Former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye has advised foreigners to avoid certain areas of eastern Germany because of possible racist attacks. Many western papers agree with Heye, but eastern editorials are outraged.
Will the World Cup help Germany to show visitors its friendly faces?
The Mitteldeutsche Zeitung from Halle in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt wrote that as a former government spokesman, Heye must have known what would happen after he said what he said. "But did he really think about the consequences?" asked the paper. "The debate will go as usual. In the West, people will say: 'There you have it, the East is brown (the color of the Nazis). And in the East, people will be so upset about such generalizations that the necessary discussion about how safe foreigners are in our cities will fall by the wayside. Instead, the right-wing extremists will know how to use the uproar to gain sympathy for their absurd ideology. It's easy to fight a problem with a steam hammer. But sometimes that only increases the problem."
"Yes, there are right-wing thugs," conceded the Märkische Oderzeitung from Frankfurt (Oder) in the eastern state of Brandenburg. "There is a right-wing extremist milieu. Yes, Brandenburg could certainly do with more cosmopolitanism and openness. But you don't get there by placing an entire state under suspicion. To approach others without prejudice, to be open to other views is frankly not just a demand that should be addressed to us in Brandenburg."
"Can he say that?" asked Der Tagesspiegel, in Berlin, and offered the answer. "Of course he can." It's Heye's role as head of an organization that fights right-wing violence to admonish people -- and he's not saying anything that isn't true, the paper continued. "Even in liberal Potsdam there are racist attacks," it wrote, pointing to the recent beating of an Ethiopian-born German as proof. "Germany is not able to rid itself of its history. That's why an admonisher needs to be careful not to make people think that bat-carrying skinheads are a regular sight in Germany. Politicians, however, have an even greater responsibility to show that this is a cosmopolitan country that prosecutes Nazis without mercy -- so that Heye can remain silent."
Meanwhile, the Kieler Nachrichten in northern Germany said that Germans still prefer to keep quiet about xenophobic attacks. "Three weeks before the World Cup, nothing and no one should dampen the good mood," it wrote. "That's why Heye is berated like a traitor." The hysterical reactions from politicians and the warnings against possible damage to Germany's image seem hypocritical, the daily continued. "It's society's duty to protect foreigners against racist violence. Germany's image abroad will become friendlier when politicians are determined to deal with right-extremists and people stand up and show courage" against racist attacks.
In southwestern Germany, the Mannheimer Morgen said it wasn't surprising that international travel guides warned people of "no-go areas" in eastern German cities. "Naturally, the state politicians affected reject this criticism," it continued. "But the attack on German-Ethiopian Ermyas M. in Potsdam showed what reality is like. That's why the World Cup actually offers Germans a unique chance as hosts to work on their image -- as long as nothing happens."