“Our people are in a state of fear,” said Bülent Canpolat, speaking to a Turkish delegation composed of lawmakers and media professionals on Monday at the Center for Migration and Integration (Das Zentrum für Integration und Migration in German or ZIM) in Erfurt. “There are still incidents going on here and albeit minor ones,” he added, referring to racially motivated attacks against immigrants, mainly Turks, who compose the largest minority in Germany with some 3 million people.
Medine Yılmaz, who studies public administration at the University of Erfurt, recalled some of the recent incidents she has witnessed at the school, all racially motivated but not necessarily against Turks. “A friend of mine who wears a headscarf was harassed on the bus, while another was verbally assaulted by a German racist,” she said. Yılmaz is part of an activists’ team that organizes a public marathon in the city aiming to promote diversity and awareness of racial problems in the city.
She also said volunteers, native Germans and others, will be organizing a protest on Wednesday across from the place where former central banker Thilo Sarrazin, who argued that Turkish and Arab immigrants sponged off the state and threatened Germany’s culture, will be reading his best-selling book titled “Germany Abolishes Itself.” The book, written in 2010, is full of insults and stereotypes targeting Muslims. It created an outrage in Germany when he claimed that Germany’s Muslim community was “intellectually inferior,” and its members were incapable of adapting to the German culture or learning the language.
The protesters have unsuccessfully petitioned city and state officials for the cancellation of the book reading even though the initiative called “Cancel Sarrazin” was signed by 236 institutions and individuals including state politicians from the left, the Greens, academics and trade unions, church groups and civic society organizations. They were only allowed to hold a demonstration across the street.
The racial problems are not just limited to this city or the state. In the same year when the Sarrazin’s book was published, polls produced results reflecting disturbing trends across Germany, with the majority of Germans saying that they consider Muslims a social burden the costs of which are greater than their share of production. Close to 90 percent of Germans admitted they found the book convincing, and 20 percent indicated they would vote for Sarrazin if he founded a political party.
Compared to other states in Germany, Thüringen has very few Turks, only numbering around 2000 in a population of 2.2 million people. They ranked in fifth place among all foreigners living in the state, which is 35,700, according to Bernhard Rieder, undersecretary in the interior ministry for the state of Thüringen. Most Turks live in the state capital, and many are asylum seekers. Turkish community representatives at the gathering, which took place at ZIM on Monday night, said they were very happy to see Turkish lawmakers visiting them and talking to them about problems encountered in Germany. They conveyed their grievances concerning German authorities’ treatment of immigrant and minority groups, saying that there is a need for a mental change in the approach taken by German officials.
According to Beate Tröster, general director of ZIM, Turkish politicians were the first ever group that came to the state to look into problems faced by immigrants. She admitted that she was ashamed by the murders of eight Turks, one Greek and one national policewoman by the neo-Nazi groups that originated in her state. “I can do nothing about that unfortunately,” she said, stressing that she has confidence in German authorities’ investigation into the previously unsolved murders.
The state is economically in poor condition with regard to other states in Germany and is still coping with the effects of the reunification of Germany and thus is a perfect place to nourish extremist groups.
Our people simply did not know how to respond to foreigners at first, Tröster said. “We have introduced courses in ZIM as well as in schools and universities on diversity and Islamophobia,” she said, noting that language was the main barrier to the integration of immigrants.
A Turkish delegation is on a five-day visit to Germany to be briefed on the progress in the investigation of racially motivated attacks by neo-Nazis. The delegation was invited by the German Federal Foreign Office as part of the Guest Program of the Federal Republic of Germany to inform Turkish visitors on the findings of commission inquiries that have been set up by both federal and state parliaments.
During the visit, the Turkish delegation met on Tuesday with members of the inquiry commission in the state assembly of Thuringia as well as Birgit Diezel, the speaker of the assembly. The state is also investigating the failures in the security and intelligence forces as a separate inquiry set up by the Interior Ministry. Both are looking into a string of racially motivated murders carried out across Germany by a neo-Nazi group from Thüringen that evaded detection for more than a decade.
The neo-Nazi group’s activities only came to light last November when two suspected founders, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, were found dead following an apparent murder-suicide as police closed in on them after a bank robbery, and a third alleged core member, Beate Zschaepe, turned herself in. The string of killings of small businessmen, including a florist, a tailor and fast-food stall owners -- long known as the “kebab murders” -- went unsolved for years, with authorities suspecting organized crime rather than politically motivated violence.
There were early sign indicating that neo-Nazi groups may have been behind these murders, but this was overlooked by authorities. “We were telling officials about our suspicions, but they were not listening to us,” Canpolat said, recalling the outrage the Turkish community felt when the police discovered that the murders had nothing to with the mafia or organized crime.