German race violence rages on

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The Independent Online
RACIAL violence continued to spread through eastern Germany over the weekend, as riot police battled again with hordes of neo- Nazi youths outside refugee hostels. Some of the most brutal clashes occurred, for the third consecutive night, in the drab industrial town of Eisenhuttenstadt, near the Polish border. Hundreds of police, reinforced by special mobile brigades, fought furious street battles in an effort to hold the barricades they set up around a refugee reception centre.

The events followed what is by now a well-established pattern: a core of extreme-right thugs, many bused in from other parts of the country, lead the attack, supported by hundreds of local youths, eager to vent their hate and frustration on the easy target of defenceless foreigners. Screaming 'Sieg Heil', 'Germany for the Germans' and 'Foreigners out', they threw petrol bombs and stones at the hostel and police lines, firing with flare-guns and starting-pistols.

In Eisenhuttenstadt too, large crowds of locals looked on, cheering the fire-bomb-throwing thugs, just as happened in Rostock about 10 days ago. Over the weekend police recorded more than 10 cases of attacks against hostels, most of them in eastern Germany.

The former chancellor Helmut Schmidt said that the brutality reminded him of Nazi atrocities against Jews and other minorities. 'One can only compare what is going on with 1933 or with that huge pogrom called the Kristallnacht,' he said, referring to the night in November 1938 when synagogues and Jewish shops were smashed in an organised action across the country.

'We Germans are still a people in danger,' he said. 'One of the most important factors for the Nazis coming to power in 1933 was mass unemployment and the people's absolute hopelessness.'

The xenophobic violence, shocking when it flared up again in Rostock, is already slipping into the obscurity of a gruesome daily routine in Germany. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right coalition ceaselessly bangs the drum of 'asylum abuse', using the violence to press its case for changing the liberal asylum provision in the constitution. Fully aware that this single-track strategy only adds to the social tension, the government nonetheless appears to be gambling that the Social Democratic opposition's will to resist a change to the constitution will break before the violence on the streets gets out of control.

No government minister has felt it necessary to apologise to refugees under attack, or to visit a hostel in a demonstrative act of solidarity. The government warns that more than 400,000 refugees will flood into Germany this year. By this focus on constitutional change, the government appears deliberately to be doing nothing to counter the widespread misconception that this step alone will solve Germany's refugee problem.

Even if constitutional change were achieved in the coming months, which is far from certain, hundreds of thousands of refugees would remain, and the influx, though eased, would not be stopped. By concentrating on asylum abuse, the Kohl government is rapidly creating a race-relations disaster, which could keep the fires in discontented eastern Germany burning for some time.

(Photograph omitted)