The premiers of three eastern German states have defended the former East Germany against accusations of neo-Nazism in a newspaper article. This comes after a number of anti-refugee incidents across the region.
Premiers of eastern German states on Sunday warned against viewing xenophobia as a phenomenon that is particular to their region, calling it a problem that all Germans had to tackle together.
In remarks to the "Welt am Sonntag" paper, the premier of the state of Brandenburg, Dietmar Woidke, said xenophobia was a Germany-wide development, as could be seen by the fact that arson attacks on refugee shelters had taken place in western German states such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg as well.
Thuringia's premier, Bodo Ramelow, echoed Woidke's comments, telling the paper that hostility toward refugees was "a problem for all Germany that we must combat in all of Germany."
"At the moment, refugee shelters are burning night after night all across Germany. And the hot spots for far-right violence are spread in all directions," he said.
'Get rid of racist attitudes'
Stanislaw Tillich, the premier of Saxony - which has seen several incidents of xenophobic violence in recent days, notably at a refugee shelter in the town of Heidenau - also called the problem "a challenge for the whole country and society," where it was necessary to "try every day to get racist and inhuman attitudes out of people's heads."
But Tillich also gave a critical assessment of developments in his state, saying "there is a far-right scene in Saxony that should not be underestimated: people who trample on our values and attack democracy, who stir up hatred of others and are violent."
He conjectured that the fear of change could be stronger than in the east of Germany than in the west, and that people in the east could be scared of losing all that they had worked for after reunification in 1990.
The "Welt am Sonntag" also cited a study it had carried out which showed that attacks on refugees and asylum-seeker shelters were particularly prevalent where the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) was represented in city councils.
It said the NPD had received seats on councils in several places where the most anti-refugee incidents had occurred, such as Dresden, Heidenau and Freital.
The party has never crossed the 5-percent threshold necessary to be represented in Germany's federal parliament, or Bundestag, but has managed to gain representation at a state level 11 times, including in the current parliament in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
A bid to have the party outlawed failed in 2003.
tj/bk (epd, AFP)