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‘Us’ and ‘them’!

Sep 02,2018 - Last updated at Sep 02,2018

In 1989, as I celebrated with my German friends the reunification of their country, we all ignored the cautionary note that German society may be divided by more than the Berlin Wall. Today, it would be difficult not to recall this fact as everyone, Germans more than most, watch with alarm the rise of neo-Nazism that manifested itself in Chemnitz.

It cannot be a coincidence that almost all racist disturbances in post 1989 Germany were in East German cities; Chemnitz today, Leipzig in 2016 and Rostock, which in 1992 became site of Germany’s most racist riots since the days of Hitler. Ironically, those riots targeted immigrants from Eastern Europe, now a hotbed of xenophobia towards Syrian refugees.

The principal divide is that West Germany, like most of Western Europe, underwent thorough denazification, which amounted virtually to creating new national cultures. Also, Western Europeans did extensive soul-searching to ensure that they would never again suffer the destruction of another world war. 

The result was a new European secular society, which progressively shunned racism, militarism and xenophobia. One of the most important institutions created to enshrine this change was the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of today’s European Union.

By contrast, East Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe were dominated by Stalin’s Soviet Union, where xenophobia was the order of the day. The culture indoctrinated by Stalinism over 45 years was that all those who are not “us” want only to slaughter us, so all resources should be devoted to winning the existential fight against them. It is not surprising; therefore, that populism, racism and dictator-worship should be more visible in societies of the former Soviet Bloc. 

This is not to say that all East Germans or East Europeans are racist. We cannot forget that Angela Merkel, for one, was raised in East Germany where her father was a Lutheran pastor. Yet, under her leadership, Germany came to be seen as the living conscience of the world because of its open door policy towards Syrian refugees.

Also, to put things in perspective, neo-Nazis in Germany are a small fringe group. The world is startled not because they are poised to take over the country, but because they exist at all. However, this does not make them negligible. Like a cancer, unless they are dealt with at an early stage they may grow to become a serious threat. 

Their presence should also be a wake-up call to the Syrian and other refugees in Germany and elsewhere. When an individual or a group seeks refuge in a secular democratic society whose culture is very different from their old country, they have an obligation to integrate in their host society professionally, politically and socially.

The last thing the Syrians should do is form new ghettos in European cities where they live in isolation and rejection of their host society. Such a situation invariably breeds mutual mistrust and contempt.

You do not fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.

 

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