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Echoes of the Past
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Is it possible history is repeating itself?

n the year following reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, there were fewer than 60 reported attacks on Jewish property. By 1994, the number of incidents had peaked at 937. While subsequent years have seen a lower number of violent attacks on minorities and foreigners, some have noted that the intensity of the assaults has increased—including the 1995 firebombing of the nation’s oldest synagogue.

     Jews are far from the only victims. In April last year, a 53-year-old woman was violently assaulted as she left a subway in Essen, suffering repeated knife-wounds to the head, shoulders and back. Motive? She was Turkish. Her assailant, a 16-year-old neo-Nazi, screamed anti-foreigner obscenities during the assault.

     Organized violence and acts of intolerance against racial, religious and ethnic minorities have continued to rise throughout the decade. As the U.S. State Department noted in their 1996 Country Report on Human Rights for Germany, “[T]here [was] a significant number of attacks on property or persons, and foreigners were disproportionately the victims.” But more alarming is what has been identified as the emanation point of the underlying problem.

     In a 1994 report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which detailed the most severe and sustained human rights violations in Germany since World War II, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur underscored one section by noting that the trouble did not start with neo-Nazi skinheads, but that “This discrimination was particularly the doing of political parties.”

     That view was confirmed by German novelist Gunter Grass. Grass told the International Herald Tribune that “[T]he most dangerous thing is we have skins in the government. They are nicely dressed with beautiful hair, educated. They speak well. But they think the same way as the young kids who shave their heads and carry swastikas and demonstrate. They encourage these ideas and these brutal actions.”

     Grass’ point is clearly illustrated by Germany’s Federal Labor Minister, Norbert Blüm, who unashamedly mugged for the news cameras at a street demonstration advocating intolerance in December last year, surrounded by a phalanx of skinheads.

Broken Bones, Smashed Teeth

     Americans appalled by the beating of Rodney King might find it difficult to believe the frequency of equally violent police assaults in Germany and, even worse, the complete absence of even a pretense of justification in most cases.

     Amnesty International’s June 1995 report, Failed by the System, describes in detail numerous incidents in which German police officers brutalized and beat people, arrested them without cause and, while they were in detention, subjected them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. German police officers broke bones and teeth and inflicted sprains, bruises, and in two instances, punishment so severe that Amnesty International classified it as torture.

Germany wants very much to be treated as a normal nation. Trouble is, it does not have a normal past.-- Richard Cohen, Washington Post      In one case, police arrived on the scene to find German youths brutally beating a Muslim with baseball bats. Instead of helping him, one of the police officers joined in the brutality and kicked the victim in the groin. When he protested, one of the police officers told him to “Shut your mouth, you bastard.”

     Unfortunately, minorities fare no better when they face the justice system. In Berlin alone, out of 646 complaints against police brutality in one year, only 19 led to charges being filed and all those charged were acquitted.

     “In all but a handful of the cases brought to the attention of Amnesty International,” states the report, “the victims were foreign nationals or members of ethnic minorities.”

Deutschland Über Alles...

     Among Germany’s European neighbors, concern is magnified by the impending reality of a united Europe dominated by a Germany where political extremists are again moving closer to center stage.

     And again, these fears are amplified by German officials who appear unable to stop themselves from making comments which, to others, trigger memories that time has failed to heal.

     On the still highly contentious issue of a single European currency, German Finance Minister Theo Waigel raised the hackles when he acknowledged the inevitable: “Germany, as the biggest and most powerful economic member state, will be the leader. ...”

     But Chancellor Kohl puts German ambitions even more bluntly. A 1996 European trade publication quoted him declaring, “The future will belong to the Germans ... when we build the house of Europe.” As the British editor cryptically added, “Tomorrow the world?”

     Richard Cohen recently defined Germany’s problem in the Washington Post: “Germany wants very much to be treated as a normal nation. Trouble is, it does not have a normal past.”

Economic Reality

     Despite the apparent strength of the German economy, rampant unemployment has led to strikes, demonstrations and social upheavals not revisited since the war.

     In February this year, the Labor Office announced there were now 4,658,300 jobless in Germany—representing 12.2 percent of the workforce. This is up from only 3.2 percent in 1980. Although even these official figures represent an unemployment problem worse than at war’s end and any time since, observers say actual numbers are far more serious with some estimates of up to 6 million out of work.

     Unable to find or implement solutions, Labor Minister Blüm is leading the political field in attempts to deflect attention by blaming the country’s problems on traditional scapegoats—minorities and “foreigners.”

     This political sleight of hand is particularly prevalent among German politicians who are also representatives of one of the two churches in Germany which are, though not state churches, intimately interconnected with political affairs—the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church.

     To Americans raised with the concept of separation of Church and State, the German system is foreign indeed. It is unique even by church-friendly European standards. It is a relationship forged under Hitler himself in 1933.

     Hitler saw the churches—particularly the Catholic Church with its allegiance outside the country—as a threat to his goal of a unified nation. “We do not want any other God than Germany itself,” was his stated view.

     But to consolidate his authority Hitler was forced to forge an agreement with them.

     Under this agreement, to this day the government collects a “church tax” from all German citizens. This currently amounts to about 17 billion DM (approximately $10 billion) annually, which the government hands over directly to the churches’ coffers.

     “These [Catholic and Lutheran] denominations and the Jewish Community,” said the State Department in its 1996 report, “hold a special legal status as corporate bodies under public law, giving them, for instance, the right to participate in a state-administered church tax system. State governments subsidize church-affiliated schools and provide religious instruction in schools and universities for those belonging to the Protestant, Catholic or Jewish faith.”

     Yet despite this economic boon, all is not well in the churches today. The major Christian denominations are experiencing declining attendance internationally. But nowhere is this as dramatic as in Germany.

     To escape the burden of paying church tax, the individual citizen has to formally resign from his church. Currently, an average of 400,000 Germans take this step every year. This is more than a crisis in faith. It is an economic Armageddon for the churches.

     Freedom has conducted its own investigations in Germany and learned that the crisis facing the two churches is far more than just the significant portion of the $1 billion lost from annual church taxes.

     The churches own seven banks each. These banks generate roughly $9 billion in revenues yearly. The largest real estate owner in Germany is the Catholic Church. The second largest is the Lutheran Church.

     “The [Catholic and Protestant] churches have a great deal of financial and lobbying power,” says Klaus J. Meyer of the German Ministry of Justice. “They are political forces.”

     One source told Freedom, “No matter what they say, no matter what they do, the criticism of new religions is absolutely a matter of money. The old churches have a huge empire. But simple arithmetic says they cannot tolerate losing 400,000 members per year for long. They are responding in desperation.”

     Ironically, while the traditional churches are losing members, Germany, like much of Europe, is at the same time undergoing something of a spiritual revival, with new religions and interest in Asian and other philosophies growing.

     Whatever the real reason for the mass dissatisfaction with the old religions, church leaders have not failed to notice the growth in other faiths. In response, they have orchestrated an enormous, combined effort of bureaucracy, lobbying and media manipulation over recent years to establish and promote the propaganda of a veritable army of “Sect Priests.”

     These are joined by “Sect Political Commissars,” appointed by the major political parties to work with the Sect Priests in a marriage of convenience—the churches lashing out at their wrongly perceived “competitors,” and the politicians seeking to deflect attention from their failures.

     The job of the Sect Commissars is “supposedly to advise educators, legislators, and members of the legal profession,” said David Rosser-Owen, a British historian, writer and lecturer on religious affairs, and himself a Muslim. “But their regard for truth and the human dignity of their subjects makes them the true heirs of their Soviet forebears.”

There is a close, if not actually incestuous, relationship between the two churches and the government.--  David Rosser-Owen Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Germany      Rosser-Owen visited Germany in 1996 as a member of the British “Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Germany.” Including two members of the House of Lords and several other prominent scholars, the Committee interviewed representatives of 17 minority groups which have experienced politically motivated discrimination in Germany, and also met with federal and state officials.

     “What we encountered was profoundly disturbing,” said Rosser-Owen. “Although Germany is definitely a plural democracy, it is nevertheless one that is immature, and profoundly insecure, if not actually paranoid.”

     The Committee’s report says the members were “astonished” by “the sheer scale of prejudice, discrimination and even persecution which our witnesses recounted.”

     “There is a close, if not actually incestuous, relationship between the two churches and the government,” in Germany, Rosser-Owen said. “When dealing with officials, particularly at state and federal level, one is dealing with The Party [one or the other of the major political parties]. And, increasingly, when dealing with The Party, one is dealing with the Churches.

     “Thus, because of the large numbers of both clerical and lay officials of the churches in the bureaucracy, parties, parliament, media, and other organizations, one is faced with an unhealthy concentration of both power and, to use a local word, Weltanschauung (literally, ‘world view’).” Dr. Hermann Barth of the Lutheran Church of Germany confirms the status quo. “There is no separation of church and state here, and there are strong arguments for not having a separation,” he said.

     “... You see politicians come out of the Protestant and Catholic churches and then represent their church’s views in government. The President of the Republic is an example—you can hear it in his speeches.”

     The involvement of the churches in politics starts at party level. Kohl’s party, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) has prominent members from both churches.

     Such relationships have been criticized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In 1995, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur reported that “[P]arties, spokesmen, and standard-bearers of religions are not always of such a nature as to favor tolerance and human rights. It is for this reason that more and more states forbid the establishment of political parties on exclusively or principally religious bases.”

Echoes of the Past by Peter Mansell continued...
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