Despite violence toward them, most foreigners prefer Germany

June 23, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

JENA, Germany -- Daily attacks on foreigners in Germany have made life a routine of fear for a African student named Felix Mulhanga.

But fear will not make him leave Germany.

"I love Germany, and I love Germans," he says.

He says, in fact, he thinks he would feel more insecure in his impoverished homeland, Mozambique, where civil war has percolated on and off for a generation, economic insecurity is great and crime rampant.

"I worked four weeks in a factory in Frankfurt and earned 3,600 marks [nearly $2,200]," says Mr. Mulhanga, 35. "It would take me a year to make that in Mozambique as a graduate mathematician."

He has just earned his mathematics diploma at the University of Jena, the 500-year-old school where Karl Marx earned his doctorate. He came to then-Communist East Germany six years ago, studied English for a year and then moved to Jena.

He has more freedom now than in the socialist state, when black students were segregated in a special dorm and their contacts with Germans outside school severely limited. Visitors needed a special pass to come into the foreign students' dorm.

He has a job at the school, which he could never have had before unification. The Communist government sent foreign students home immediately after they got their diplomas.

He is both typical and atypical of the foreigners in Germany.

Few immigrants come to study in a famous university. Most seek jobs in one of the world's richest countries. The Turks, who have borne the brunt of the current surge of attacks, were recruited by German industry during the "economic miracle" that has sputtered to a halt in the present recession.

But few foreigners are deterred by the violence that is sweeping through Germany. In fact, people in Turkey are reportedly lining up for visas and work permits. And despite fears expressed by Turks in Germany, few leave.

Record rush into country

Border police report record numbers of asylum-seekers coming into the country, legally and illegally; 40,000 a month now. This may be a final desperate push before Germany clamps shut its borders July 1, when a new, rigid asylum law comes into effect.

While slow to react to attacks on foreigners and asylum-seekers, Germany has moved quickly to effectively close its borders to zTC new immigrants. The interior minister announced that more than 5,000 new border police and administrators would help implement the new law.

The presence of 6.5 million foreigners in Germany and the until-now unchecked flow of new refugees and immigrants is routinely cited as feeding anti-foreigner and neo-Nazi hatreds.

Mr. Mulhanga doesn't think so.

He sees a racist aspect to government policies -- and a generation of rootless, restless, insecure and directionless youths carrying out most of the attacks.

At a crowded Italian restaurant -- where he draws little or no attention -- and in the garden of German friends, as darkness gathers over this city in the Saale River valley, he talks about racism and his life in Germany,

He has been threatened and manhandled on the street, both before and after the unification of Germany. He's been called "nigger" and "brown coal," a peculiarly East German racial insult.

Since unification, the aggression has escalated. One time, a group of hooligans fresh from a soccer game -- incendiary events in Europe -- grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him up against a wall of a store.

"A big, strong German helped me out and told them to stop," Mr. Mulhanga says.

'Rights are restricted'

Mr. Mulhanga is not very big. Nonetheless, he once fended off a skinhead who called him a racist name by menacingly hefting a paving stone.

A group of 20 skinheads last year surrounded him and a friend from Mozambique. They began punching his friend. But the two were able to break free and escape.

"They attack when there are more Germans than Mozambicans," he says.

Since he bought a car at the end of the year, he hasn't had any trouble. There hasn't been much possibility for confrontation.

"Now I'm afraid somebody will put a bomb under the car," he says, without a trace of irony.

The foreigner is compromised even when he defends himself, Mr. Mulhanga says.

"You can be thrown out of the country," he says. "I always have to think my rights are restricted."

He notes that when young Turks demonstrated over recent ethnic deaths in Solingen, the government warned that if they became violent they could be expelled from the country.

"I ask myself," he says, "if the economy runs so bad that they don't need people, would they send them back? It would be a primitive attitude toward people. It would be like colonialism."

Nationalistic law

He finds an unfortunate nationalism and even racism in the German government's failure to integrate foreigners into the country.

"Only a person with a German mother and a German father can be German," he says. Germany is considering easing the law.

He's often invited to schools to talk to young people. One told him: "OK, if somebody attacks you, tell me. I'll tell my brother; he had good contacts with skinheads."

He fears that increased pressure on the right wing, as the government bans more groups and keeps them under surveillance, might prompt them to go underground and create terrorist groups.

"But I wouldn't leave Germany even then," he says. "I've made so many good friends here, better friends than in Mozambique."

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