Achtung Germany

The upsurge of neo-nazism has left Germany's leaders worried about the country's image and the impact on its economy. BATUK GATHANI reports.

IF THE latest media headlines are any indication, Germany is in a quandary, if not a crisis. This week, the Chancellor, Mr. Gerhard Schroeder, during his tour of what used to be East Germany stressed that violence and racism would harm the economy; the Foreign Minister, Mr. Joschka Fischer, warned that racism in Germany would persist and described it and the emergence of neo- nazism as a ``twilight zone'' between democracy and dictatorship.

A former U.S. diplomat stationed in Berlin predicts that without immigrants Germany may ``shrink'', as increasingly there will be more pensioners and dependent children than wage-earning and tax- paying workers. According to current estimates, by 2040 the German population may decline to 74 million from the current 82 million if the low birth rate persists and people live longer. Hence, it is argued, Germany needs over two lakh young immigrants a year merely to sustain its present population. This is politically unacceptable and psychologically damaging for the average German, who is essentially a parochial creature.

The cynical way of looking for a silver lining would be to argue that similar trends persist in other European Union countries, with a varying degree of emphasis on racism and xenophobia.

Last week, Mr. Schroeder issued his strongest warning yet about the impact of an increase in violence by rightwing extremists on the nation's economic prospects, as public prosecutors called for maximum sentences for the three `skin-heads', two aged 16 and one 24, accused of beating a black African labourer to death. Speaking in an East German town, where economic problems are particularly acute, Mr. Schroeder warned: ``Anyone as dependent on exports as Germany cannot afford for others to write or report badly about them.'' The Chancellor reiterated his perception that it was essential for the German people to demonstrate that racism and xenophobia were not typical of their society.

``That is not Germany. Germany's image is of decent, hard- working people. That is the image we want to spread abroad.'' Mr. Schroeder then unveiled the Government's new proposals to contain the challenges posed by righwing extremists. These include banning of neo-nazi demonstrations which send electronic images of a fascist and racist Germany around the world.

Mr. Fischer is pessimistic about the eradication of rightwing extremism in the former communist-ruled and economically backward eastern region. He predicts that it will take a ``generation and a half'' for East Germans to match Western democratic and economic standards. According to Mr. Fischer, anti-immigration violence is not confined to the eastern parts. He repeated a liberal German perception that the post-War decades saw ``no development of civil society'' in East Germany. This has left the region more vulnerable to neo-nazism.

Mr. Fischer is a prominent member of the Green Party and was an anti-American protester in the 1970s, who has gradually converted to Atlantic values based on the core ethics of multi-party democracy, rule of law and the principles of free market economy.

The average German is embarrassed by the upsurge of racist violence. The country has got used to the presence of neo-nazi extremists who are yet to find a seat in Parliament. Germany is edging towards a more liberal immigration policy and is in the process of easing rules of granting citizenship to foreigners born in the country.

There are over two million Turks in Germany whose hard work has contributed to the building of the post-War economic miracle. The Schroeder Administration is also trying to make Germany a more attractive venue for foreign investment by lowering notoriously high taxes and easing tough labour market regulations. The neo- nazi fascist demonstrations are often met with much larger and vocal liberal demonstrations which instantly smother the whiff of xenophobia.

But the spectre of rising unemployment and lacklustre economic growth has certainly brought neo-nazi politics in vogue among young Germans born in the 1970s and Eighties. Many are rated as ``rightwing revisionist intellectuals'' who seek to define nazi identity for their reunited Germany. It is also a form of defiance of the established German order.

Some are impressed by rightwing writers and film- makers and carry the look of young innocents. Smartly-dressed, they are often seen in fashionable bars of Berlin and other major cities talking about history and the current state of the nation. This is the upper crust of the neo-nazi cult; at the bottom are uneducated and scruffy ``skin-heads'' who loaf on the streets like their other European counterparts, ostensibly to ``bash up'' foreigners - mainly blacks and `pakis' (Pakistanis), a term used to describe most Asians.

With monotonous regularity, the media reports ``ugly racial incidents'' against ethnic minorities in major European cities. However, the issue of foreigners has dominated the public debate in Germany where ``heavy'' immigration has taken place since the collapse of the communist-ruled East European countries. Today, there are over seven million foreigners living in Germany. Official figures reveal that in 1990 and 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, 58 per cent of the people seeking political asylum in E.U. countries came to Germany. The costs of accommodating asylum-seekers are high. The crisis is compounded by the sudden rise of ``economic migrants'' from Asia and Africa. Since the troubled economic climate in mid- 1992, more acts of violence have been committed against foreigners in Germany - 750 were reported last year.

In the post-War years, Germany had emerged as the ``locomotive'' economic power of the E.U. Immigrant workers were then seen as a part of the great German economic miracle and often hailed as ``welcome guest workers''. All that is now history. Recent opinion polls reveal that ``job insecurity'' is the biggest worry of the average German. The neo-nazis have argued in simplistic terms that Germany's unemployment crisis could be immediately resolved if seven million foreigners were kicked out overnight - Idi Amin style. The sad reality is that such childish concepts have an instant populist appeal.

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