Germans become inured to violence against foreigners: Racial attacks leave politicians paralysed and the media indifferent

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The Independent Online
THE ATTACKS continue. But the media coverage and political interest dwindle, as everyone again gets used to the daily routine. In the early hours of yesterday there were two separate German attacks on foreigners, both of which could have been fatal. Neither rated more than a passing mention on the German television and radio news: such attacks have become much too predictable.

The arson attack on the town of Solingen 10 days ago, which led to the death of five Turks, caused shock and disbelief in Germany. And yet every day there are almost-Solingens. Yesterday, a petrol bomb was thrown into a house in Soest, near Dortmund, and another fire was started in a house in Bergisch-Gladbach, east of Cologne. Both towns are in North Rhine-Westphalia, the same region as Solingen.

Yesterday's attacks came after a weekend during which a Turkish woman and her family were lucky to escape with their lives after their house in Hattingen, also in North Rhine-Westphalia, was set on fire. The family has lived in Germany for 20 years; the mother escaped together with her five children. In Konstanz, near the Swiss border, a Turkish restaurant was burnt down.

All of which has become mere background noise - until the next fatalities. As the Suddeutsche Zeitung noted yesterday: 'It has to end really badly, for it to be worth taking notice of.' The newspaper was critical, too, of the official tendency to downplay any connection with the far right, preferring to suggest that the culprits are merely acting 'spontaneously'. 'There is an apologetic tone to these declarations, which emphasise the absence of a direct influence of far-right organisations for the specific crime. That may be so, but it would be fatal if the impression were created that that improves anything. The opposite is the case.' The newspaper warned that the attackers see themselves as the 'avant-garde of a xenophobic national mood', planning what others secretly wish for.

The politicians still seem paralysed by what has happened. The President, Richard von Weizsacker - seen by many as Germany's conscience - made it clear at the memorial ceremony for the murdered Turks last week that the government should take more responsibility and should do more to integrate Turks into German society.

Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, who was widely criticised for refusing to go to last week's memorial ceremony in Cologne, was yesterday in defiant mood. In a television interview, he again argued that the xenophobic violence should not be seen as a German problem. 'Violence takes place between Germans and foreigners, between foreigners and foreigners, and between Germans and Germans.' He argued that it would have been inappropriate for him to go to the ceremony - because the television pictures might look bad. 'If I had gone, I would have been whistled at by some group . . . I know which pictures get sent round the world, and which don't. That's why I know how to behave.'

Four youths are now under arrest in connection with the Solingen killings, at least one of whom is said to have been a member of the extreme- right German People's Union, the DVU. The prosecutor's office has been criticised for its apparently chaotic handling of the case, including many contradictory statements, both about the number of suspects and their political allegiances. One newspaper editorial accused the federal prosecutor, Alexander von Stahl, of 'chattering at the wrong time and keeping silent when the whole world expected clear words from him'.

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