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4.8 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Towards Explaining Anti-Foreign Violence in Germany

1994 – Jens Alber


Gennany has recently witnessed a vast increase in anti-foreign violence. Assembling data from a wide variety of recent research, the paper addresses two basic questions: to what extent is the outburst of xenophobic attacks a German peculiarity? and what are the explanations for the mcreasing violence? An analysis of criminal statistics of various European countries and of comparative opinion polls in the European Community shows that Germany has indeed witnessed a growth of anti-foreign sentiment, and a level of violence that is conspicuous from a com­ parative perspective. Four possible determinants of this peculiarity of recent German history are discussed: (1) the growing ethnic and cultural heterogeneity due to the vast increase in immigration from non-European countries; (2) the increasing costs of foreigners' claims on the German welfare state; (3) the economic context of immigration; and (4) the transformation of national identity in the context of German unification. It is shown that neither the rate of immigration nor the position of foreigners in the German welfare state yields satisfactory explanations for the recent upsurge in violence, which only occurred after unification. The key for an explanation lies in a particu­lar macro-constellation that is characterized by the concurrence of a massive wave of immigration with an economic crisis, and with the ethnicization of German national identity in the context of unification. Anti-foreign sentiments do not automatically follow increases in immigration, but grow in a specific political climate to which the political elites actively contribute.