Xeno­pho­bia re­presses growth in parts of Ger­many

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ANGELA WA­TERS

BER­LIN | Waves of xeno­pho­bia and clashes over im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy are not only po­lit­i­cally ex­plo­sive in some of Ger­many’s poor­est re­gions, but they are also bad for busi­ness.

A quar­ter-cen­tury af­ter re­uni­fi­ca­tion, a large part of the once-com­mu­nist East Ger­many still strug­gles to catch up to the more pros­per­ous west. But now, anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment and the suc­cess of far-right par­ties in the face of a flood of Mid­dle Eastern, North African and South Asian refugees pose new threats to the busi­ness cli­mate and fears for in­vestors in a re­gion still re­cov­er­ing from Marx­ist con­trol.

“Xeno­pho­bia, right-wing ex­trem­ism and in­tol­er­ance pose a great dan­ger to not only the so­ci­ety, but also the econ­omy of the nine newer states,” con­cluded a re­port from the Amadeu An­to­nio Foun­da­tion. “Eastern Ger­many will have good de­vel­op­ment prospects only when it be­comes a cos­mopoli­tan re­gion in which all peo­ple liv­ing there feel at home and par­tic­i­pate in the so­cial life.”

Timo Re­in­frank, di­rec­tor of the Ber­lin­based foun­da­tion ded­i­cated to com­bat­ing right-wing ex­trem­ism, said he reg­u­larly re­ceives com­plaints from peo­ple of color who feel un­safe trav­el­ing and work­ing in cer­tain parts of Ger­many.

“There is al­ways a de­bate over whether or not black artists and ac­tors should go to eastern Ger­many,” Mr. Re­in­frank said. “This is a large prob­lem for these peo­ple, who are of­ten­times greeted at the train sta­tions by neo-Nazis.”

The govern­ment’s hopes to bol­ster the do­mes­tic film in­dus­try, which in­cludes tax breaks for free-spend­ing movie pro­duc­tion sets, took a hit at a re­cent shoot in the Baltic town of Ro­s­tock, af­ter lo­cals as­sem­bled and ha­rassed a black model work­ing at the scene.

“This is a huge prob­lem for com­pa­nies be­cause the ac­tors don’t want to come back,” Mr. Re­in­frank said. “There is in­creas­ing state fund­ing and pro­mo­tion for shoot­ing movies and com­mer­cials in eastern Ger­many, but it won’t help.”

De­spite a heavy in­flow of in­vest­ment from Ber­lin and for­mer West Ger­man states and com­pa­nies, gross do­mes­tic prod­uct per capita in the states that made up East Ger­many re­main just 67 per­cent of those in the rest of the coun­try, while the un­em­ploy­ment rate is markedly higher.

Al­though im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy has al­ways been a sen­si­tive is­sue in Ger­man pol­i­tics, the sit­u­a­tion be­came par­tic­u­larly in­flamed when Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel last year an­nounced a vir­tual open-door pol­icy for refugees flee­ing Syria and other world cri­sis spots while many other Euro­pean coun­tries were try­ing to shut their borders. The re­sult: Ger­many took in more than 1 mil­lion mi­grants last year, five times the num­ber from 2014, strain­ing so­cial ser­vices and spark­ing a po­lit­i­cal back­lash. The resistance is par­tic­u­larly fierce in the poorer eastern parts of the coun­try.

Even the tac­i­turn and low-key chan­cel­lor has ac­knowl­edged that her wel­com­ing pol­icy was a mis­take, leav­ing lo­cal and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties un­pre­pared for the crush that fol­lowed.

“If I were able to, I would turn back time by many, many years, so that I could have pre­pared the whole govern­ment and the au­thor­i­ties for the sit­u­a­tion, which hit us out of the blue in the late sum­mer of 2015,” Ms. Merkel said in an ex­tra­or­di­nary mea culpa to the na­tion in Septem­ber.

The back­lash has fueled the rise of the anti-im­mi­grant Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many po­lit­i­cal party in lo­cal elec­tions. The party is now the third most pop­u­lar in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to polls, and even beat Ms. Merkel’s Chris­tian Democrats in lo­cal elec­tions in Septem­ber in the chan­cel­lor’s home state of Meck­len­burg-Western Pomera­nia, once part of East Ger­many.

The suc­ces­sor to the Nazi Party, the Na­tional Demo­cratic Party has had a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity, too. In the western state of Hessen, the party’s share of votes in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions jumped from low sin­gle dig­its to 14.2 per­cent this year, ac­cord­ing to elec­tion of­fi­cials.

Even in the lib­eral, free­wheel­ing Ger­man cap­i­tal of Ber­lin, Timo Eh­leringer, 22, said he can the right­ward move­ment.

“There is a shift in pub­lic opin­ion,” said Mr. Eh­leringer, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Her­tie School of Gov­er­nance in Ber­lin. “Es­pe­cially in con­ver­sa­tions with older rel­a­tives, you get more Is­lam­o­pho­bia and ho­mo­pho­bia, but you also see more posts on Face­book against Mus­lims. Ger­many is po­lar­ized.”

Dres­den’s im­age

The eastern Ger­man city of Dres­den has long been renowned as a cen­ter of cul­ture, art and ar­chi­tec­ture. But since last year, the city gar­nered head­lines across Europe for giv­ing birth to the anti-im­mi­grant move­ment PEGIDA, the Ger­man acro­nym for the Pa­tri­otic Euro­peans Against the Is­lamiza­tion of the West. The group or­ga­nizes weekly marches through the city cen­ter to protest im­mi­gra­tion and pro­mote tra­di­tional Ger­man cul­ture.

PEGIDA has be­come a ma­jor ob­sta­cle for global Ger­man firms look­ing to at­tract for­eign in­vest­ment and em­ploy the best and the bright­est from around the world.

“It’s a prob­lem when these pic­tures of xeno­pho­bia reach the pub­lic,” said Cle­mens Fuest, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Eco­nomic Stud­ies, a think tank in Mu­nich. “It is bad for all peo­ple who have busi­nesses in Ger­many that are look­ing for for­eign in­vestors. The whole thing leads to un­cer­tainty.”

Em­ploy­ers such as Dres­den’s Max Planck In­sti­tute, an in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, say they have been forced to pro­vide ex­tra safety mea­sures for for­eign em­ploy­ees.

“We pro­vide taxi vouch­ers for our re­searchers who have to work late at night and feel un­safe,” said in­sti­tute spokes­woman In­grid Rothe. “A lot of our em­ploy­ees sched­ule their work to avoid the demon­stra­tions.”

Other com­pa­nies side­step Dres­den al­to­gether.

Microsoft re­ceived ma­jor cov­er­age in the Ger­man press last year when it can­celed a 1,600-mem­ber con­fer­ence in the city be­cause of PEGIDA demon­stra­tions.

Mr. Fuest and other an­a­lysts fear that while groups like the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many and PEGIDA say they are fight­ing im­mi­gra­tion in the name of sav­ing Ger­many, the Con­ti­nent’s eco­nomic en­gine is be­com­ing ever more de­pen­dent on im­mi­grants. Even un­skilled mi­grants, who take jobs Ger­mans are re­luc­tant to do, help keep the eco­nomic en­gine go­ing.

“Ger­mans are not hav­ing enough chil­dren, so we need qual­i­fied im­mi­gra­tion,” Mr. Fuest said. “But we aren’t get­ting this type of mass qual­i­fied mi­gra­tion, so we have to see how we can make the best of the mi­gra­tion we do have.”

He said anti-for­eign sen­ti­ment is also af­fect­ing one of Ger­many’s best sources of ed­u­cated im­mi­grants: its uni­ver­si­ties.

“Stu­dents are also get­ting scared off,” Mr. Fuest said. “These are peo­ple who used to come to study and most likely stay in the Ger­man work­force.”

For the ma­jor­ity of Ger­mans who ac­cept in­creased im­mi­gra­tion, the neg­a­tive ef­fects of con­tentious de­bate over refugee pol­icy and im­mi­gra­tion are start­ing to sink in. Some, like Stephan Becker, the mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Dres­den’s Taschen­berg­palais Kempin­ski Ho­tel, say more or­di­nary Ger­mans must speak out to pro­tect the coun­try’s im­age and its busi­ness cli­mate.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Protests have erupted re­cently as Ger­many takes in mi­grants. Resistance is par­tic­u­larly fierce in the poorer eastern parts of the coun­try.

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