Is xenophobia really bad
Xenophobia in a united Germany
We have January-faced years behind us: departure and euphoria of liberation, unification and, as a result, disappointment, resignation, anger, aggression, violence. The past two years and the last few days in particular remind us Germans of our most terrible opportunities. For me it is one of the most disturbing experiences that it looks like German unification seems to make a collective experience repeatable that we were firmly convinced we would never do again. We could never fall back into nationalism, chauvinism, violence. But we see that such beginnings have long been back. Foreign citizens are insulted and threatened, beaten and killed. The Federal Minister of the Interior announced a few weeks ago that 2,285 acts of violence with proven or suspected right-wing extremist motivation were recorded in the past year. 54% more than in 1991. 22 people fell victim to these attacks. In Rostock the attacks against asylum seekers reached a new quality. At Hoyerswerda we were still excited by the silent, almost ashamed approval. We heard loud, very audible applause from Rostock. I will never forget the picture that you may have seen on television: a pretty young girl from Rostock, with a radiant face, shares her approval of acts of violence on the television cameras. After all, the murders of Mölln helped this little town, which had hitherto been rather contemplative and inconspicuous, to become notorious and at the same time formed the penultimate climax of a senseless frenzy. And now Solingen: five Turkish fellow citizens burned to death. And it goes on every night As if violence against foreign citizens were a contagious disease. But to speak like that is probably wrong again, because I can't help but get the impression that it is much more organized than government agencies have so far wanted to see or acknowledge.
In the face of such outbursts of violence and inhumanity, any talk about it seems to me to be inappropriate. The ritual of concern and revulsion is inappropriate, but it may also be inevitable. In any case, it is important for me to say first of all that the most elementary thing is our sympathy for the victims and solidarity with the citizens of foreign origin. And actually, if I had to talk about the fears of those threatened, our fellow citizens, about their feelings and hopes, their wishes and needs and interests, that would be very important. But then you should really invite someone from those affected who can do it authentically. But it is important that I say this in advance, because my job today is to do root cause analysis in order to describe tasks for us. And that is something that is beyond compassion, but does not deny this compassion, but presupposes it and tries to translate it into the language of a sober, perhaps also painful, at least - I apologize - sometimes cumbersome analysis.
What has happened to us in these three years of a unified Germany and what is happening to us, the Germans, that something like this happens, that we let something like this happen here: not just right-wing extremist attacks and outbreaks of violence by a minority, but consent, silent, only quietly mumbled, but also loud approval of inhuman and inhuman violence. And meanwhile also violence against minorities par excellence, also against the disabled. Do you remember that scandalous verdict that awarded a German compensation for damages because he had to eat in the same dining room as the disabled while on vacation. I call this legal aggression against the disabled.
In the meantime we also observe violence against our Jewish fellow citizens, also against the memory of the dead - they remember the arson attack at the Sachsenhausen memorial - and above all the everyday violence, not least among young people in schools. But I want to say explicitly: in 1992 and in the last few months there was not only cause for concern, even despair, there were and are also signs of hope. The fairy lights, in which hundreds of thousands of people took part, the numerous events and actions, rallies and demonstrations over the past weeks and days are encouraging. They signal - I think - that the great majority of Germans are unwilling to tolerate the return of barbarism.
If the pollsters are to be believed, then the extreme political right is losing approval among the population. At the same time, people's fear of right-wing terrorism is increasing. This is exactly what prevents me from measuring the political impact of the light symbols with a small cubit. The fear of fascism in the bald look apparently outweighs the often enough persuaded fear of unregulated immigration of foreigners to Germany, which in any case only obscures the view of the real causes. According to a commentator for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is the lowest common denominator that connects the petty bourgeois, plagued by existential fears, with the upper bourgeoisie in the villa district. To those critics of the fairy lights, who recently thought they had to attest the SA triumphal parades and the civil marches of 1992/93 a similarly directed German-typical drunkenness, he replies that German emotion in candlelight is always better than German howl of triumph in torchlight. And he's right. But if one asks whether the murderous ghost can be put to an end by the gentle signals of burning candles, then of course I have to answer with a clear "no". The fairy lights are a beginning that civil courage must follow in everyday life. The causes of right-wing extremism and the disgusting orgies of violence, however, often enough remain unrecognized or misinterpreted, and the actions of those who bear responsibility in this country are still sometimes designed to favor excesses of violence - certainly mostly unintentionally - instead of them to fight effectively. I do not mean to suggest that the political actors hold the key to the problem in their hands; The possibilities of politics are also subject to limitations, even greater than the citizens of our country usually want to admit. This is a particular difficulty. The local structure of the public works according to a simple picture pattern: here the problem, there the solution. However, social and political reality is not that simple, it is decidedly more complex, more confusing, sometimes no less for politicians than for citizens. This public structure hardly leaves time for thoughtful weighing, it demands incessantly and promotes impatience and intolerance, and as a result the tendency to give in to populisms against better knowledge increases.
Nevertheless, it remains important: Politicians are called upon to solve problems and not exacerbate them by doing their own thing. But my impression is that that is exactly what happened during the screwed-up debate about the right of asylum. I don't want to leave any doubt. I think the new regulation of the right of asylum was necessary, but I would like to add a personal note: no decision in my short political biography has been as difficult as this one. And I want to openly admit that I think that the prerequisite for this decision was a double defeat. Let us remember: for about ten years now, immigration and asylum have been discussed in Germany, initially only in West Germany, of course. I have now got to know the quotes, from 1982. And in these ten years the politically responsible forces, the parties, but also others have not succeeded in agreeing a politically and morally convincing and legally and administratively practicable solution to this problem. At the same time, however, the problem has changed objectively and subjectively. Objectively, because a problem is different when it changes quantitatively. It makes a difference for a social problem whether one talks about an immigration of 30,000 or 50,000 or an immigration of 500,000 to 1,000,000. But that's only one side of it.
I think it is much more important that the problem has changed subjectively, because - I want to repeat that - the foreigner problem is, in my opinion, a domestic problem. In connection with the process of German unification, a dramatic process of upheaval, the extent of uncertainty, fear, fear of being overwhelmed, and fear of social degradation among the German population has increased. This means that the subjective willingness to face a real problem, the integration of foreign citizens, the reception of foreign citizens and refugees, has tended to decrease rather than increase, reinforced by the demagogic instrumentalization of these fears for election campaign purposes. Do I have to quote in how many election campaigns the CDU used the fear of immigration, of foreigners for election campaign purposes, to steer fears in a certain direction?
Both of these, the paralysis of politics in the face of an increasingly dramatic problem and the decrease in the subjective willingness of a large part of the German population to face this problem really positively, I see both of these as a double defeat. And in the end the question was whether we should continue this defeat or how we should end it. By continuing the paralysis of politics, i.e. the mutual paralysis of the parties, or by attempting a compromise, the content of which of course more reflects the majority relations, no more and no less. Now, after this bitter compromise, which should make political steps possible again, these steps must also be taken. We need a different citizenship law, we need the right to vote for fellow citizens of foreign origin, we need a legal regulation of immigration, all of this remains necessary, even if it is because of the majority, i.e. the rejection of the CDU / CSU in this asylum compromise could not be included. It still remains necessary.
The stale taste of personal and political defeat for me also results from the fact that we have allowed the spread of the false associative identification of xenophobia and right-wing extremism on the one hand and the right of asylum on the other. We argued about the change in asylum law while Molotov cocktails were thrown at the asylum seekers' homes. At that time I proposed a moratorium. The idea did not find a majority and I know the reasons for it. But that left a fatal impression. Unwanted by the vast majority, but perhaps also intended by some political strategists, politics has apparently given the rampaging mob legitimacy. We have neglected our interpretative, even educational, duty. I wonder whether all of us, and not just politics, will still be able to overcome this educational deficit. The prerequisite for this can only be honesty with ourselves and honesty with the citizens of the country. And honesty means: we will and we must and we want to live with foreigners in the future too. No law in the world will be able to stop global waves of misery-driven migration. As much as a conflict-free, multicultural society remains ideological headbirth, the idea of an ethnically homogeneous culture is absurd. That would be no culture. It is fiction to demand it, it shows intellectual narrowness and provinciality, it shows even more of a lack of culture. Politics, too, must return to its educational function. It has to do a job that social scientists call complexity reduction without obscuring reality or obscuring it with euphemistic terms or even ending in demagogic abbreviations. It has to overcome lack of transparency, interpret connections and give answers, political-democratic, western-practical, educational and also - yes - moral-ideological answers.
Before talking about a thing, you should first make sure of the subject. Because it is not as clear as it is usually presented. It is true that new and old Nazis have seen the strongest influx since the end of the Third Reich, it is true that the propensity to use violence is increasing among right-wing extremists, and it is true that the right-wing extremist scene with the organizational networking of a large number of loose groups and small groups long ago Time has started. The ongoing regional and politically anarchic diversity of right-wing extremist circles has so far prevented their political effectiveness from being greater than it could potentially be. Because right-wing extremist ideas are not only at home on the social and political fringes, you can find them everywhere. It works right into the center of this still two-part society. This irrational thinking and acting that has slipped away from reason is increasingly becoming a mirror and image of our social behavior, our social relationships and our understanding of politics, more than we want to admit at the moment. Right-wing extremism is not just an abnormally vicious phenomenon that seems to run counter to social development. It washes the mental deposits and products of decay of our time-unequal society to the surface, it knows no programs, it offers catchy messages that do not challenge the laborious use of the mind, critical independent thinking, messages that can be trumpeted. He is the dangerous hit of the political.
But is everything right-wing extremist that we believe we have recognized as right-wing extremist in the past few months? The meaningfulness of this apparently rhetorical question arises from the following fictional dialogue: "They are not Nazis," says one, "they are our children." But the other says, "These are not our children, they are Nazis." Both statements are true and false at the same time. It seems to me that caution in judgment and caution in dealing with them are necessary because the perpetrators are not always ideologically clearly defined young people; it is often disoriented and frightened children who, if stigmatized, are tantamount to barring access to dialogues. That is why I strongly advocate a microscopic view of the analysis, for differentiation.
The Cologne social scientist Erwin Scheuch recently explained to us that acts of violence with political language are not a German specialty, require explanation, but not an object of great public concern. Investigations into basic political attitudes did not reveal any particularities in the Federal Republic that would differ from attitudes in other Western European countries. From the facts, maybe that's right. Anyone who thinks that they only have to do social science with the help of computer-analyzed data is inevitably committing a cardinal mistake. He overlooks the structural change processes taking place in every society, he has no sensitive sensorium to detect a deep social and cultural change, deprives himself of his anticipatory possibilities and loses the necessary balance between intuition and subtlety. And worst of all, as a consultant, he will tell the politicians in good faith: no real cause for concern, everything is still within the normal range.
When assessing right-wing extremism, I certainly do not want to speak out in favor of any Germanocentrism. The phenomenon of the right-wing extremist renaissance or - if you take the problem field politically, ethnically and culturally further - irrationalism and fundamentalism, are growing into a global problem, and in Germany against an astonishing background. On the whole, democracy and its institutions have proven themselves better in Germany than one might have expected after 1945, because they were not fought for. Certainly, I too have learned that right-wing extremism is one of the numerous pathologies of modern industrial societies. This is what makes it so difficult to interpret today's right-wing extremism as an extension of the past. Because it is not, it is not a Nazi relic. No matter how he makes use of Nazi symbols, he may copy rituals and show all the defining characteristics of National Socialist ideology barely broken: from aggressive nationalism to the Führer principle to a racist-social Darwinian and elitist intolerant sense of mission; it is nonetheless a product of changed political and social circumstances; it makes use of other cultural forms of expression.The Horst Wessel song is not the signature tune of the bald young Nazis, it is rather hard punk rhythms that differ from the music of another politically and culturally far more sympathetic youth scene only through the repulsiveness of their lyrics. The new Nazis accept the old, aged men, who once represented the extreme right of the political spectrum, perhaps still within certain limits as mentors. Right-wing extremism of our day is, I think, a result of the present and not an appendix to the Millennium.
This realization does not, of course, relieve us of our duty to try to renew the Nazi taboo that has been broken so terribly clearly. Politics, as well as other instances in society, have the task of keeping alive the memory of the twelve years of barbarism by accepting their responsibility for the whole of German history. German history also explains why we must treat right-wing extremism with special attention, because it can be as modern as it wants. Politics itself contributed to the removal of taboos from National Socialism. There was talked about a grace of late birth with affable indifference, the unfortunate historians' dispute over the singularity of Auschwitz in human history was accepted without comment, even welcomed by some, because Stalinism was offered as a self-exonerating model for the German gas chambers. The Hanoverian sociologist Oskar Negt recently called this debate an attempt to provide the political center with legitimation for straightening out German history. It was a small beginning, but it could cause huge fires. In addition, one should not hide the fact that NS careers started between 1933 and 1945 could then be continued in democratic chairs, which is by all means an all-German phenomenon. How ineffective the state-enacted anti-fascism of the GDR was is underlined by the reality. In the GDR, too, old and new Nazis were up to mischief. It just wasn't in "New Germany". The admission would have collapsed the hollow facade of apparent immunity. And - we also remember this - there was talk in the worst Nazi language not so long ago of the dangers of a ragged and mixed society.
I want to ask where the roots of right-wing extremism are and how it can be combated effectively. We run the risk of getting used to the gruesome pictures from Rostock, Mölln, Solingen and Hoyerswerda; we run the risk of dulling our feelings. At the same time I observe the helplessly dangerous tendency of some politicians to counter right-wing extremism by believing that they can adopt fragments of their ideas that are classified as harmless. I am in favor of society leaving no stone unturned in bringing back children and adolescents who have been removed to it, if only because the 14 to 20 year olds are products of this society. But I warn against the mistaken assumption that right-wing extremism can be overcome by a kind of partial normalization. "Everything", says Wilhelm Heitmeyer, "that is considered normal can hardly be critically questioned any more." The higher the degree of normalization, the lower the chance of problematizing these attitudes and behaviors. Violence that does not affect anyone is not satisfactory, it generalizes, it gets out of hand. If we get used to violence and injustice, dull against it and adapt our ethics and morals to our own well-being, then yes, then our civilization is threatened with cold death. The dividing lines must therefore be clear. This is not always easy, because the aggressive, violent and authoritarian ways of thinking and acting of young people are mixed with set pieces of the fascist-racist ideology. As a result, the anarchic, fear-driven, and ultimately helpless violence has gradually acquired a dubious subjective meaning that could justify a further escalation.
Let's talk about specifics of the GDR, which I still know better: of real socialist realities that continue to have an effect, of xenophobia and subtle racism, of big and small nasties, but also of cynicisms that were necessary for survival. There has always been xenophobia in the GDR, certainly with very different degrees of intensity. Fear of strangers, insecurity about the unfamiliar, petty or arrogant rejection of what is different were and still belong to the bad type of GDR citizen. The xenophobia typical of the GDR was first and foremost the unreflected transmission of resentments towards neighboring peoples, especially towards Poland. In this regard there was a bad and unbroken tradition from unprocessed, unchanged German mentality history. It has been stated many times that the GDR was a petty-bourgeois society. The xenophobia typical of the GDR has always been swept under the carpet, but sometimes, from time to time, it has also been instrumentalized by the former SED leadership. I remind you of the anti-Polish sentiments as a means against the Solidarnosc bacillus in the early 1980s. The xenophobia typical of the GDR was and is an expression of hospitalism. We simply haven't learned how to deal with strangers, with foreign countries, we were locked in and therefore react, if the comparison is allowed, like hospitalized children, autistic, frightened, insecure, defensive, aggressive. Capitalist foreign countries - as it was called back then - the goal of secret desires, lay beyond realizable possibilities, at least for most of us. For reasons of mental hygiene, people refused to indulge in their dreams too often. An everyday, even natural, exercise. But where the dreams were amputated there was phantom pain.
Not only were we not able to travel that much, we also didn't have much contact with the foreigners who lived in the GDR. The Vietnamese, the Poles, the Afghans, the Angolans, who lived and worked with us as guest workers - as they were not allowed to be called - mostly lived and worked separately from us. In separate departments in the factories, in barracked accommodations. Truly, real socialism in the GDR has developed something like its own form of apartheid. The barrier established between Germans and foreigners in their own country was only jumped over by a few GDR Germans. We are missing an important experience that could now make us more resistant to new xenophobia. Although there are specifically East German causes for the acts of violence, right-wing extremism is certainly not an East German phenomenon. But the vehemence with which right-wing extremist or right-wing extremist motivated violence broke out in East Germany nonetheless suggests the question of the special conditions and mechanisms that explain the eruptive, direct, and spontaneous aspects of violence in East Germany. Because right-wing, nationalist attitudes are no more widespread in the East than in West Germany, on the contrary, as all relevant studies show.
Violence as we experience it today is essentially youth violence. The violent children, the violent adolescents are not just marginal grubby children, the hopeless outlaws of a new social order that not a few East Germans perceive as merciless, children who in their desperation cry out for attention and affection. Careless xenophobic Sunday conversations in the good rooms of the good citizens form a background and even worse: What the fathers and mothers articulate in the form of angry resignation at home, but cannot translate into the public language, their children express publicly in the language of violence. The social scientist Detlev Claussen already speaks of a conformist rebellion among young people, that is to say, the values and orientations of young people are entirely conformist, they show characteristics of a cross-generational continuity. Their forms of expression are of course youth-specific. The parents concerned often lack explicit, unrestricted distancing. Conversely, the young people who use violence sometimes feel that they are executing an angry will of the people, they think that they are concerned with a just cause whose legitimacy also relates to the methods used. We must certainly not make the mistake of viewing today's right-wing extremism seamlessly in continuity with National Socialism, but we must not ignore continuities where they may exist.
The psychoanalyst Tilmann Moser has only recently pointed out how deep underground and far beyond consciousness-building language psychological violence and unprocessed trauma are passed on. Let's not forget: the perpetrators between the ages of 14 and 25 are sons and grandchildren of children, adolescents and young adults who were still in the Hitler Youth and had only got to know nothing but growing up in dictatorship, war, flight, difficult integration or real life Stalinism. "Let's take notice," as Tilmann Moser put it, "of fragments that survive intergenerationally, not only of Nazi ideology, but also of undigested suffering, internal divisions, smoldering fragments of souls and mothballed parts of the biographies of parents and grandparents." Eugen Drewermann, the theologian, is perhaps not entirely wrong when he says that anyone who wants to prevent violence and war should not stop studying society, but should study people.
A firmly established, secluded, even walled in and apparently largely socially self-sufficient GDR society lost its cohesion, which had been stabilized with all sorts of coercion and pressure, overnight. The process of unification has ushered in a major upheaval in established behavior. The guiding ideas of the state, society and individuals issued in the real existing socialism have collapsed and call into question the traditional, even conserved experiences of each individual. The values and norms left behind erode, what is binding and binding dissolves, what was previously correct turns out to be wrong or is explained as such. The fear of unbroken social decline, the fear of not being able to escape existence in the social shadow of a unified Germany for the foreseeable future, is the deep-seated motive that explains the violence against the weakest of the weak, but by no means calls for understanding. We have to know that the system change is experienced en masse as a biographical break, because as a result there is often uncertainty, fear, even uprooting. Thinking and feeling cannot keep pace with the speed and totality of the change in social systems. The open competitive society demands such a high degree of individuality, self-expression and assertiveness that the normal GDR citizen, who has just been released from state guardianship, must overtax. There is neither space nor time to make sure of what is one's own, which has become so uncertain. What else counts from the acquired knowledge, the acquired experience, the enforced codes of conduct. A mental vacuum has arisen which right-wing extremism with its banal, brutal interpretation of reality is gradually beginning to fill in quite a few.
The catastrophic economic and social situation justifies, exacerbates and confirms the state of disorientation. The disappearance of jobs and the decline in industrial production since 1989 make East Germany a dying industrial region. Existential fears and the exhaustion of everything that one has been able to rely on for years gnaw at one's identity and gradually ruin people's self-esteem. The economic and social determinants require a rich fund of individual skills to deal with problems, of forms of dealing with previously completely unknown fears and burgeoning aggressions. Forms of coping that help avoid a change into the destructive and prevent people from becoming seductive to the simple answers of ideological peasant catchers.
The Germans in the GDR had little or no opportunity to learn such an approach. The attempt of the SED to create a unified society, to create its own state identity, took place not least on the path of demarcation from the outside through hostility to the alien, the different. A simplifying worldview that purposefully shortened the complexity of economic, social and cultural processes in a demagogic and formulaic manner has consequently produced simple, monocausal explanations of the world and the ego, good and bad, right and wrong. The GDR citizens had little chance to test their own tolerance limits and to have intercultural, horizon-broadening experiences. Dealing with difficult conflicts of interests, aimed at easing tension, was not part of the repertoire of real socialist curricula. Social crises, which in our own Marxist-Leninist understanding did not exist anyway, always had external causes or were the privilege of others. Capitalist, imperialist foreign countries were chosen to cause grim circumstances, with preference of course the FRG. Debt was delegated.
Does one have to wonder if, in the current, extremely problematic socio-economic situation, strangers, foreigners and asylum seekers appear as a danger against which one believes one has to defend oneself? Almost as before, one's own identity is generated or stabilized through demarcation, through hostility to what is foreign and different. Your own life plan, as it were a substitute for the failed social plan, is secured and legitimized by a rigorous rejection of the lifestyle of others. This pattern is widespread, not only in this context and God knows not only in East Germany. Anyone who adopts this pattern is inevitably hidden from the fact that in this way everything, except positive, inherently stable security, grows. What is one's own does not get better by declaring the other to be even worse and inferior, and above all the stability created by demarcation remains extremely fragile and is therefore defended all the more aggressively. This attempt at interpretation - and it is one of these - does not yet answer the question of why the obvious frustration build-up and the widespread lack of orientation in eastern Germany manifest themselves in right-wing extremist orgies of violence, mainly staged by young people.
There are at least two answers to this. Wilhelm Heitmeyer, already mentioned, names one of them: Wherever social anchorages dissolve, the consequences of one's own actions for others no longer have to be taken into account. Instrumental behavior prevails and the violence threshold sinks. If then - as is now especially the case among young people - all that remains is the assessment of being German, violence takes on a direction. The other answer is: Anti-fascism and internationalism of the SED brand were authoritarian state doctrines. The use of fascist symbols and the adoption of catchy primitive elements of fascist ideology appeared as the sharpest form of rejection, both of the past and of the emerging new social order. Since neither "real socialism" nor capitalism has dealt with or is being dealt with in the way that young people are concerned, solutions that are brought about by force suddenly appear to be a plausible alternative.
The xenophobia typical of the GDR was also an expression of a rejection, a defense against the overpowering, politically ideological coercive system. A secret, latent, unspoken nationalism, which was the more resistant, the more it was taboo, was the foundation of GDR society. A more or less enlightened nationalism was the tenacious, fatal, wrong and almost inevitable answer from below to a dictated internationalism from above. A declamatory internationalism that produced the opposite of what it supposedly and initially probably actually wanted, the increasingly Byzantine state events, the friendships between peoples, town twinning and delegations met with rejection simply because they were instrumentalized in consecration games of the great internationalist idea that were draped folklorically only for camouflage; they remained empty because no everyday experience of their own could correspond to them.
And now, after a phase of hope fueled by considerable promises and promises, the disappointment in the face of increasing economic and social depression, individual powerlessness experienced anew every day, is all the greater. Once more, young people experience themselves as objects of a non-transparent but effective process in which they cannot intervene as active subjects. The feeling of disadvantage that can be found everywhere and the threatening insignificance of one's own life are looking for a forum, a form of complaint for communication.If politics and society do not provide such a forum on which dissatisfaction can be articulated upwards and trigger consequences, then dissatisfaction turns downwards, against the weaker and weakest, against the minorities in society. If the state and society are only reacting now and even arguing towards the young people who commit violence, then in retrospect they give the perpetrators legitimacy and signal that only violence has an effect. The perpetrators gain the impression that the first step has been taken from a powerless subject to a powerful subject. For the development of tolerance in the thinking and acting of the individual it is crucial to what extent the detachment of the familiar and the turning to the foreign succeed, to what extent the own is so solidified that the foreign does not have to be defined as threatening and therefore must be warded off, but even as enriching complement can be experienced. If this does not succeed, the different becomes, foreigners, Jews, the disabled, homosexuals, the opposite sex or the different political conviction or even the different aesthetic lifestyle are branded as deviations or deviants that endanger their own identity. Intolerance is the direct consequence of a negative identity that has to constantly look outwards in order to belittle other things and thus to assure itself of the quality of one's own life plan.
The basic requirement for moral and civilizational stability is, I think, a secure social and cultural foundation. It remains out of reach as long as the individual's social context appears to be frightening chaos. For a socio-political strategy, it seems to me that it is important that we do not focus so much on the individual perpetrator, but rather examine what the social processes are that are responsible for the isolation and uprooting of the individual, because social disintegration processes are common to all of Germany, that encourage the outbreak of violence. The loss of socially integrative structures in both German sub-societies is one of the few examples of successful harmonization of living conditions. On both sides of the Elbe there is a twilight mood of culture, as Oskar Negt put it, in which the socially meaningful goals crumbled, in which there are no longer any community projects. Society is impoverished in collective imagination. I add: we can no longer rely on the behavioral norms of a traditional rationality to continue to function in the future. What can we do?
At the beginning I indicated that the forces of politics are too weak to avoid or overcome social deformations. Not long ago, the Frankfurt social philosopher Jürgen Habermas pointed out that the medium of power, which of course also includes politics, is overwhelmed by the creation of forms of life. And yet politics continually sets objective data that at least indirectly intervene in people's way of life and planning. Politics helps to set the direction for social development, although it is not able to determine it completely. Within this relatively narrow framework of action, practical concepts for a society on a human scale must be designed that go further than the previous intervention measures.
What should I do? Certainly and first and foremost, it goes without saying that the state has the task of protecting those who are attacked. He must pursue the perpetrators with the means of the law and arrest them. He must show strength and make it clear that right-wing extremism is not only not tolerated in this country, but is consistently fought against. The ban on neo-Nazi organizations is therefore important and correct. I am also in favor of the Nazi scene being shaken by regular raids all over Germany, so that it is not allowed to calm down. Occasionally I am amazed at the all too quick dismissals of perpetrators. They are adolescents, but we are now realizing that we are facing a collective danger to which we have to react differently. I am also convinced that there are perhaps too few police officers in this country, that they do not earn enough, that they need better training and better motivation. All of that is correct. At the same time, I know that state policies that rely only on repression will not be successful in the medium term. Even so, the repressive means are necessary in this hour of danger.
In addition, it seems to me that there is another necessity. I call it the uniqueness of politicians' behavior and speech. It was wrong that Helmut Kohl did not go to Solingen or to the funeral service. It was wrong and it is bad that only after another five fellow citizens have been murdered, politicians in the CDU now also find themselves ready to think about dual citizenship. This was important before. If we continue to pursue politics and only after violence is an insight that was previously recognized as reasonable is finally followed, then we confirm violence. So unambiguous behavior and speaking of politicians seems to me necessary.
But, as I said, as much as repression is necessary, the state's repressive means, the defense of its monopoly on the use of force, compliance with its obligation to protect the weak, this will not be enough. Equally important is a compensatory, socio-educational approach. I am sure that without the commitment of many social workers and street workers, which sometimes pushes against the limits of what is reasonable, the situation would be even worse than it already is. It is absurd, on the one hand, to complain about the loss of communication, attachment and community and, on the other hand, to let the community facilities that existed for young people, e.g. in the new federal states, go to the dogs as a legacy of the GDR that is well worth preserving. Such youth facilities with social care are needed today more than ever. That too is all right and necessary, and yet: There is inevitably a deficit inherent in the social work approach. In the long run it falls short, it must necessarily deal with symptoms and effects, because the causes for the violence are produced by society itself and there the decision-makers are just others.
I don't want to leave any doubt. All social groups must accept the challenge. This applies to the state, the political parties, the churches, the welfare associations, the trade unions, the business leaders, the associations and alliances of all kinds, applies to schools, kindergartens, universities and also to the media. I would like to say a few sentences about the media. Nobody can seriously deny that there is a connection between depictions of violence and what a not entirely unknown news magazine recently called the brutalization of our society. Heitmeyer also thankfully pointed out that television is interested in violence for marketing reasons. On the other hand, it wants to participate in a fight against xenophobia and violence by exploiting morality. I share the impression that some journalists are overwhelmed by their own medium. Do you remember the shocking reports from Rostock? Like reporting on sporting events. I was sitting in front of the television, stunned, when a reporter, standing on a roof, announced with great disappointment: "There is nothing going on anymore." Fascination with your own medium. The explanation of the unspectacular background, the social context, the causal connection is neglected. Instead, you get into a grotesquely dangerous dependency on the actions of bald heads who stage themselves and then use the medium to help them stage themselves.
A journalist from Solingen also reported that her colleagues had asked Turkish young people to shout out slogans of violence. "Action" has to take place on television. Otherwise you have nothing to report. I really don't want to speak out to any censors. Especially not as an ex-GDR citizen. But we need the self-critical debate by journalists about the media and the effect of the representation of violence, about the media's educational obligation, about the language of encouragement and clarification, which is now also necessary in public. I have the impression that the media's responsibility has fallen short of what is required. But I also know that scolding journalists is not enough. We have to talk about the structures, the commercialization of the media and its inevitable effects.
I have spoken of a society on a human scale. To help shape one, for me the real task of politics. There are certainly many answers to this, but none are ready. But at the end I want to formulate a few orienting questions. How do we succeed and will we succeed at all in conveying a socially integrative idea of social, communal life to the people in our country? An idea as a counterpoint to a widespread arbitrariness, indifference, short life, emptiness or - I have to put it better - ideas, visions that transcend the current social, cultural, moral condition. I feel a real hunger for such ideas and visions beyond the present agonizing state.
The traditional social and milieu-specific ties and orientations dissolve, isolation and the focus on consumption and experience, on short but rich happiness, increases. What is the - to express myself drastically - social and cultural cement that could allow the community to be experienced as a communal event? Who helps to overcome society as an assembly of individuals? How do we organize an economy that allows sufficient autonomous time, that creates space for the care of the battered social life, that gives parents the chance to communicate values and norms with their children, and finally: How do we fight unemployment and its terrible psychological effects -social consequences?
Some answers to these questions already exist. Partly thought, partly already put on paper. Still, I don't want to hide my perplexity. Nevertheless we are on the track of recognition. Realization is the first step towards improvement, and I apologize for the fact that I have spoken on the subject with perhaps inappropriateness of principle. I believe that only if we devote ourselves to these very fundamental issues will we be able to provide a long-term response to the threat to this society, which initially manifests itself as a danger to our fellow foreigners. We have to devote ourselves to this task and at the same time do the short-term. We need dual citizenship facilitation. We need the right to vote for fellow citizens of foreign origin. We may need a first sign right away, because I know that laws take a while. We need the right to speak and propose to the council for foreigners in the local parliament. All of this must be done immediately, but in the long term, I believe, we have to deal with the difficult questions and contexts that I wanted to speak to you about this morning.
© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | February 1999
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