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Germany

"Hand on Heart", I'm a Xenophobe!

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has taken the bull by the horns in a controversial book where he calls Germans xenophobic at heart. His comments have touched a raw nerve and kicked up a row among politicians.

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Prerequisites for xenophobic crimes: young, hot-headed, drunk and a reputation for anti-social behaviour

The untiring debate on Germany’s beleaguered immigration policy has received a fresh injection of controversy.

This time the former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (Social Democratic Party) has raised the hackles of opposition political leaders by saying that Germans are xenophobic at heart.

In a new book called "Hand aufs Herz" or "Hand on Heart", Schmidt, a Social Democrat who ruled from 1974 to 1982, has said that Germany took in too many asylum seekers in an attempt to atone for its Nazi past.

Altbundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt

Altbundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt, aufgenommen in Darmstadt am 25. Maerz 2000. Der SPD-Politiker hat seine Forderung nach einem "Paukenschlag fuer den Osten" und einem damit verbundenen radikalen Buerokratieabbau fuer die neuen Bundeslaender bekraeftigt. Nur so koenne sich ein selbsttragender wirtschaftlicher Aufschwung entwickeln, sagte Schmidt in einem Gespraech mit der Nachrichtenagentur AP. (AP Photo/Frank Rumpenhorst)

In an excerpt that appeared in the "Bild" tabloid, he wrote, "With idealistic convictions, formed on the experiences of the Third Reich, we brought in far too many foreigners".

"There are now seven million foreigners who are not integrated, of whom only very few want to be integrated but are not being helped," Schmidt, the publisher of the leading liberal newspaper, "Die Zeit" wrote.

Schmidt's comments fuel debate on racism

Expectedly, his provocative statements have stirred a storm in Germany, where immigration is a sensitive issue given the high numbers of unemployed Germans and the frequent occurrence of racist and hate crimes directed at foreigners.

The recent release of Schmidt’s controversial book coincides with Interior Minister Otto Schily’s presentation of three separate studies analysing more than 6,000 racist attacks in recent years.

The studies concluded that violent right-wing extremists in Germany are often poorly educated males between 15 and 24 with records of anti-social behaviour who take part in racist attacks in groups after drinking binges.

About 100 people, mostly dark-skinned foreigners have been killed in a wave of far-right violence that followed German reunification in 1990. The attacks have been especially frequent in the economically depressed former communist states.

The number of attacks has lessened in the last few years after authorities began cracking down on the perpetrators.

The German government is also trying to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) which it accuses of inciting racism and blames for a series of attacks last year. The NPD has some 6,500 members and regularly holds demonstrations in a show of Neo-fascist strength.

Schmidt raises ire of politicians

Many of Germany’s seven million foreigners came to Germany in the 1950s and 1960s as so-called "guest workers" and stayed on permanently.

"Now we’re sitting here with a ...de facto multicultural society and can’t come to terms with it", Schmidt wrote. "We Germans are incapable of assimilating all seven million foreigners."

His comments have infuriated opposition politicians.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a deputy parliamentary floor leader for the conservative Christian Democrats told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper that there was racism in Germany but that it was "absurd to extrapolate these isolated incidents to say Germans are xenophobic".

According to Bosbach, Germany has shown in the past decades that it is far more willing than other European countries to take in foreigners.

Max Stadler, a member of parliament for the Free Democrats told Reuters, "in general Germans and foreigners live quite well alongside each other". He said isolated racist attacks were a sign of tension between some Germans and foreigners, but Schmidt’s "generalisation" that Germans are xenophobes was "inaccurate".

But though Schmidt has drawn criticism from politicians, he has won much praise from newspaper readers.

In a letter published in the "Bild" newspaper, one reader wrote, "Finally a politician brave enough to admit what Germans are afraid to say without being branded racists".

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