Increasing Tensions in Germany Make Bridge-Building Difficult
TURKISH ANGER RISES
BONN — `LET'S be friends," urged a banner at a June 5 demonstration in Solingen, the city where five Turks died in a May 29 arson attack allegedly carried out by four young Germans.
But while this plea is sincere, it appears to be wishful thinking.
German officials now worry that further arson attacks on Turks this past weekend will lead to an escalation in violence as extremist Turkish groups seek revenge against German skinheads and neo-Nazis. Turkish workers in Germany are calling for a strike; the week ahead could be a another tense one.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Germans and Turks took part in nationwide protests against xenophobia, but the marches were marred by outbursts of violence.
In Solingen, police brought the demonstration of over 10,000 people to a quick end when extremist Turks began fighting among themselves and the protest turned into a stone- and bottle-throwing melee.
Many Germans were shaken to learn of more arson attacks on Turks over the weekend. In the southern German town of Konstanz, a Turkish restaurant was burned to the ground in the morning of June 5. The night before, in Hattingen - just 19 miles from Solingen in west Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley - a Turkish woman and her five children were able to escape an arsonist's blaze when the three-year-old awoke and smelled smoke.
The woman, Yasar Unver, told police she saw a young blond man fleeing the scene. The burned-out house is no longer inhabitable.
Johannes Rau, premier of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, where Solingen and Hattingen are located, is concerned that the Hattingen incident is a precursor of more violence to come. "In view of this attack," he said, "I'm worried about the future." Turkish revenge
His concern is shared by Eckart Werthebach, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency. Mr. Werthebach said Saturday he fears Turkish extremists will hit back at Germans out of revenge, causing violence to spiral.
"We are not like the Jews," is a phrase increasingly used by Turks, implying that they will fight persecution, in contrast to the passive response attributed to Jews facing Nazi genocide.
Meanwhile, the sequence of events leading up to the Solingen murders, in which two women and three children died, is unfolding. According to Alexander von Stahl, the German federal prosecutor, three German young men, aged 16, 20, and 23, got into a fight with two foreigners - whom they mistakenly took for Turks - at a Solingen bar-restaurant on the evening of May 29.
The three were thrown out and told their tale to Christian Riher, aged 16, an acquaintance they later ran into on the street. Mr. Riher, who allegedly said he planned to beat up some foreigners that night anyway, reportedly suggested setting the house of a Turkish family on his street afire.
The four then went to the house of Durmus Genc, and the two 16-year-olds allegedly started the fire in the upper staircase with newspapers and gasoline while the two older suspects stood guard.
So far, there is no sign of an "organized" right-extremist background to the case, said Mr. von Stahl. But alcohol, frustration, and Auslanderhass (hatred of foreigners) all played a role, German officials said.
Before it became clear last week that several people were involved in the Solingen murders, German government officials, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, portrayed the killings as an isolated act committed by a single sociopath. Privately, some lawmakers sought to play down the murders, saying hate crimes were not unique to Germany. Rightists held responsible
But German President Richard von Weizsacker, in a self-critical speech at the funeral for the Turks last Thursday, maintained that the fatal arson attacks on Turks in Molln last fall and in Solingen "are not unrelated, isolated atrocities." He said they "spring from a climate generated by the extreme right. Even criminals acting alone do not emerge from nothing."
This indeed appears to be the case in Solingen. Even if not "organized," the suspects are apparently well-acquainted with the right-extremist scene there. German press reports have linked one of the suspects to the rightest party DVU (the German People's Union), and one to a group of local neo-Nazis.
The Washington Post reported last week that Riher trained at a martial arts school that is a meeting point for local neo-Nazis. He apparently has a history of assaults, arson, and break-ins but, like the other three suspects, has no police record.
German politicians seem at a loss as to how to stop the hate crimes.
Chancellor Kohl has called for a special committee representing parents, teachers, social workers, churches, unions, and scientists to come up with ideas and present a report before the parliament recesses for the summer.
Although millions of Germans protested xenophobia in candlelit marches last fall, their message has not penetrated the public conscience completely. Crimes against foreigners so far this year are up more than 50 percent compared to the same period last year, although they are down considerably from last September.