PETRA GÜMPLOVÁ - The tragedy of Cologne and its aftermath – the depletion of civility

This is a vicious circle of harassment, animosity, and aggressive and uncivilized behavior that seriously undermines the resource which is crucial for successful integration.

After the reports about the string of sexual assaults during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, media outlets across Europe followed with the news about refugee and migrant sex crimes – groping at swimming pools, verbal abuse and throwing of stones on the streets, or harassment at a music festival. Responding to these events, local authorities issued warnings to women to avoid certain places, towns barred migrants from entering swimming pools, thousands of police personnel were readied to patrol carnival marches, and pink security zones for women were proposed.

This reaction is deeply frustrating. Groups of men sexually assaulting women in public spaces is a new form of violence against women which needs to be condemned and punished. But this wave of reporting on Cologne has increased an already existing anti-immigrant fervor and has given fresh impetus for further violent xenophobic attacks, as another stereotypical image of a migrant, this time as a rapist, is settling in our imagination and exacerbating our fears.

Thus, the vulnerable, and yet single most important resource for a successful integration of a diverse society is now being eroded, perhaps beyond the point of return. This resource can be called civility, characterized as respectful, polite, and friendly behavior toward strangers, regardless of whether they are one’s own compatriots or foreigners.

Resources and challenges of integration: Last year, over one million refugees came to Germany and the total number of people resettled could be much higher if migrants are joined by their family members over future months or years. This is a number larger than the total number of refugees that the US – with a population of 320 million to Germany’s 80 million – has accepted in the last 10 years. These people will add up to a fifth of the population with migrant origin who, according to official numbers, already live there.

Yet in many ways, Germany seems to be in a unique position to deliver on its promise of integration. It has a strong economy with a record budget surplus and a robust labor market with low unemployment. It has an extensive and generous welfare state. It has a dense and decentralized structure of well-funded and resourceful local public and non-profit organizations providing services on behalf of widely shared ideals of solidarity, equality of opportunity and social justice.

On top of that, there is an impressive, comparatively lower tolerance to open public displays of racism and xenophobia and the lack of the feeling of national or cultural superiority. According to latest polls, the support for giving asylum to those fleeing war zones still remains high, at 94%.
In the late summer of last year, masses of ordinary people greeted arriving migrants and refugees at the train stations. But the Willkomenskultur has evaporated after the Cologne attacks. Germans now support more substantial limits on immigration – caps on numbers of incoming refugees, limits on welfare benefits, the return of economic migrants, the control of borders.

The latest demonstration of Pegida, an anti-Islamic organization, drew thousands of supporters to Dresden. Frauke Petry, the leader of Germany’s main rightwing anti-immigrant party, Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD), said recently that migrants crossing illegally from Austria to Germany should be stopped with firearms, if necessary. Sahra Wagenknech, the co-leader of the left party Die Linke proclaimed that those who abuse hospitality, lose the right to it.

What is more, since mid-2015 Germany has registered a sharp increase in vandalizing attacks on refugee facilities and asylum seekers’ accommodations. The journal Zeit reports that there have been over 220 of such attacks in 2015 alone. As many incidents are not reported, the figure could be even higher. .. read more:

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