Munich, 17 December 1997 (RFE/RL) - A German government agency has warned that the Internet is being used by some right-wing extremists to encourage racism in former Communist eastern Germany.
The government office that deals with foreign residents says in a new report that right-wing extremists are using the Internet to publicise so-called "foreigner-free zones" in the former East Germany, and to offer suggestions on how to force foreigners to stay away from cafes, discos and other public places.
The director of the office which issued the report, Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, says that right-wing extremists in at least 25 towns in former East Germany have posted information about "foreigner-free zones" in their districts, along with pledges that measures would be taken to ensure that foreigners were kept out.
Schmalz-Jacobsen also says that in some areas of eastern Germany foreign residents and foreign visitors are advised not to leave their homes alone after dark.
Germany's Interior Ministry cautioned today that the report should not be taken as a reflection of the overall situation in Germany, which enjoys a good reputation for racial tolerance. A spokesman tells RFE/RL that eastern Germany could have been targeted, because of the atmosphere of resentment there over the high rate of unemployment, which shows little sign of easing. Other Interior Ministry officials said a resentful population often expressed its discontent by criticising foreigners, which makes foreigners relatively easy prey for right-wing extremists.
About nine percent of German's 82 million population are foreigners. The biggest group are ethnic Turks, with a community of about two-million. Most of them live in Berlin and other western German cities, but there are some in eastern Germany. In recent years, Germany has also seen an influx of refugees from Bosnia and asylum seekers from Asia and the Middle East. The authorities believe there are also hundreds of illegal immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia living 'underground.'
Any outbreak of racism is strongly condemned by the authorities and by the media, which are sensitive to Germany's image abroad. The most serious incidents in recent years have been fire-bombing attacks on some hostels for foreigners. Some foreigners, including children, have been killed.
The new report on Internet racism comes at a time when Germans are alarmed at several incidents of neo-Nazism and racism in the army. About 100 incidents have come to light, but some of them actually took place several years ago. The most recent disclosure involves a prominent racist and neo-Nazi, who was invited to give a lecture at the military's leadership academy in Hamburg in January 1995. The Defence Ministry is still investigating who issued the invitation and why the incident was kept secret so long.
German officials strongly reject any suggestion that either rightwingers or neo-Nazis reflect the German population as a whole. The Interior Ministry says its has files on about 6,500 hard-core right-wing extremists. It also has files on about 35,000 people classified as Nazi sympathisers. The Ministry describes these as a "drop in the ocean," against Germany's populaton of 82 million. At the same time, they acknowledge that any form of racism is a serious problem, which damages the democratic reputation of all Germans.