Former Chancellor to Oversee Anti-Racism Group | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.07.2006
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Germany

Former Chancellor to Oversee Anti-Racism Group

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made a rare public appearance this week to announce that he's taking over the reins of an anti-racism group that fights xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

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The group encourages others to speak out against right-wing extremism

For the first time since he left office 10 months ago, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made a public appearance this week in Berlin. He spoke this time in a new capacity as head of a national iniative called "Gesicht Zeigen!" (Show Your Face!), which acts against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

A response to xenophobic crime

In response to a series of violent crimes by right-wing extremists in the early 1990s, Schröder's former spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye founded "Gesicht Zeigen!" in 2000. He was aided in the endeavor by Paul Spiegel, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who passed away in April 2006.

Heye said Schröder had always made sure that programs to battle right-wing extremism were always well-funded by the government.

"I think that demonstrates that the society, and its political representatives, have a clear picture of where tolerance for intolerance should end," said Heye.

Uwe-Karsten Heye

Uwe-Karsten Heye warned again against No-Go-Areas

Shoes too big to fill?

Schröder's predecessor as head of "Gesicht Zeigen!" was Johannes Rau, who served as federal president during the former chancellor's term. The organization needed some time after Rau's death in January 2006 to reorient and find a suitable successor.

"It is a great joy for me to be able to continue the work of two really great democrats," commented Schröder, referring to Rau and Spiegel.

Tempering positive World Cup impressions of tolerance

Schröder was encouraged that the World Cup had given Germany the opportunity to show itself to the world as an open, tolerant country.

"Those who went abroad during the World Cup, as I did, sensed that an entirely new view of Germany had developed," said Schröder. "Now it's important to continue implementing what became visible to others in everyday life."

Johannes Rau, rechts, begrüßt Gerhard Schröder

Schröder's predecessor is deceased former President Johannes Rau

Founder and chairman Uwe-Karsten Heye's view of the current situation in Germany was a bit more sober than Schröder's: "There are places where people with darker skin -- African-Germans and African-Europeans -- shouldn't go," he said, repeating the warning he had made several weeks before the World Cup.

Heye said he felt it was necessary to refer to the so-called No-Go-Areas again, since he had the impression that the issue had been ignored since the furor surrounding it died down days ahead of the World Cup.

Diversity in programming

One of the most visible projects "Gesicht Zeigen!" sponsors is an annual, one-week campaign against racism, which coincided this year in March with the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Sophia Oppermann, the organization's managing director, explained that a bilateral discussion series in cooperation with five different embassies is another key element of their program.

Fußball und Rassismus

Soccer championships have also provided an arena to speak out against racism

Yet another highlight was a four-year exchange between foreigners living in Berlin and German students, she added.

"The Berlin immigrants went to high schools and vocational schools in the Brandenburg area to talk with the students about a particular topic," said Oppermann. "The classes were then invited to Berlin for an inter-cultural tour of the city, a visit to a mosque, and other things."

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