Ger­man media, celebs rally for refugees af­ter protests

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ELOI ROUYERE

Ger­many may have wit­nessed vi­o­lent anti-refugee protests this week — but the mes­sage from the coun­try’s media and celebri­ties is a loud and de­ter­mined welcome for peo­ple flee­ing the hor­rors of war.

“We’re help­ing,” Ger­many’s Bild news­pa­per splashed in large letters on its front page on Satur­day.

The t abloid, which has launched a high-pro­file char­ity cam­paign to as­sist refugees, added: “The whingers and the xeno­phobes don’t speak in our name.”

Ger­many is ex­pect­ing an un­prece­dented 800,000 asy­lum seek­ers this year as Europe grap­ples with its big­gest mi­gra­tion cri­sis since World War II.

While many be­lieve that Ger­many’s wealth — com­bined with the dark legacy of its Nazi past — mean it has a unique re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide safe haven to the per­se­cuted, not ev­ery­one has been happy to see refugee cen­ters spring­ing up across the coun­try.

Far-right protesters have tar­geted mi­grants and their ac­com­mo­da­tion with ar­son at­tacks, vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions and as­saults — par­tic­u­larly in the for­mer com­mu­nist east, which still lags be­hind the west in terms of jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties a quar­ter- cen­tury af­ter re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

The eastern town of Hei­de­nau has be­come a sym­bol of Ger­many’s strug­gle to ab­sorb the huge wave of ar­rivals, with dozens in­jured in clashes last week­end be­tween po­lice and ex­treme-right ac­tivists op­posed to a new lo­cal refugee cen­ter.

Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, vis­it­ing the cen­ter this week, was booed by a crowd who called her a traitor.

In the media, though, many out­lets have added their voices to Bild’s in call­ing for refugees to be wel­comed.

The news mag­a­zine Der Spiegel ran two dif­fer­ent cov­ers this week: the first, ti­tled “Dark Ger­many,” show­ing a refugee cen­ter in flames; the sec­ond, ti­tled “Bright Ger­many” bear­ing a mes­sage of hope, with mi­grant chil­dren re­leas­ing bal­loons into the sky.

“It’s up to us to de­cide how we’re go­ing to live. We have the choice,” the mag­a­zine said.

In Mu­nich, the Sud­deutsche Zeitung news­pa­per of­fered its read­ers a prac­ti­cal guide for how to do­nate clothes and food to the new ar­rivals.

‘Ger­many is re­dis­cov­er­ing

it­self’

A slew of celebri­ties, too, have come out to show sup­port for peo­ple seek­ing new lives in Ger­many.

“Dear refugees, it’s good that you’re here,” Ger­man Real Madrid player Toni Kroos said in com­ments re­ported by the press, “be­cause it al­lows us to test our val­ues and show re­spect to oth­ers.”

The ac­tor Til Sch­weiger is among the most prom­i­nent promi­grant voices in Ger­man showbiz, while rock singer Udo Lin- den­berg is hop­ing to or­ga­nize a ma­jor Ber­lin con­cert against an­timi­grant hate, slated for Oct. 4.

This is not the first time Ger­many has seen a spate of racist in­ci­dents — nor the first time it has wit­nessed an out­pour­ing of calls for tol­er­ance in re­sponse.

In 2000, then chan­cel­lor Ger­hard Schroeder called for an “upris­ing of de­cent peo­ple” af­ter a syn­a­gogue was burned down in the western city of Dues­sel­dorf.

Ger­many is “a tol­er­ant and open coun­try,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere in­sisted in an in­ter­view with the news­pa­per Die Welt on Satur­day, blast­ing those who “be­lieve they rep­re­sent the silent ma­jor­ity when they prey on for­eign­ers.”

In an ed­i­to­rial en­ti­tled “Who we are,” the pa­per said that in spite of the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, the pos­i­tive re­sponse from or­di­nary Ger­mans is “chang­ing the face of Ger­many,” a na­tion that is “in the process of re­dis­cov­er­ing it­self” by wel­com­ing large num­bers of peo­ple in need.

In Jan­uary, a sur­vey by the non-profit Ber­tels­mann Foun­da­tion found the Ger­man public largely sym­pa­thetic to the refugees; 60 per­cent said they were ready to welcome the new­com­ers, up from 49 per­cent three years ago.

But the study also noted that the coun­try re­mains di­vided on the ques­tion of whether immigration is an op­por­tu­nity for Europe’s eco­nomic pow­er­house, or a bur­den.

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