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Friday, 3 September 2010

Bundesbank sacks 'racist' board member (Germany)

Germany's central bank agreed to dismiss a controversial board member yesterday amid a growing public outcry over his vitriolic criticism of Muslims and Jews in a new bestselling book that has been widely condemned as racist.

The Bundesbank's board said it had reached a unanimous decision to fire Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin, 65, a former Berlin city government finance minister. Under German law, the step must be approved by the country's federal president, Christian Wulff.

Mr Sarrazin's dismissal appeared almost certain as the Bundesbank's statement came just hours after Mr Wulff had urged the bank to act, warning that the increasingly heated discussion about his remarks threatened to "damage Germany internationally".

Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the move, saying she had "great respect" for the decision. She had previously expressed her dismay over Mr Sarrazin's racial theories and condemned them as "completely unacceptable".

Mr Sarrazin, the son of a doctor and a Prussian aristocrat, outraged Germany's Jewish community by saying in an interview that "all Jews share a certain gene". The general secretary of the Central Council of Jews suggested afterwards that he should apply for a job as spokesman for race issues in the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party.

However, most of Mr Sarrazin's criticisms have been directed against Muslims living in Germany. In a book published on Monday entitled Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany is digging its own grave), he claims that Muslim immigrants will soon outnumber indigenous Germans because of their higher birth rates, and that they are disproportionately involved in crime and dependent on the welfare state.

"I don't want the country of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be largely Muslim or want Turkish or Arabic to be widely spoken," he argues in his book. "I don't want women wearing headscarves or the daily rhythm set by the call of the muezzin."

Yesterday, four days after its publication, Mr Sarrazin's book was topping Amazon Germany's bestseller list. His race theories have been published widely in the mass circulation Bild newspaper and featured as a debating topic on German television talkshows.

"With no other religion is there such a fluid connection between violence, dictatorship and terrorism as there is with Islam," Mr Sarrazin also claims. Germany's Muslim community has predictably condemned his remarks.
However, some commentators have given his remarks a guarded welcome and implied that he has broken the politically correct taboos concerning race and integration that have held sway in Germany since World War II.

"A clever man has got on the wrong track here with his desire to provoke and with his theories about the rapid decline of the German people," remarked the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "But he has addressed a problem that will remain long after the waves of outrage have subsided: the enormous integration deficit of the Muslim minority in Germany."

Mr Sarrazin said earlier this week that he would like to die a Social Democrat. However, this poses a problem for his centre-left party which attracts immigrant voters. Leading Social Democrats have been deliberating over calls for his expulsion. Sigmar Gabriel, the party leader, yesterday said Mr Sarrazin could remain a member if he renounced some of his ideas.

The Independant


As Slovakia held a day of mourning Thursday to honor the victims of Monday’s violent rampage in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, a picture began to emerge of the killer, an unemployed loner who the police said had participated in shooting contests and may have harbored resentment against his Roma victims. The killing spree, in which six members of a Roma family were killed — including a 12-year-old boy — has shaken Slovakia, a small and predominantly Catholic country. It also has spurred a national debate about the assimilation of the country’s 380,000-strong Roma community, who typically live on the margins of society, stigmatized by poor levels of education, alcoholism and an image of lawlessness. A debate over xenophobia against the Roma, also known as Gypsies, has been raging in recent months across Europe, most recently in France, where the government deported Roma living illegally in the country. But the issue is particularly sensitive in Slovakia, a young country that was part of the former Czechoslovakia and is still grappling with how to integrate its ethnic minorities while forging its national identity. Tensions with the Roma have been on the rise. Last year a town in eastern Slovakia built a concrete wall to separate a Roma camp from the rest of the town after the Roma were caught stealing fruit and vegetables from neighbors’ gardens. Anti-Roma demonstrations have been held repeatedly since late last summer, when two Roma gouged out the eye of a man during a robbery in the east.

In March 2009 in Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, police detained six Roma boys who were suspected of having robbed an elderly lady. The police forced the boys to undress, slap and kiss each other, while taking videos of them on their mobile phones. After a video of the incident was released by SME, a leading Slovak daily, nine policemen were fired. The boys later admitted they had stolen a purse. While the police and government authorities have been at pains not to attribute any racial motive to the Monday killing, Slovak analysts said the incident had nevertheless tapped into the country’s neuroses about its Roma minority. “To me, the reaction of the society has been worse than the killings themselves,” said Stanislav Daniel, a Slovak of Roma origin who is a researcher at the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. “Rather than focusing on the killer, the message has been: the shooting was bad but these Roma people he killed were bad, too.”

Police said the killer, 48-year-old Lubomir Harman, who shot himself after being cornered by the police, lived in the same building as his Roma victims. Single and living alone, he had been jobless since August 2008, and had legally acquired six weapons. He was a member of a club of reservist soldiers and had completed two years basic military service between 1981 and 1983, but he was not a professional soldier. Neighbors and police said Mr. Harman, who used a machine gun and two pistols to attack his victims, may have been angered by the loud noise emulating from the victims’ apartment in the working class neighborhood of Devinska Nova Ves. Police Chief Jaroslav Spisiak said this week the Roma family that was killed led a “rich social life” in which they hosted a steady stream of visitors. Other neighbors were less charitable, accusing the family of everything from disturbing the peace to dealing drugs, and noted that the victims and the killer had a history of disagreements. But in a video interview posted on a Slovak news website, Aktualne, one neighbor named Silvie, who declined to give her last name, said that the Roma family were “poor, but decent” and that Mr. Harman, laconic and unpleasant, had clearly lost control. “Every month I would lend them some money or give them some old bread,” she said. “Within a few days, as soon as they received their pension, I got my money back.”

Lukas Fila, the deputy editor of SME, a leading Slovak newspaper, lamented that some Slovaks were using the killings to vent their frustrations with their Roma neighbors, and inadvertently siding with the killer. “No one approves of what happened,” he said. “But people who don’t like the Roma are saying, ‘I can understand how he did this.”’ On a discussion forum on www.cas.sk, a Slovak news site, some contributors this week said that the killer had been provoked, while others blamed the state for ignoring what they said was Roma crime. Some challenged the government’s decision to make Thursday a national day of mourning, saying it wasn’t justified since the victims were predominantly Roma. “Try to live next to a Roma family for a month and you will see for yourselves,” said a contributor who called himself Keenu. “Luckily, not everyone owns a machine gun.” The killings have also prompted a national discussion about gun control. The Slovak minister of the interior, Daniel Lipsic, said this week he planned to introduce legislation that would ban the use of machine guns for sporting purposes. He also said that the conditions for holding guns would be made stricter and that psychological tests for owners would have to be repeated every five years.

NY Times