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'Racism poses a threat to Germany's democracy'

January 11, 2023

A new report highlights that not only violence but also structural and everyday racism remain major issues in German society. The nation's first antiracism commissioner called for an end to years of ignoring the problem.

Reem Alabali-Radovan during her press conference holding up a copy of the report 'Racism in Germany'
Reem Alabali-Radovan presented the government's first-ever annual report on racism in GermanyImage: Christian Ditsch/epd-bild

"Racism is not an abstract concept, but a painful reality for many people in our society,"  Reem Alabali-Radovan said on Wednesday, presenting the government's first annual report on racism in Germany.

"It is a major threat to democracy, as it attacks people and their human dignity, which is guaranteed to them by the Basic Law," she continued.

Alabali-Radovan, in the newly created post of federal commissioner for antiracism, stressed the need for better support for those affected and a greater recognition of everyday and structural racism across the country after "years of ignoring the issue."

Although the federal Commission for Migration, Refugees and Integration has put out reports regularly on the situation of immigrants and their descendants in Germany, this new report is meant to fill in the gaps in those studies as the first "comprehensive presentation of racism in Germany."

Alabali-Radovanˈs office collated representative studies carried out by other organizations such as the National Discrimination and Racism Monitor (NaDiRa), which conducted 5,000 telephone interviews on the topic of racism. NaDiRa's study,  "in contrast to most existing quantitative studies, not only surveyed members of the majority population but also…groups potentially confronted with experiences of racism were interviewed about their perspectives."

Although Germany does not as of yet have a standard legal definition of racism, the new report utilized the definition given by a 2021 government study on integration, which holds that racism is "beliefs and practices that are based on the systematic devaluation and exclusion as well as disadvantage of certain groups of the population, to whom biologically or culturally constructed, unchangeable and allegedly inferior characteristics and behaviors are attributed."

New Year's debate 'falling back on racist stereotypes'

Some 90% of those polled said they recognize that racism is a problem in Germany, while some 22% reported having been personally affected by it. In 2022, official crime statistics recorded 1,042 "politically motivated" violent crimes, about two-thirds of which were racist in nature. However, the report notes, independent counseling services said they received at least 1,391 calls about physical attacks.

Alabali-Radovan presented the report following at a time of the renewed debate on integration following the street violence on New Year's Eve in ethnically diverse districts of Berlin and other cities. It had become a pretext, the commissioner said, to express prejudiced assumptions about the ethnicities of people who had allegedly used explosives to attack police and emergency services.

"The debate about the situation on New Yearˈs Eve shows that even in 2023 we need to learn how to discuss societal issues without falling back on racist stereotypes," she said.

German leaders debate causes of New Year's Eve violence

'Racism is not only hate and violence'

In her remarks, Alabali-Radovan was keen to highlight, however, that racism does not just present itself as "hate and violence," but also for example in routine microaggressions, systemic exclusion from the labor and real estate markets, the lack of representation in the halls of power, police brutality and discrimination at school or in doctors' offices.

The report itself emphasizes the need to separate issues that have previously been lumped together to the detriment of the fight against them — such as conflating racism and xenophobia, as well as only examining racism against, for example, Black Germans, Muslims, Asian Germans, Jews, and Sinti or Roma people as a single uniform phenomenon.

"It should not be that a woman with a hijab and the same qualifications as a woman with a more 'German-sounding' name is four times less likely to be called in for a job interview," Alabali-Radovan said of some of the damning statistics found in the Islamophobia section of the report.

Indeed, in one survey, her office noted that "one-third of respondents said that Muslim immigration to Germany should be restricted, and 27% said that too many Muslims live in Germany."

When it came to anti-Black racism, some 886 people polled in the 2020 "Afrozensus" surveyreported having been the victim of or witnessed such attacks. 74.1% of those who reported the incidents said they were unhappy with how their complaint was handled by the authorities. The report also notes the barriers many face to reporting incidents at all — whether it's fear of reprisal, officials being dismissive, or not even knowing that what had happened to them was a crime.

The study also noted the issue of discrimination against Germans of Asian heritage, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. About half of the 700 Asian Germans surveyed said they had experienced racism relating directly to false perceptions about the pandemic. That is not to say, the report stressed, that anti-Asian racism — including violent attacks — was not a major issue in Germany before 2020.

The group facing the most open enmity, the report said, were those with Sinti and Roma backgrounds. "Some 29% of inhabitants…admitted to harboring antipathy towards these groups. This result is, with a view to the genocide against Sinti and Roma [during the Holocaust], more than alarming."

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'Report is overdue and urgently needed'

With these issues in mind, Alabali-Radovan announced that her office was planning to implement the following measures in the coming year: strengthen community-based counseling services, ensure these services were better connected to one another, create an expert panel to advise government antiracism policy including creating a legal definition of racism, tighten up legislation against hate speech on the internet, and make sure that leaders on the state, city and local levels are more engaged with antiracism.

Germany's independent Federal Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Ferda Atamanwelcomed the report as an "overdue and urgently needed sign."

"This is the first time the government has made it clear that combating racism must be a top priority," she said. "The report shows: racism remains a problem in Germany."

Edited by Rina Goldenberg

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.