Racism has become a front-page issue in Germany in recent days after an apparently xenophobic attack on eight Indians in the eastern German town of Mügeln. Now a new European Union report on racism reveals the full extent of the problem -- and shows that everyday racism in the general population is just as much an issue as right-wing extremism.
The "Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU" was published Tuesday by the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) -- an agency which was created on Mar. 1, 2007 to replace the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
The report shows that violent racism appears to be on the increase in Germany, with reported incidents of racist violence and crime increasing by 14 percent between 2005 and 2006, going up from 15,914 incidents in 2005 to 18,142 in 2006. However the report did say that the figures for reported crimes "should be interpreted with caution," as an apparent increase can reflect better data collection as well as real increases.
Crime with an extremist right-wing motive also showed an increase, going up from 15,361 incidents in 2005 to 17,597 incidents in 2006, a 14.6 percent increase. "The observation of this apparent upward trend in extremist activity in Germany is supported by reports of increased right-wing attacks noted by victim support organizations in eastern parts of the country," the report's authors write.
However the incidence of anti-Semitic crime in Germany remained fairly constant, with 1,662 incidents in 2006 compared to 1,682 in 2005.
The report also criticized several EU members including Germany for "lagging behind" in the implementation of the EU's Racial Equality Directive. The directive was introduced in 2000 and is the main EU legislation in the area of combating racism and xenophobia. Germany only implemented the legisation in 2006 and the bodies set up to combat discrimination were not fully operational by the end of 2006. Germany also failed to apply "a single sanction" or award compensation in cases of racial discrimination, "even though laws and procedures were in place."
"In Germany, skepticism towards legal anti-discrimination regulations remains high," commented racism expert Nicole Bosch from the European Forum for Migration Studies, which contributed to the FRA report, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.
One of the areas where discrimination can be seen is laws regarding the wearing of religious symbols. The report gives the example of the decision by a court in Bavaria to upheld a ban on female teachers wearing Islamic headscarves in schools while allowing nuns to wear habits.
Discrimination in Jobs, Education and Housing
Discrimination is also seen in the job market. The report quotes research on second-generation Turkish-Germans carried out in 2006, which showed that "gatekeepers" such as personnel managers are "not only guided by relevant factors like education, qualification and work experience, but also by certain cultural stereotypes and prejudices towards Turkish migrants."
The report also said that significant discrimination in the housing market had been found in studies in Cologne, Hanover, Munich and Berlin.
Germany was also one of the countries singled out as having an educational system "that lead to a high concentration of disadvantaged and/or discriminated pupils in the lowest educational tracks." One reason for discrimination in education, the report says, is resistance to educating immigrant children in their native language. The report gives the example of the city of Dietzenbach in the state of Hesse which decreed German to be the single language in the 12 city nursery schools.
However the report did also single out a number of initiatives which were promising. A campaign in Berlin was introduced to encourage young migrants to apply for vocational training in the administration, police and fire services, while the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia has introduced an action plan to encourage young people with an immigration background to become teachers.
Large companies were also leading the fight against discrimination. In December 2006 the companies Deutsche Bank, DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche BP and Deutsche Telekom jointly signed a "diversity charter," where they commit themselves to promoting diversity in their companies.
As part of efforts to promote diversity, the German bank Commerzbank has set up a "silence room" in Frankfurt which can be used as a place of prayer for Muslim employees, while Deutsche Bank is establishing private worship and meditation rooms for employees of all religious beliefs.