Germans Look to US For Help in Halting Race-Related Attacks
EXPLORING CIVIL RIGHTS
BONN — IN the struggle to curb racially motivated hate crimes in Germany, many German officials view the United States both as a major influence behind the problem and as a possible contributor to a solution.
American extremists such as Gary Lauck of Lincoln, Neb., are playing a large role in stoking antiforeigner violence here, officials in Bonn say, providing German neo-Nazis with inflammatory leaflets, posters, and newspapers. The printing of such material is illegal in Germany but is permitted in the US under the broad freedom-of-speech provisions contained in the US Constitution.
``It is like exporting a bomb,'' human rights advocate Brigitte Erler said at a recent hate-crime conference here.
In dealing with the problem, however, German officials say they have much to learn from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The Bonn conference - held Feb. 24 and organized by the US Information Service - allowed German officials to exchange ideas with two prominent US civil rights activists: Benjamin Hooks, former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and US Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia.
Dr. Hooks said neo-Nazi violence will not abate unless a broad spectrum of society confronts the issue. ``Germans must have a sense of heightened social responsibility,'' he told the conference via satellite hook-up.
German officials say right-wing extremists are responsible for the thousands of attacks against foreigners each year. Most of the attacks have been against Turks, a minority invited to Germany as guest workers since the 1950s. But extremism has increased since the demise of the communist bloc in 1989, when economic refugees from Central Europe flooded into the country.
Bonn says that the number of attacks fell by almost 50 percent last year, but Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger says there is a need for vigilance: ``Germany must never again be identified in the world with genocidal racism.''
Right-wing extremism will remain a source of concern for years to come, some officials say. For one, the need for significant cutbacks in the extensive social welfare system could make right-wing beliefs seem attractive to the economically displaced. Another concern, officials add privately, comes from Russia, where ultranationalists, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have increased in influence. Officials suspect German neo-Nazis are trying to forge close links with the Russian ultranationalists.
Some German conference participants warned that right-wing extremists are now rapidly strengthening links with like-minded organizations worldwide. To counter this, German anti-extremist organizations need to form a united front, Ms. Erler said.
Virtually all German activists feel the US should do more to crack down against neo-Nazi propagandists operating in the US. Many found it difficult to understand why the US government does not ban the printing of neo-Nazi material.
During a trip to Bonn last December, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh gave assurances that the US would vigorously monitor the activity of American neo-Nazis and take action against them when possible. But US officials, as well as civil rights activists, reject the idea of a ban on neo-Nazi publications in the US.
``It's a dangerous thing, a double-edged sword,'' Hooks said of censorship. Had censorship existed in the US during the 1960s, he added, opinions such as those of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. might never have reached a wide audience.