Kohl takes a low-key line on racism: Chancellor applauds Germany's response to burden of asylum-seekers and talks of easing laws on citizenship

Click to follow
THE German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, in a speech to parliament on violence against foreigners, talked yesterday of a possible loosening of Germany's strict citizenship laws. He condemned the recent Solingen killings, when five Turks were burnt to death, as a 'hideous murder'.

He spoke of the 'prejudice' about xenophobia in Germany, and pointed out that Germany had taken on a much greater burden, in terms of foreign asylum-seekers, than any other European country. Last year, Mr Kohl emphasised, 440,000 asylum- seekers arrived in Germany: 79 per cent of those arriving in the entire European Community. At the same time, however, he again seemed determined to avoid looking at the tragedy in human terms, or as a problem with which German society urgently needs to grapple.

Instead, he spoke in strictly diplomatic terms, about the importance of friendship with Turkey. He complained of 'hypocrisy' when Germans 'of particular political views' disparaged the human rights policies of Turkey, one of Germany's 'most reliable allies'. He complained about 'Turkish extremists', of whom he claimed there were 30,000; he appeared to imply that Turkish violence was equivalent to the anti-Turkish violence.

Mr Kohl talked of an easing of the citizenship laws: for example, any foreigner who has lived legally in Germany for 15 years will be able to apply for citizenship. Mr Kohl said that dual citizenship should basically 'be avoided', but added that new legislation would make dual citizenship permissible, in some circumstances.

In an apparent attempt to pass the responsibility down the line from Bonn, Mr Kohl suggested that Germany's regional states, the Lander were, above all, responsible for dealing with the nationwide problem of racism and racist attacks. He added: 'Whoever is responsible, has the duty to act.'

Johannes Rau, acting leader of the opposition Social Democrats, who issued a joint appeal with Mr Kohl immediately after the killings in Solingen last month, emphasised that there were no easy solutions. But he suggested that Germany must share the responsibility for the violent minority, who Mr Kohl has described as 'asocial individuals'.

Mr Rau argued yesterday: 'The young people who commit xenophobic violence have not fallen out of the sky. They are children of our society. They are not acting in a vacuum. Their actions are, it seems to me, an extreme expression of a deep crisis of direction in our country.' Mr Rau accused Mr Kohl of 'taking an old stag to fresh water' - trotting out old cliches, in new circumstances. Mr Kohl argued that ultra-liberal education, and a loss of traditional values, was partly to blame for the violence.

Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, the government official responsible for foreigners, again took issue with the complacency that political leaders have shown so far. She talked of the 'no longer deniable fact' that the potential for right-wing violence had grown, which 'nobody took seriously'. Ms Schmalz-Jacobsen complained: 'The existing law on foreigners creates a permanent distance between Germans and foreigners. It is high time to change it radically.' Commenting on the proposed new voting rights for EC citizens, under the terms of the Maastricht treaty, she added: 'We run the danger of creating a two-class society of foreigners in Germany.'

Leading article, page 25