Critique Against Racist Campaign German Immigrants Have Had Enough

After weeks of enduring a xenophobic onslaught from Roland Koch, the governor of Hesse, Germany's immigrants are fed up. The conservatives' rhetoric, an open letter says, is feeding prejudice and fomenting a social split.

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 has been running a xenophobic campaign for re-election in Hesse -- and Merkel has done little to stop him.

Foto: DDP

"Instead of open, constructive debate coupled with sober proposals based on the facts," the letter reads, "you are causing serious damage with your campaign polemic. A short-term success in a state election cannot be so valuable that it is worth feeding prejudice … with the effect of a further social split."

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."

The BAGIV president may not have to wait long. Criticism against Koch is mounting in the German mainstream as well. The left-leaning Social Democrats aren't the only politicians to have mounted a counter-offensive -- even members of Koch's own party are less than impressed with his aggressive rhetoric. Bülent Arslan, head of the CDU's German-Turkish forum, likewise said that deporting criminals with foreign backgrounds is not the way to go. "We are talking about young people who have nothing to do with the countries where their families originated," he told the Berliner Zeitung on Thursday.

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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