Germans Move to Stem Violence

TERRIBLE pictures recently emanated from Germany on television screens around the world. Right-wing extremists murdered peaceful citizens, fire-bombed houses in which foreigners - primarily asylum seekers - were living, and desecrated Jewish cemeteries and memorials. These horrifying sights shook the entire German nation, and our friends and neighbors are asking three questions: How could this be possible? What does it mean? And what are we doing about it?

As the official charged with formulating our policy response, I am firmly convinced that the suggestion made by some observers that Germany's history between 1933 and 1945 is coming alive again is completely false. We will succeed in our fight against extremism and the growing propensity for violence in our country.

The vast majority of Germans condemn any form of violence and its underlying disregard for human dignity. In the last few weeks, millions of people took to the streets in a number of cities throughout our country to protest against xenophobia, racism, extremism, and violence. There are countless examples of spontaneous efforts on the part of private citizens to help victims of violence. Thousands of victims of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia have been welcomed with sympathy and help in our country .

Those who commit violent acts against foreigners constitute a tiny minority. We estimate that there are approximately 6,400 right-wing radicals prepared to resort to violence. Nonetheless, we take the destructive potential of this group very seriously. In 1992, more than 2,200 acts of violence with proven or probable extreme right-wing motives were recorded. The large majority of these criminals are 12 to 20 years old. To date, they are responsible for the deaths of 17 people, seven of them foreigners.

We consider this violence an act of aggression against the very foundations of our liberal, democratic state. We will combat it with all constitutional means at our disposal. Accordingly, the Federal government has launched, under my chairmanship, a major initiative against violence and for prosecution of all criminal offenders.

The police have established special investigative units for solving crimes committed by right-wing radicals. Our law-enforcement agencies intend to speed up the prosecution and trial dates to send a clear message to the perpetrators: They will not go unpunished. The speedy resolution of the murder of three Turkish women in the town of Molin as well as the almost daily reports of the apprehension of suspects in other cases demonstrate that we are on the right track.

This wave of violence and aggression, however, cannot be adequately addressed by police and legal action alone. We must find the root causes of the radicalizing of some of our young people if we are to effectively deal with this phenomenon. At the same time, we must recognize that the rise in violent acts is not restricted to Germany. It is experienced in many other countries. The root cause can be found in the fundamental social changes we are witnessing. Increasing migration, the weakening of family st ructures, and diminishing moral authority count prominently among them.

As a result, many young people, not only in Germany but also in other parts of the Western World experience a profound sense of insecurity. In this context, we also have to consider the effects of violent television programs on our youth.

CONSIDERING the Nazi tyranny and all the terrible consequences of anti-semitism, we Germans are especially called upon to stop all forms of violence wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.

The attacks, carried out mainly by young "skinheads," have been accompanied by National Socialist slogans, Nazi-style insignias and salutes. However, many Germans do not believe that these young people are Nazi ideologues, and they are not at all representative of young Germans today. More likely, they have simply found an outlet for their violent attitude and they also know that they can arouse quite a stir with their extremist, right-wing slogans.

For this reason, we have launched special educational efforts targeting these young people, which include the example of the holocaust to illustrate the horrible consequences that can result from such racist actions.

Beyond these young people, there are also neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups and organizations seriously advocating and publicly promoting racism, anti-semitism, and the hatred of foreigners. They have only a small following, and they do not play any role in our political life at all. In the past their activities were monitored on a continuous basis, and individual members were only prosecuted when they violated the law.

In light of recent events, however, the Federal government is now proceeding very vigorously against these organizations by banning them and by dismantling their organizational structures. We do this because we are concerned that they indoctrinate young people with their slogans and provide them with a pretext for their violence.

In the past 40 years, our democracy has faced numerous challenges from the left and the right. Our friends and partners who helped us build our democracy after years of dictatorship have always followed these developments with attention and trust. I am convinced that they can have the same confidence today, and that we will put an end to extremist activities.

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