German Officials Count Fewer Racist Attacks

VIOLENT attacks on foreigners in Germany, as well as support for right-wing extremist political parties here, are significantly dropping, according to German authorities.

In the last five to six weeks, says Interior Ministry spokesman Roland Bachmeier, right-wing extremist crimes have "visibly dropped." Mr. Bachmeier would not reveal exact statistics, saying the government is waiting to see whether this trend is going to stick.

But according to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's internal intelligence agency, the monthly rate of violent attacks on foreigners by right-wing extremists declined by nearly two thirds late last year - there were 115 attacks in December, compared to 298 in November.

If the trend continues, it would mean the reversal of Germany's skyrocketing wave of violent crimes against foreigners, which in 1992 rose to 2,285 attacks from 1,483 the previous year.

Bernhard Kaiser, spokesman for the German intelligence office, calls the recent drop "a present calming" of the skinhead and neo-Nazi activity, but warns that a mass attack similar to that in Rostock in August or in Hoyerswerda in 1991 "could happen at any time."

Meanwhile, support for right-wing extremist political parties has also dropped recently, according to the political polling institute, Infas.

Hans-Jurgen Hoffmann, an Infas analyst, says support for right-wing extremist parties reached its peak toward the middle of last year, when 19 percent of eligible voters said they would vote for a party to the right of the established conservative parties in Germany.

But this dropped suddenly to 14 percent in October and early November and further to 10 percent from mid-November to the beginning of December. Mr. Hoffmann attributes both these reductions to Germans' repulsion by the Rostock riots and the November neo-Nazi firebombing which killed three Turks.

"Rostock had a deterrent effect. People felt democracy was in danger," Hoffmann says. He also says that a new "solidarity with foreigners," expressed in spontaneous candlelight demonstrations all over Germany, made support for extremist right-wing parties "no longer socially acceptable."

Mr. Kaiser also credits the demonstrations, in which more than a million citizens have now taken part, with the drop in hate crimes. "The extremists didn't have as much trust in the silent majority," he says.

But government response has also played a major role. Kaiser says that increased arrests and searches, tougher sentencing, and the banning of three right-wing organizations in November and December contributed to the reduction in such violence.

"We've seen that there's a will and a way" to reduce hate crimes in Germany, says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, during its fact-finding mission in Germany last week. But he adds that the League is worried that pro-tolerance demonstrators will grow weary and the pro-foreigner mood will peter out. "We are concerned that after those figures come down [and media coverage subsides] that business will go back to usual."

What's needed, he says, is "a vigorous effort on a daily basis to teach tolerance" and for those who inspired the candlelight marches to carry their message further, into schools, businesses, and law enforcement.

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