Why Horst Spann yells 'Germany for Germans': Adrian Bridge in Berlin looks at the reasons behind the violence against foreigners in the east of the country

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The Independent Online
LIKE MORE than a third of Eisenhuttenstadt's 52,000 residents, Horst Spann is unemployed. He is also extremely bitter - and angry.

Now 39, the former engineer does not hold out much hope of finding another job or of deriving any great personal benefit if and when, as promised, eastern Germany does eventually rise again.

On Saturday night, as right- wing extremists renewed their attack on the town's main hostel for asylum-seekers, he watched ap provingly, cheering at every petrol bomb thrown at the terrified inhabitants and joining in the chants of 'Germany for the Germans' and 'Foreigners out]'

'The foreigners are living a life of luxury here,' he told the Berlin daily, BZ. 'A Bulgarian family with four children is given 3,500 marks ( pounds 1,300) a month, free food and a roof over their heads while I have to live on just 700 marks unemployment benefit. These people have never had to do a day's work in their lives.'

Fear of arrest and a lingering reluctance to break the law prevented Mr Spann from actively joining the assault on the 600 foreigners in the Eisenhuttenstadt hostel, which was only repelled after police used water-cannon and detained 12 of the mainly teenage ringleaders.

But his open support for the attackers was typical of the feelings of thousands of ordinary east Germans who have taken to the streets of Eisenhuttenstadt, Cottbus, Halle and a score of smaller towns and villages to watch (and applaud) the nightly scenes of violence since the first big strike against a foreigners' hostel in Rostock late last month.

'It is a sickening spectacle which is rooted in the enormous social problems resulting from unification,' said Wolfgang Ullmann, an MP for the Alliance 90 party and one of the key figures in the citizens' movement that brought about the downfall of the Communist East German state in 1989. 'Many east Germans feel themselves to be second-class citizens in their own country and they vent their frustration on those they feel are even weaker. Of course such attacks cannot be condoned, but they are hardly surprising.'

One of the main factors behind the unrest is unemployment. With its one-third jobless rate, Eisenhuttenstadt, built by the Communist regime as a model socialist town, typifies the regional trend. Officially, unemployment in eastern Germany now stands at 1,168,000, or 14.4 per cent of the total workforce of 9 million. Add to that, however, the 1.8 million who are working short-time, are engaged in government-funded re-training schemes or have been forced into early retirement, and the real figure is 3.1 million. In some regions, such as Rostock in the north, the level of unemployment is closer to 50 per cent.

'What would happen in Britain if whole regions went bust in this way?' asks Stefan Heym, the prominent dissident writer and supporter of the recently formed Committee for Justice, set up to represent east German interests. 'For many people, unification has gone badly wrong. Much as people complained under the old system, they did feel a sense of stability, of belonging.'

In addition to economic uncertainty and a pronounced resentment at what is perceived to be the arrogant way in which west Germans have come in and taken over, most east Germans simply have no experience of living together with foreigners.

For all the talk of international solidarity, very few foreigners actually lived in the East German state and those that did - mainly 'guest-workers' from Vietnam, Mozambique and Angola - had very little contact with the indigenous population.

When the German government insisted that the new German Lander (regional states) should take their share - about 20 per cent - of the ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers entering the country, many predicted trouble. 'The east Germans were totally unprepared to receive so many foreigners,' said Ines Schmidt of the Berlin Institute for Social Sciences Studies. 'They lacked both the infrastructure and, more importantly, the experience. There should have been a far more flexible approach.'

Short of an instant economic miracle, many fear, moreover, that the orgy of anti-foreigner violence is set to continue and may even worsen.

'Even if the technical means of putting down the violence are improved, the root causes will remain for a long time,' warns Reiner Oschmann, editor of Neues Deutschland, the former newspaper of the Communist Party.

(Photograph omitted)