Gerhard Schröder, Now and Then

With important elections upcoming later this month in the German states of Hesse and Lower Saxony and next month in Hamburg, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has returned to the public eye: campaigning for his Social Democratic Party (SDP) and leading the charge against the rival Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The incumbent CDU Governor of Hesse, Roland Koch, has come in for particularly severe criticism from the former chancellor. Following a brutal attack on a senior citizen in a Munich subway station last month, the themes of “youth crime” and “foreigner crime” [Ausländerkriminalität] have come to dominate the headlines in Germany. In an interview with the popular German tabloid Bild, Koch took up and joined the themes, saying “We have too many young criminal foreigners [in Germany],” and he appeared to endorse expulsions as a means of dealing with the alleged “problem.” “Someone who as a foreigner fails to respect our rules does not belong here,” Koch said. It should be noted that in Germany the term “foreigner” [Ausländer] is commonly applied to immigrants or even second- or third-generation descendants of immigrants. (For example, Serkan A., one of the two young “foreigners” accused of the Munich subway attack, was born and raised in Germany.)

In an interview published last Tuesday likewise in Bild, Schröder responded by accusing Koch and current Chancellor Angela Merkel of exploiting the subject for electoral purposes. “. . . it is my duty to point out,” he said:

that violence is also a problem among German youth. Young German right-wing radicals [a German euphemism for Neo-Nazis] commit on average three violent-crimes per day — for the most part, against people of a different skin-color. You do not hear anything about that from Mr. Koch or Ms. Merkel. . . . This is incitation for electoral purposes [Wahlkampfhetze] — something for which Mr. Koch is well known.

In light of the current focus of the German media on “foreigner crime,” Schröder is surely justified in calling attention to widespread racist and xenophobic violence in Germany. (On the latter subject, see this WPR report from last July.) Nonetheless, for long-time observers of German politics — and especially for his CDU opponents — it was somewhat startling to hear such criticisms coming specifically from him.

In summer 1997, Schröder was the governor of Lower Saxony and he was widely touted to be the SPD candidate for the chancellorship in the general elections to be held the following year. Here is what he said at the time on the very same subject of “foreigner crime” — yet again in an interview with the tabloid Bild (July 20, 1997):

One has to say it, even if some people do not want to hear it: the Polish are particularly active in the field of auto theft; the prostitution business is dominated by the Russian mafia; drug-related crimes are committed particularly frequently by people from Southeastern Europe and Black Africa. One does not protect the law-abiding foreigners living here by keeping quiet about foreigner crime. We should no longer be so diffident with foreign criminals who have been caught. Whoever abuses our hospitality, there is only one thing for him: out — and quick!

Photo: Gerhard Schröder in 2003

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