Friday, May 26, 2006

Far Right Attacks in Germany Precede World Cup 2006

Map of GermanyUwe-Karsten Heye, a spokesman in the government of former German Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schröder, set off a political tempest on Wednesday when he warned people of color visiting the country for the 2006 World Cup, which begins on June 9, not to venture into rural areas of eastern Brandenburg State (the pale blue state on the right in the map at left), which surrounds the federal capital, Berlin, because they might be attacked by Neo-Nazis and other members of the German far right. He told Deutschlandradio Kultur, "There are small and mid-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would advise anyone with a different skin color not to go," and added quite dramatically, "they may not leave with their lives."

Wolfgang Schäuble, the Interior Minister of Germany's current government, headed by the right-leaning Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and chancellor Angela Merkel, however, claimed that Germany would not "tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism." His counterpart in Brandenburg State, Jörg Schönbohm, asserted that visitors of all colors would feel "safe" and called for Heye to resign from his position a German anti-racist group, Gesicht zeigen (Show Your Face), while the head of the tourism committee for the German parliament denied the Germany "was far from a country" where visitors should fear attacks from far rightists. The premier (governor) of Brandenberg, Matthias Platzeck, a fellow SDU member, decried what he called Heye's "absurd slur of a whole region that is no way justifiable." Berlin's openly gay, Socialist mayor, Klaus Wowereit, also claimed that visitors would be fine.

Yet there have been a rush of racist attacks that have set politicians and Germany's citizens on edge. Last month, an Ethiopian-born German man was beaten so badly he remains in a coma; the attack occurred in Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg state. A few weeks ago, regional assemblyman Giyasettin Sayan (below right, Deutsche Welle) who represents Berlin's Lichtenberg district on the reconstituted-Communist Left (Links) Party line, was brutally attacked near his home by two men who called him a "dirty foreigner," and suffered head injuries severe enough that he had to be hospitalized. SayanJust today, a spate of racially-motivated attacks occurred in eastern Germany: 6 people were attacked in Berlin, including a Turk, a Lebanese man, an Indian, and a Guinean. The police were able to arrest all or most of the attackers. In Weimar, the country's capital from the end of World War I to Hitler's chancellorship, three Mozambicans and a Cuban man were injured when attackers burst into a private party and assaulted them. The police did arrest 8 suspects. In the eastern German city of Wismar, an Indian man was beaten at a flea market. Yet things were localized solely in eastern Germany. In the western town of Würzburg, nine people were detained after shouting Nazi slogans at a birthday party; any promotion or depiction of pro-Nazi iconography or rhetoric is officially illegal in Germany.

Germany's Afrika-Rat (African Council) has published a list of "no-go" places in Brandenburg and other parts of the east for Black people and other people of color. Berlin political scientist Yonas Endrias, a member of the Africa-Rat, ratified Heye's warning by noting that there were places in Brandenburg that he and other Black Germans wouldn't dare take their families, because while he averred that there was racism in western Germany, in the east Black people were more likely to be attacked. The World Cup committee is set to publish an online guide to warn potential visitors about notorious racist hotspots. Between 2004 and 2005, far-right crime in Germany rose by 28%, to more than 15,000 incidents, and of these, 958 were linked directly to Neo Nazis, a 24% increase.

Some figures in the German government, as well as in the German media and intellectual classes, believe that Heye's warning and the focus on the racial attacks are overblown. They also have suggested that Germany's extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NDP) is hoping to gain attention and support both inside and the country from the focus on a rise in far right activism and attacks. It also has planned to stage rallies at some of the World Cup matches, including the one between Angola and Iran, which it has said it will support because of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments against Israel.

The usual explanations for the far right activity in east Germany hinge on the harsh economic disparities that have existed since unification between this still-poor, job-challenged formerly Communist sector and the far wealthier western states that once constituted the Federal Republic of Germany; alongside the east's economic problems, those appraising the Neo-Nazi (and Nazi residue) problem cite the Easterners' issues with economic competition based on immigration, the lack of a liberal and plural democratic tradition (after 40 years of Communism), and the inadequacy of (or indifference by) the unified liberal government and liberalism as an ideology to address the racial and ethnic transformation of the country. Yet I would argue that these issues are as salient in western Germany and other parts of Europe as in Germany's eastern states. In addition, East Germany's particular educational approach to understanding the Nazi past also has received blame. In the BBC article, the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Leipzig's Dr. Frank Neseman attributes the presence of Neo-Nazism in Eastern Germany to the "authoritarian education systems under the communists...this kind of education was always based on ideas of hatred - anti-capitalism and against class enemies, Zionism, the US, West Germany," as if the long history of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism and racialist thinking in Germany and Austria (and Europe more broadly), particularly on the political right, were also somehow not central. In addition to anti-Semitic appeals going back centuries, anti-Black and anti-foreign sentiment particularly took hold among the Austrian right at the end of the 19th century, and among the Germany right in the 1920s. One of the first governmental policies enacted after the Nazi takeover was the mass sterilization of mixed-raced, especially part-African, children. In Western Germany, numerous former Nazi officials were permitted to serve in the post-War government, which created a smooth transition when the German economic miracle occurred, but did not lead to the sort of ideological break, at least beneath the surface, that did in fact occur in East Germany.

Post-unification economic problems in eastern Germany caused by the reordering of the economy and globalization certainly have fostered resentment against the west, foreigners and people of color, but neo-Nazi groups and far right parties also exist in western Germany (as today's news makes clear), as well as in neighboring countries with a strong economic performance, such as Austria and Belgium. Schäuble's and Schönbohm's denials and laissez-faire approach only contribute to the problem rather than helping to resolve it.

Speaking of Belgium, the recent racist murder of an Malian-born woman and her child (Oulemata Niangadou, 24, and Luna Drowart, 2, were slain; a Turkish woman, Songul Koca, was wounded in the attack) in Antwerp has caused national shockwaves, after Blacks and other people of color had been attacked recently in Brussels. Today, at a "White March" (?), thousands marched through Antwerp's streets to protest the murder and the extremist Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party, to which the murderer was linked. Meanwhile, a surge in racist attacks has plagued Russia, and, after the flareups last fall in France, the leading figure in that country's "moderate" right, Nicolas Sarkozy, has proposed a sweeping, harsh anti-immigrant bill, now passed by the French lower house, that would find much favor among the GOP in the U.S. House of Representatives.


  1. Add this to tales of color policing.

    One might say "hate," and I don't use that word lightly, is in the air. I'm not sure how to take the report from the Southen Poverty Law Center that claims hate groups have increased 33% since the Smiling Texan has been in office, but it jives with my own sense of the right. It is not that the KKK and similar organizations have not been in operation since the teens and twenties; it is that under this administration, hate groups seem to have found a new lease on life, attracted more media coverage, and recruited extensively by playing on economic insecurity.

    Dire news indeed.

    In other news, I'm working on a response to-about cosmopolitanism, which is wonderful, as it forces me to put together many random fragments into semi-readable prose. (Much like writing a dissertation!)

  2. Well J,

    There is a ton of stuff to talk about here, at least as far as Western Germany is concerned. But I will start with the obvious: Every black person in Germany knows not to go to the East. And that is as matter of fact as BBQ and Cornbread or Kraut and Wurst. You don't even get upset. Eastern Germany is to be driven through on your way somewhere else, not visited. If you are black and living there . . . you might have a problem. Sometimes I wonder if blacks there have received the memo . . . not that I am saying it is their fault, but the East has not experienced a ton of stuff . . . feminism, the summer of 69, immigration, bananas (I am for real!). So to be an Auslander there comes in many flavors and in a variety of ways. There is a difference between East and West Germany, just as there is a difference between Eastern and Western Europe. It does not mean that racism is more prevalent in one than the other; however, the causes and reasons are different, as well as the possibility of physical brutality being practiced on your head.

    Second, I had Nazi students. Part of me wants to say big deal. They were holy terrors, and the system did work in my favor in getting them under control. But I was stressed out by them, if I did not feel that I was in physical danger. The other part of me wants to tell the Germans that their view of race is stuck in the 19th century doctrines that gave birth to the Wanderfogel and Freikorps . . . but that gets into another story.

    If you are of African descent in Germany you are very used to citizens giving lip service to how peaceful and liberal Germany is with little thought to why people are attacked and murdered. They are just isolated incidents in many German minds. It is like all the soul searching is focused on the concentration camps. But little excavation is given in the name of other people.

    Truth of the matter is that the racial tension that is bubbling up started boiling as soon as the World Cup chose Germany for the sports spectacle. It has been in the back of many people's minds. I have experienced some soccer violence . . . at least witnessed its nationalistic and xenophomic nation. Only now have people thought about blacks and people of color actually coming the country in waves. Otherwise black people are just figments of the German imagination like cowboys, indians on the prairie and 17-year-old-sultans with 40 virigins at his disposal.

    So, one politician, in the oh so Germanic way of communication, just blurted out a warning thinking he was doing the coloureds of the world a favour and now all the other Germans are saying things will be OK.

    Don't sleep you can still get cut.

    Germany stands at the edge of embarrassing the entire continent of Europe. But there are other Europeans in attendence and they will have just as much a say in how this all blows over. Especially the Russians, Belgians, Dutch and Spaniards. I have heard of several incidents in these countries concerning soccer fans. Only time will tell.

    They may go over the cliff and they may not. But they are there. And there is also life after the cup, which could be just as perilous.

  3. Oh J,

    Sorry. I must mention that I know a couple of blacks of German and African parentage from the East. So, it is a bit more complex than a no fly zone.

    But I did live by that no fly zone policy I must say.

  4. Keguro, I definitely am looking forward to your piece. I was thinking about the possible resonances of "cosmopolitanism," and how it has signified so many different things since it entered various European languages, from a positive transnationalist orientation to the word, to an negative epithet tinged with anti-Semitism, treason and so on. In all cases, the concept is tied not only to moral but ethical unerstandings of one's place in the world, among others, right? Appiah's reading of cosmopolitanism at times seems nebulous, but his arguments on behalf of an ethics that is not linked specifically to nation or tribe, nor to overriding universalisms--to no static position in the world while also not simply casting the self, like a seedpod, to the winds of (pure) contingency, seems like one place to begin in thinking about cosmopolitanism. But then is he really arguing this or is this just my (mis-)reading?

    Bill, your account of that general rule makes me really want to hear more about your time there. I remember the periodic emails I would get from you, which whetted my appetite for a longer account of your experiences over there. (You know where this is leading...a BOOK!) You're right about the Neo-Nazi surge preceding the World Cup, though it appears that the possibility of a world stage to act (out) on and recruit.

    I actually have had only one openly Neo Nazi-skinhead white student, who wrote a story in which a black man is brutally emasculated, but after our in-class discussion about racism, ethics and the artist's responsibility to stand behind her work, the student just never came back to the class. Why didn't you tell the Germans about their concept of race? For reasons of self-preservation?

    I met and read with a black-German woman a few years ago. Her name was Petra Mikutta. Have you ever heard of her? She was living in NYC, but I believe had grown up in the west. I always wondered about the black Germans living in the east; I wouldn't blame them at all, especially given that if they'd survived the WWII/Holocaust period or were the children of Africans who'd gone to East GErmany to study, etc., that state's open denunciation of the Nazi period and its politics, and its welcome of people from Socialist countries might have made quite a positive impression.

  5. Germany has been suppressed for decades. The indigenous folk of Germany have been raped of their identity and pride.

    A new day is dawning.

    The natural evolution of a species can only be stopped once, and once only.

    People of colour have no place in Germany, or europe as a whole. The parasitic and manipulative brain-bugs in control of europe will fall, and light will be shed again upon the suppressed europeans.

    I am merely a child of the european dark ages, the age of ignorance and neo-liberalist facism. I will be a father of the renaissance.

  6. Interesting.

    "The natural evolution of a species..."

    Anonymous, you are expousing the same 19th century dogma that brought so much destruction to us all in the 20th century. It is simply a mythology with a prophecy attached and bulsterd by pseudo-science, a science designed specifically for the conquest of others, their lands and their natural resources. It's component parts are:

    1. Racial superiority.

    2. Ideas of a glorious past, and depressed present and a glorious future.

    3. A belieft that the expulsion of those that are different from you will rain a new empire that rivals the previous one.

    Europe is the center of your world obviously, and its historical past represents a nirvana that you must have personally experienced . . . or maybe your ancestors, if they were not slaves to the landed class.

    These thoughts are not exclusive to whites or Europeans, but have been used by many others in the quest for political, economic and social dominance.

    An interesting dilema Europe is in and one that you face. You need labor on the one hand to prop up your economy, but as an indigenous European you obviously feel threatened by such an "invasion" of foreigners.

    May I ask if you have a job?