The federal government has released its latest evaluation on the country's status, 26 years after reunification. Leaders are worried about rising xenophobia and lagging economic progress in the east.
In a report on the Status of German Unity released by the cabinet on Wednesday, leaders expressed concern about the increasing incidents of anti-immigrant and right-wing attacks, especially in eastern states that were part of the former German Democratic Republic.
Presenting the report, Social Democrat Iris Gleicke said she was "very upset" with the development. Right-wing attacks were now being carried out from the ranks of normal citizens or accepted by them. She said she expected the federal government and state and district administrations to "act decisively."
The document said that xenophobia, right-wing extremism and intolerance could lead to destroying all chances for increasing immigration in a region where the dwindling population could benefit from immigrants. It also expressed concern that the former East German states, other than Berlin, had the lowest ratio of foreigners compared to their western counterparts. This proved that anti-migrant violence was not because of a high proportion of refugees.
According to a report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, there was an average of 10.5 extremist attacks for a million people in the western states. Eastern states like Mecklenburg-West Pomerania showed 58.7 attacks for a million people, followed by 51.9 in Brandenburg and 49.6 in Saxony.
"We East Germans have to take the matter into our own hands and decide whether we want to protect our cities and villages or leave them to the brown nightmare," Gleicke said, referring to the brown uniforms worn during the Nazi regime. People were obliged to not look away when people or refugee shelters were being attacked, she added.
Migrants essential for development
The report said the eastern part of Germany was catching up with its western half when it came to economic development and regional governments were doing a good job in training employees and improving the quality of life and the environment. However, compared to northern, southern and western Germany, the region still lagged behind in terms of economic performance, income, health and life expectancy.
The migration of skilled foreigners and EU citizens into the east would therefore help stabilize the decline in the number of people and offset the effect of an increasingly ageing population. A majority of refugees in Germany were under 30 years old and could therefore be trained for jobs. However, the eastern states needed to develop a richer culture of welcoming foreigners if they wanted a better future, the report said.
Many East Germans, especially those with advanced skill sets, left their hometowns to look for more lucrative opportunities in the west after reunification in 1990. Consequently, the population in these areas declined. Neo-Nazi groups sprouted in several states, including Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Saxony, home to the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Of late, these groups have used terror attacks and the influx of refugees to highlight the failure of the government and gain public support. In 2014, members of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) began marches in the Saxon town of Dresden to protest what they perceived as the rising influence of Muslims. Mainstream political parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD) have also used these arguments to attract voters in regional elections.
Attacks on refugee shelters and asylum shelters have been on the rise across Germany after the country opened its borders to over one million migrants last year - mostly from the conflict-ridden Middle East and Africa. Nearly 1,050 cases of arson on refugee homes were registered in 2015. This year, the figures have already crossed 700 until now, according to the Federal Police Office.
mg/msh/blc (AFP, KNA, epd)