Leading Article: A bit more remorse wouldn't go amiss

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The Independent Online
THERE IS something odd about the way Helmut Kohl, Germany's Chancellor, is responding to the recent racial murders and other attacks on foreigners in his country. Yesterday's long- awaited speech had no passion, no moral outrage, no sense of remorse, no truly convincing condemnation of the perpetrators, no real confrontation with these ghosts of the past. Instead, he put forward some useful proposals for strengthening law enforcement and criticised the German people for showing too little solidarity with foreigners. He called for 'good manners', as if he were dealing with some mild aberration in public behaviour rather than the vicious murders of women and children.

It is true that the relatively small groups of disaffected deviants responsible for the attacks have been encouraged by a climate of resentment against uncontrolled immigration, which is now being stopped, and that Germans in general are often unwelcoming to the foreigners in their midst. But public reaction to the murders has been overwhelmingly one of shame and revulsion. Support for the right-wing Republican Party dropped sharply after the Solingen killings, and 91 per cent have told pollsters that they take seriously the prospect of a threat from the far right. Mr Kohl seems out of tune with opinion on this issue.

One reason for his reluctance to speak out more forcibly is that he is anxious not to drive his own right-wing supporters into the arms of extremist parties by distancing himself too sharply from their views. This has been a long-term concern, especially since the death of Franz Josef Strauss, the rumbustious leader of the Bavarian wing of the party who reassured the right that its interests were safe in his hands. But Mr Kohl's timidity may in fact have the opposite effect to what he intends by weakening respect for his leadership.

He is acting in many ways like a misguided public relations officer. He wants Germany to be regarded as a normal European state, wholly disconnected from its Nazi past, for which he and his generation feel no personal responsibility. He is aggrieved that people keep invoking history. He argues that racial violence is not a German problem but a European problem in which Germany happens to be involved.

In this he is partly right but, like public relations officers the world over, seems to believe that the image of his country will be tarnished if he admits that everything is not as it should be. Better to minimise the problems and claim that everyone has them. This is foolish. What worries the outside world about the state of Germany is not only that foreigners are being murdered, which happens in other countries, too, but also that Mr Kohl is reacting too feebly.

By not confronting what is happening, and not accepting those elements in German history that give the murders their special resonance and horror, Mr Kohl is undermining confidence in his moral and political leadership and his commitment to the principles he professes, and undoubtedly believes. He made a similar mistake when he refused to confront the real costs of unification.