By Charles Hawley in Berlin
It was bound to happen. After weeks of being portrayed by Hesse Governor Roland Koch as being little better than uncivilized savages, Germany's immigrants on Thursday struck back.
In an open letter addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel and to Koch -- both of the conservative Christian Democrats -- an association representing some 100 immigrant groups in Germany expressed its frustration at the populist tones coming from Koch, as he campaigns for re-election in a Jan. 27 state vote.
Koch has been running a xenophobic campaign for re-election in Hesse -- and Merkel has done little to stop him.
Koch began demanding that more action be taken against "criminal young foreigners" after a Dec. 20 attack, perpetrated by a 20-year-old Turkish man born in Germany and a young immigrant from Greece, on an elderly man in the Munich subway. But many of his comments have seemed to veer away from the problem of youth violence in Germany and taken on racist overtones.
He said "it must be clear that the slaughtering (of animals) in the kitchen … runs counter to our principles." He also said: "People who live in Germany must behave properly and refrain from using their fists. That's how one behaves in a civilized country."
Those with foreign backgrounds in Germany have felt under attack by the blast of rhetoric and accuse Koch in Thursday's letter of "tactical populism." The treatise also points out that many of those Koch has lumped together grew up in Germany. It is a fact emphasized by Mehmet Tanriverdi, president of BAGIV, a Germany-wide group representing immigrants.
"The current debate is rather artificial," Tanriverdi told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It is merely a way for Koch to make headlines in his campaign. There is a problem with youth violence, that is true. But many of these youth being talked about are German citizens and were born and raised here. We can't just send our problems over the border to other countries."
Tanriverdi was one of a number of leaders from Germany's immigrant community who participated in Chancellor Merkel's "Integration Summit" last summer. The idea then was to come up with ways to improve the integration of those with foreign backgrounds in Germany. Now, says Tanriverdi, it seems like all that work was for naught.
"It is baffling that the CDU would invite us to such a summit and invest so much time into finding solutions to the problems that exist, only to then support the kind of campaign being waged by Mr. Koch," Tanriverdi said.
Tanriverdi was referring to the fact that, following Koch's lead, many in his party have since called for new laws making it easier to deport foreign youth should they commit crimes. "People need scapegoats," Tanriverdi said. "Using minorities as scapegoats is nothing new. But really, Koch is running a witch hunt. I hope it will become a problem for him."
In Munich, meanwhile, anger is exploding over a campaign poster on display showing images of the Dec. 20 subway attack. The poster, displayed in support of the Christian Social Union -- a sister party to the CDU that exists only in Bavaria -- reads "No clemency for violent criminals" across the top. In small print on a silhouette of the attack's victim, it reads "so that you won't be next." Munich Mayor Christian Ude, a Social Democrat, called the ad a "low point in democratic culture."
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