have become a fixture in western Germany, though mostly in large metropolitan areas.
Berlin is one of the largest "Turkish" cities outside of Turkey. Wolfsburg, headquarters of Volkswagen, has Europe's largest Italian population north of the Alps. According to Tsapanos, these foreigners enjoy the same standard of living as Germans.
Unlike Germans, foreigners are willing to relocate and take a wider variety of jobs than Germans, providing the country with a flexible work force. And as the German population ages, foreigners have become a crucial pillar for Germany's social benefits system. On the whole, foreign workers pay more into the system than they take out.
Norbert Walter, chief economist of Deutsche Bank, writes that "there is no evidence to support widespread fears that immigrants are taking jobs away from German workers."
Germany's attitude toward foreigners is "schizophrenic," says Heiner Wegesin, domestic policy specialist for the Christian Democratic Union in the Bundestag.
"Germans in this rich society aren't willing to take on low-income jobs, or jobs where you have to touch dirt, or where you have to work at night. Just look at the restaurants. Who is washing dishes? Not Germans anymore," Mr. Wegesin says.
The timing is not right for an immigration policy now, Wegesin says. Technically, German policymakers must decide how many immigrants they need. But on a more basic level, voters would not support the idea now. For them, he says, Germany is still "no immigration country."