Opinion: Populist Electioneering Damaging German Crime Debate | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.01.2008

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Opinion: Populist Electioneering Damaging German Crime Debate

Deutsche Welle's Volker Wagener believes Hessen Premier Roland Koch's demand for radical changes in juvenile criminal law is nothing more than a populist attempt to win favor as he faces a tough re-election campaign.

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Roland Koch knows how elections are won. The Hessen premier wants to defend his seat this month and so he drops his standards. The conservative politician has chosen to follow the route of populism and has found a subject that is being widely debated at dinner tables all across the country: juvenile delinquency among foreigners in Germany.

The subject is not only old and is just a minor part of a larger problem: the brutalization of society. Ignoring the larger picture, Koch has demanded that violent foreign youngsters be punished harder and thrown out of the country faster.

He has chosen his moment well. The festive season over Christmas and the New Year is traditionally slow for news. As a result, Koch has been in the headlines for days. Everyone has heard Roland Koch's opinion. His timing is perfidious.

This has not been advantageous for either the debate or any possible solution to the problem.

Politicians on the right and the left are pulled apart in anger over which direction to take. Koch's loud exhortations from the middle-class conservative corner have been derided by the left-wing liberals who see a darker agenda at work: hostility to foreigners.

Not only a foreign problem

The truth is that there is evidence that foreign youngsters and those with a migration background regularly feature in violent crime statistics. But this is not the whole story. The problem does not come from them being foreign. Investigations show that the lives of violent German youngsters share remarkable similarities with those of culprits with migrant backgrounds.

Both sets of perpetrators come from disadvantaged social groups and areas. Their stories read the same: broken homes, borderline poverty, unfinished school careers, unemployment.

These are the childhood and youth experiences of young delinquents, whether they are named Ali, Sergei or Jürgen. The main problem in juvenile delinquency in Germany is a structural one, and only secondly -- or thirdly-- can it be regarded as a problem among foreigners or migrants.

Germany's social failings must be addressed

These failed lives and the inadequacies of social structure should not be used to excuse individuals of responsibility, but it must be accepted that German integration policy has failed at its most basic levels, and that education has failed in the early stage of kindergarten.

These weaknesses will not be repaired by harder punishments and deportations. The United States of America is an example of that. The congested prisons and draconian punishments such as the death penalty in the US have not made its towns safer.

One more thing points to a dishonest and opportunist attempt by Roland Koch to win votes through this tactical and manipulated debate: If Koch and his supporters really want to push through harder and more effective punishments for the likes of "violent Ali" and "thieving Sergei," then why has the Hesse premier cut 700 permanent police jobs and 80 permanent justice positions during his time in office?

This dangerous game will have a familiar and sad outcome. Come the day after the Hessen election on January 27, the problem will disappear from public debate -- unsolved.

Volker Wagener works at Deutsche Welle's Central News Desk (nda)

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