The Washington Times

December 7, 1992, Monday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 853 words

HEADLINE: Shadows of a Fourth Reich?

BYLINE: Jim Bovard

BODY: Reports of the pending arrival of the Fourth German Reich are greatly exaggerated. Yet, Germany does face a growing crisis caused more by the incompetence of German politicians than by the xenophobia of German citizens. The latest wave of German violence is an excellent example of how the best of intentions can produce tragic results.

Attacks on foreigners in Germany are increasing, and some German youths have marched with Nazi-type uniforms, flashing Heil Hitler salutes to nearby television cameras. Many residences of foreigners have been firebombed by neo-Nazi youth; in Molln, a firebomb attack recently killed a Turkish mother and her 10- and 14-year-old daughters. Monuments to Holocaust victims have also been desecrated.

The recent attacks on foreigners have sparked massive demonstrations by German citizens outraged at their countrymen's behavior; many young demonstrators are ashamed that some Germans are acting like barbarians and shaming the nation before the rest of the world. Some leftist demonstrators, rightfully outraged at neo-Nazi attacks, have sought to link the neo-Nazis with an international capitalist conspiracy, while other demonstrators proclaim that it would be racist to force immigrants to work.

Unfortunately, some older Germans do seem to have an innate hostility to foreigners. On a recent visit to Northern Germany, numerous old ladies glared at me (perhaps because of my non-German style hat) as if I were a Deutschenfeind - an enemy of all Germans. A few Germans I spoke to seemed to have an almost pathological desire to claim that foreigners are somehow to blame for the firebombs thrown at them.

But it would be unfair to imply that the violence stems from a pervasive German xenophobia. Italian and Yugoslavian guest workers have been integrated into German society with relative ease. Rabid anti-Semitism is probably far more common in American inner cities than it is in any city in Germany. The number of foreigners murdered in Germany this year by right-wingers is still only one-third of the number of people killed in the Los Angeles riots. And the number of staunch anti-Nazis is vastly greater than the number of neo-Nazis (estimated by German police at 40,000).

Some of the anti-foreigner violence stems partly from the soaring crime rate in Germany, which is widely perceived to be largely due to foreigners. I stayed at a hotel close to a home for asylum-seekers in Hamburg; the hotel clerk casually admitted that, after the asylum seekers came, hotel guests' cars


The Washington Times, December 7, 1992

began being routinely broken into - especially near the end of the month, when people's welfare benefits would run out. Many Germans have reacted to the higher crime rates with the same horror that a Utah tourist would have while riding the New York City subway - and the search for scapegoats often leads to attacks on innocent foreigners.

Germany has been one of the most open nations in providing refuge to the world's politically persecuted citizens. But Germany follows some extremely unfortunate policies regarding immigrants. It is far easier for refugees to Germany to receive welfare than to be allowed to work. The West German government prohibits refugees from working until German courts decide whether to grant them asylum based on whether they can prove that they are politically persecuted. But, court decisions usually take between two to five years. As Die Zeit, a leading German newspaper, observed, "Many local government politicians are concerned about public criticism about foreigners who can suddenly be seen 'lazily' wandering around their towns and who are often accommodated in hotels as local authorities are unable to find alternatives."

Many Germans are understandably exasperated at their government's generosity to asylum-seekers, whose families receive more in benefits than some elderly German pensioners. But, similarly, many able-bodied people receive food stamps in the United States without working. Yet, few Americans would think of protesting excessive welfare benefits by randomly murdering food stamp recipients.

Most Germans favor major reforms of their immigration policy to reduce the number of foreigners allowed to enter Germany and claim asylum and government benefits. But there is a political gridlock on reforming immigration policies. The leftist Social Democratic Party, the major opposition party, is blocking reform - and hopes to politically profit from the growing public discontent.

At some point, German politicians will likely reach a compromise to reform immigration policies and defuse much of the violence. It is to be hoped that the German politicians will also be wise enough to end restrictions on new immigrants being permitted to work - thereby ending perhaps the biggest source of resentment many Germans feel toward foreigners.

James Bovard is the author of "The Fair Trade Fraud" (St. Martin's Press, 1991) and an adjunct analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.