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Opinion

Opinion: Official lies

The scandal over the New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne has claimed a first political victim. And rightly so: There's no justification for lying to the public and deliberately withholding facts, says Felix Steiner.

Deutschland PK Köln sexuelle Übergriffe in der Silvesternacht in Köln

Cologne's mayor, Henriette Reker, and police chief, Wolfgang Albers, at their press conference on Tuesday

This has caused maximum social damage. The state needs the trust of its citizens. If people lose trust, the whole system erodes. And the hateful generalizations about foreigners, refugees and Muslims currently abounding on social networks are an indication of where that particular journey leads.

Cologne's police chief, Wolfgang Albers, the man responsible for security in Germany's fourth-largest city, systematically lied to the public over a period of several days. And not just to the public, but also to Cologne's mayor, Henriette Reker, with whom he is supposed to have a particularly trusting relationship. That in itself is a scandal. That Reker publicly distanced herself from Albers on Friday was only to be expected.

Damning new information

New, shocking revelations about what happened on New Year's Eve have come to light every day this week. On Tuesday, the police chief and the mayor held a press conference that was thin on information: Unfortunately, they didn't know anything about the suspects and their ethnic origin, they were unable to make any arrests that night, and any victims who hadn't already done so should report to the police. Who, by the way, did a fantastic job on New Year's Eve and had everything under control, according to Albers.

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

The police have reaped nothing but scorn and sharp criticism on social media for this portrayal - including from Germany's interior minister. The officers who were working in downtown Cologne on New Year's Eve couldn't take it anymore. Internal reports and detailed accounts began making their way into the hands of journalists.

And that information tells a different story: Around 100 people were stopped and checked or taken into police custody that night. The majority identified themselves with Syrian passports or asylum papers. Only a few of them had been in Germany for longer than three months, according to officers who were on duty. But that's exactly what the mayor, prompted by the police chief, took issue with at the press conference on Tuesday: There was no evidence to suggest that the molesters were refugees, she said. But anyone who had access to internal police data banks knew even then that this was a lie.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

What would cause the head of the police force - a qualified attorney with a flawless political career - to lie so obviously? Because he didn't want it to be true? Because he didn't want to play into the hands of those who have condemned Germany's open-door policy for refugees and spread hatred of foreigners?

Because he didn't want to cast general suspicion over the majority of law-abiding migrants and refugees living here? These are all honorable motives. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Lying can never be the answer, because the damage is even greater when the truth finally comes to light.

Germany doesn't need lies, but rather honesty in the debate about the massive challenges facing our country. Because they are putting our society to the test in an unprecedented manner - even in the absence of the kind of horrific events that unfolded on New Year's Eve.

It would be only honest, for example, to accept that we now have many young men living in this country who come from cultures where women who go out at night, who dance, who drink alcohol, who wear tight clothing and who don't cover their hair are labeled whores. And that it will take much more than a language course or an Arabic translation of our constitution to integrate such men into our society.

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