Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 17
14 May 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 5 May 2001

Jens Boysen


Raum ohne Volk

View today's updated headlines from Germany
The debate on a future immigration policy for Germany and on the threat of demographic imbalance in the long term is continuing both in parliament and among the wider public.

Der Spiegel, for instance, has initiated a series of articles bearing the title "Raum ohne Volk" (literally, "space without people"), a pun on the title of the famous 1920s novel Volk ohne Raum ("People without a Space") by Hans Grimm, in which the alleged need was stated for the Germans to expand territorially in order to feed their growing population.

At the same time, in the Bundestag, the opposition Christian Democrats are still trying to square the circle of an economically needed, but culturally unwanted, "influx of fresh blood," while Germany's mighty industrial associations are setting out on an ever more intense pro-immigration propaganda campaign.

By doing this, the representatives of capital are parting ways with the Conservatives, their long-time political bed-fellows, who seem to be getting trapped deeper and deeper in an old-fashioned xenophobic context.

In contrast, the Liberals seek to escape their unflattering image as heartless neo-conservatives—not least by adopting a more human-rights-oriented position; this also helps bring them closer to the business circles, who might support a possible coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals after the 2002 federal elections.

For the time being, industry is urging the government to start a large information campaign in order to rid the public mind of long-harboured, but now harmful, perceptions of foreigners as part-time "guest workers" and aliens.

These days, experts on demography and economic geography only disagree with regard to how many, but not whether, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be needed in order to sustain Germany's highly developed social security and welfare system. The struggle for attracting experts in high-tech sectors in particular will require a total change of the way society relates to people of "foreign descent."


Time to pay

After months of agonising debate, the moment seems to have arrived for the start of compensation payments to former slave labourers in Nazi Germany, whose number is estimated at about 1.5 million.

On Thursday, US district judge Shirley Kram turned down a collective lawsuit filed by a group of former slave labourers against German corporations. This was a necessary precondition for the release of funds from the DEM 10 billion (EUR 5.5 billion) fund established jointly by the Bundestag and the German industry.

The final formal step needed to trigger this long-awaited procedure is for the parliament to state "legal security" for German corporations in the USA, ie the guarantee that no further lawsuits will be filed against German companies in connection with their profiteering from slave labour during the Second World War.

The hesitance of German industry to come up with their DEM 5 billion (about EUR 2.75 billion) share of fund money and agree to the commencement of payments has fuelled the fury of former Nazi victims, notably in Central and Eastern Europe.

The companies, however, seem not entirely satisfied with the state of affairs. According to Wolfgang Gibowski, spokesman of the industry's funding initiative and, as such, the effective administrator of the fund, there are still a couple of law suits pending which must be finalised, ie scrapped, before payments can begin.

As it seems, the corporations want "absolute security"—an ambition that critics of the industry, such as former Bremen mayor, EU administrator of the war-torn town of Mostar (Bosnia-Hercegovina) and chairman of the association "Against forgetting-for democracy Hans Koschnik, call "unrealistic" and "exaggerated."

On 18 May, the political parties in the Bundestag will meet Otto Graf Lambsdorff, former federal minister of economics and special representative of the government for dealing with the compensation issue, in order to map out further steps.

Jens Boysen, 11 May 2001

Moving on:


Der Spiegel
Die Zeit
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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