Germans worried by racist image

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The Independent Online
BONN - The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, admitted yesterday to fears that racist violence in Germany was damaging the country's foreign policy 'to a degree not previously appreciated', writes John Eisenhammer.

During the second day of talks in Moscow, in which the issue of the rash of neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners featured large, Mr Kinkel said this 'is causing us mighty problems in our dealings abroad'. Ever since the riots in Rostock in August, when hundreds of extreme-right thugs attacked a refugee hostel, applauded by thousands of onlookers, the violence has taken on 'a very different quality', Mr Kinkel told his Russian hosts.

His alarm at the political fall- out from this xenophobia matches growing concern in the business community at the damage being done to Germany's exports and to potential investors. According to the head of the National Chamber of Commerce, Hans-Peter Stihl, the continuation of such brutality could 'cost the German economy contracts worth billions of German marks'. Orders could be cancelled, and tourists would stay away, he said.

With domestic demand slowing, and the traditionally strong export industry already badly hit by the weak international economy, German industry is extremely sensitive to anything that could further aggravate its problems. 'Our businessmen travelling abroad are constantly being asked what is happening in Germany, and that immediately puts them on the defensive,' said the spokesman for the Machinery and Plant Engineering Association, Alexander Batschari.

For some months, Japanese firms in Germany - especially in eastern Germany - have advised their staff to be well-dressed when going out, to reduce the chances of being mistaken for Vietnamese guestworkers. There have been several incidents of such guestworkers and Japanese businessmen being beaten up by neo-Nazi thugs. 'The first thing that every potential foreign investor asks about these days is the racist violence,' said Walter Rogg, head of the Business Promotion Office of the state of Saxony.

According to Christoff Rheinbay, who runs the marketing department of the Treuhand privatisation office in Dresden, foreign business enquiries had 'declined dramatically since the summer'.

(Photograph omitted)