Xenophobia finds a foothold among those who feel left behind

Stefan Berg writes: I recently ran into a man in Brandenburg who, for no obvious reason, began to rail against German President Joachim Gauck before spitting on the ground and storming away. Another time, I overheard a loud discussion about refugees in a bus, one that escalated into an exchange of ideas for how best to neglect or even abuse migrants: by giving them only bread and water, for instance, or keeping them in cages. In the nearby butcher shop, you can find people who don’t care much about freedom — people who demand a “clear position,” a “bit more Putin” and less “palaver in the talk-shop,” by which they mean the German parliament in Berlin. Outside the butcher’s, there’s a parked car with the bumper sticker: “death penalty for child abusers.”

In its report on the state of German unity, which was celebrated on Monday, the government warned that Eastern Germany’s xenophobia represents a danger to social harmony. No matter where it takes place, xenophobia can be dangerous for its victims, whether in East or West. But the government in Berlin has identified a greater danger in Eastern Germany — one that threatens society as a whole.

Every time a snarling horde marches against a refugee home in Saxony, every time the chancellor is confronted with hateful tirades during a public appearance, I wonder if this behavior is typical for Eastern Germany. At first glance, my answer is: No. The majority of Eastern Germans clearly adhere to the rules of decency and democracy. Nevertheless, something “typically Eastern German” can still be identified in these excesses. [Continue reading…]

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