Germany has no monopoly on hate, violence, xenophobia in a Europe showing signs of its old madness, but when it erupts in the anti-foreigner riots that have shaken Rostock and other cities in the past ten days, all the world shudders. Ghosts of the Nazi past are always prowling, placing a terrible burden on millions of young Germans innocent of Hitler's crimes and inciting a tiny militant minority -- mostly skinheads -- to the use of fists and stones and, yes, arms raised stiff in salute.
It happened from time to time when Germany was divided, but the West was too prosperous and the East too controlled for right-wing extremism to flourish. This time the unrest is of a far different order of magnitude. Frustration stalks the old East German states, where the first experience of democracy has too often meant the loss of employment. Foreigners flood over the borders, beckoned by an open-door asylum law with a guaranteed safety net, and ethnic Germans pour in from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Even plush West German states feel the pinch of subsidies flowing eastward at the rate of $100 billion a year.
This is a witch's brew for trouble -- and trouble there is. With 500,000 asylum-seekers arriving this year, 250,000 ethnic Germans expected and 200,000 refugees from Yugoslavia, many eastern German towns already plagued by 40 percent unemployment are overwhelmed. Foreigners are housed in tent villages and public buildings while their petitions for permanent residence crawl along a court system that cannot handle the workload.