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See Nihilist Punks for What They Are : Germany: Violence has little to do with neo-Nazi resurgence, and everything to do with major economic dislocations and the "refugee" problem.

June 04, 1993|DANIEL M. EVANS | Daniel M. Evans, a Los Angeles attorney, is teaching American constitutional law and international business law at the School of Law at the University of Greifswald. and New refugee wall

GREIFSWALD, Germany — We cannot understand the real issues in Germany by calling up the specter of Nazis or by categorizing the streethoods as "Little Hitlers." Some people seem eager to believe in a theory of a German/Nazi mentality of inevitable aggressive brutality.

This unfortunate speculation clouds understanding of the real problems, which are bad enough. I have seen a number of young toughs around Germany, but Nazi is not the accurate description. The young toughs (skinheads, etc.) sometimes use the swastika, but their favored symbols tend to be crude tattoos, biker clothing, L.A. Raider jackets, U.S. Confederate battle flags and violent rock musicians.

There are skinhead gangs but nothing that anyone could call an organized political movement. So far, the small political parties that really are ultra-right have not been able able to capture the marauding youth.

Germans are so sensitive about their Nazi past that they have banned all Nazi symbols and groups. This is probably a mistake. It is certainly contrary to American constitutional traditions. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled local laws that banned Nazi symbols. When something is banned, agitators will glorify the taboo in order to attack the Establishment. German skinheads insult German established society by flaunting the most important taboos--forbidden Nazi symbols. This does not show resurgent Nazism; it shows anti-Establishment anger and nihilism.

Young German toughs should be recognized for what they are: disaffected, sullen, troubled youths with little to do, no direction and a lot of energy. By calling these young toughs Nazis we run the risk of giving these nihilist punks an identity they originally never had. They are not a political movement. They are dangerous.

Happily, unlike the days of the Wiemar Republic, most Germans are not silent. Demonstrations against violence and in support of foreigners draw many more people than the riots do.

The real context of the violence has little to do with neo-Nazi resurgence, and everything to do with major economic dislocations and the "refugee" problem. Real unemployment here is about 40% and major industries of the old German Democratic Republic will not survive. Almost nobody wants the GDR back, but millions of eastern Germans are troubled by the loss of economic security.

At the same time, nearly 500,000 "refugees" per year take advantage of the German Constitution. Until Bonn approved a controversial law last week curbing the influx of refugees, the constitution guaranteed the right of political asylum to anyone. The Bosnian refugees are genuine, but many others are Romanian Gypsies with a flimsy excuse for asylum. Gypsies have proved to be terrible guests, yet Germans are reluctant to crack down because, after all, the Nazis once tried to eliminate the Gypsies. Ordinary Germans see the Gypsy street crime and hear of the $5 billion per year spent on the refugees. Resentment is inevitable.

One Greifswald shopkeeper with an unusual enthusiasm for dealing with his customers tells me that he, and virtually everyone else, played along with the GDR regime. He is outraged that so many people now deny participation and claim to be "victims," first of GDR persecution, now of the economic malaise in eastern Germany. According to my shopkeeper friend, this "victimization" philosophy has become a convenient rationalization for attacks against other ethnic groups and for riots. A familiar story.

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