Germany's Inner Turmoil

April 14, 1992

For Germany's two major parties, the obvious lesson to be learned from a right-wing resurgence in two key by-elections last week is that something must be done to stem a flood of immigrants and asylum-seekers. More than 400,000 persons pouring in this year from Eastern Europe and the Third World are overwhelming the nation's ability to maintain an open-door policy. As a result, liberal ideals invoked to counter memories of the Hitler era are, instead, creating conditions on which hatred and bigotry flourish.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats have been playing games with the asylum issue for months, in hope of gaining political advantage. Such tactics boomeranged on both parties April 5 when each lost ground in provincial strongholds to right-wing parties capitalizing on popular resentment toward foreigners.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) agree that Germany cannot absorb or afford so large an influx. But the CDU has been insisting on a change in the constitution while the SPD has been loath to retreat from what is seen as one of the anti-Nazi bulwarks of post-war Germany. Now, for their mutual self-preservation, an accommodation is being sought.

What is happening in Germany is not unlike the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Party in France, another nation obsessed with a wave of immigration that threatens to dilute its culture and social cohesion. But because Germany is Germany, its troubles cause Angst well beyond its borders.

Gone is the euphoria that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two postwar German states. Higher taxes, massive unemployment, lost budget and trade surpluses, cultural antagonisms, crime, insecurity, uncertainty, even recession -- all these problems have angered a public that resents having to pay the upkeep of thousands of Auslander who are not allowed to work even if they want to. Local governments chafe at having to foot the bills.

Neo-Nazi violence has been unleashed by skinheads and thugs who attack and harass aliens. But most of those who cast their ballots for the Republikaner Party in Baden-Wuerttemberg or the German Peoples Union in Schleswig-Holstein on April 5 were ordinary citizens, many of them young first-time voters who were protesting asylum policy. Their unrest promises to make Germany more inward-looking and less willing to assume the European leadership its neighbors sometimes want and sometimes dread.

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