Monday, May 22, 2006

Old European Cultural Capital Berlin Braces For Heightened Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence As Unemployment Stays At 20 Per Cent In Eastern Germany

BERLIN, May 22 -- "German authorities are growing concerned that neo-Nazis and other racist groups could disrupt soccer's World Cup next month and are struggling to contain a surge in violent attacks on dark-skinned victims, including a Turkish-born lawmaker who was assaulted over the weekend in the capital.

Government leaders have reassured foreign guests that they will be secure during the month long World Cup, which starts June 9. But such promises have been undercut by two recent high-profile attacks and plans by neo-Nazi groups to hold demonstrations during the tournament.

On Monday, the mood darkened further when the government released a report by its domestic intelligence service showing that the number of violent acts committed by right-wing extremists increased by 24 percent last year. Membership in neo-Nazi groups also rose, from an estimated 3,800 to 4,100, according to the report.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the country's top security official, acknowledged the problem but repeated promises that the government would ensure a safe tournament.

"We will do everything in our power to prevent the World Cup from being used by extremist organizations to spread their abhorrent thoughts," he told reporters Monday.

On June 21, neo-Nazi sympathizers are scheduled to hold a rally in Leipzig before a match between Iran and Angola to show support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has recently made statements calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust. Iranian officials have indicated that Ahmadinejad may attend the match, although German diplomats are trying to find a way to persuade him to stay home.

The rally sponsors, the fringe National Democratic Party, caused controversy this spring by publishing a glossy tournament schedule with a photo of a German soccer player and the headline, "White -- Not Only a Color for Jersey!" Critics called it a thinly veiled insult to foreign-born players on Germany's national team.

Last week, a former federal government spokesman who now heads a civil-rights group caused a stir by warning World Cup fans from abroad "and anyone with a different skin color" to avoid visiting towns and villages outside Berlin and other rural parts of eastern Germany. "They may not leave with their lives," said Uwe-Karsten Heye, who had served as chief spokesman under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Current government officials pressed Heye to retract his remarks and said he was unfairly stigmatizing the formerly communist half of the country. But his warning was underscored a few days later when a Turkish-born lawmaker was assaulted in his East Berlin district by two men who called him "a dirty foreigner" and struck him in the head with a bottle, police said.

Racial tensions in the district were highlighted in a brochure published earlier this month by the Africa Council, a coalition of African community groups in Germany that has compiled a list of "No-Go" areas that are unsafe for foreigners during the World Cup.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a Christian Democrat member of parliament, said lawmakers needed to do more to crack down on skinheads and neo-Nazis ahead of the World Cup. He said the government should ban the planned demonstration in Leipzig and other such rallies during the tournament....

More than 1 million visitors are expected to come to Germany during the World Cup, which features teams from 32 nations.

Anetta Kahane, chairman of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a civil-rights watchdog group in Berlin, said many government leaders and ordinary Germans are reluctant to confront the problem. She said racism and anti-Semitism have been allowed to fester in the former East German states in particular, a legacy of communist times when German responsibility for the Holocaust was not emphasized as strongly as it was in the west.

In small towns in the east, where jobless rates approach 20 percent, "you find this atmosphere of aggression against people who are not blond-haired or blue-eyed," Kahane said. "In Germany, many people don't want to hear about it, and that's part of the problem.""

Craig Whitlock "Violence in Germany Surges Ahead of World Cup" May 22, 2006

Modernism and State Violence: The Berlin Reichssportfeld Olympiastadion, 1936. Is or is not seventy years a long time?

Photo credits: U.S. National Archives courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives.


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