The Racist Attack in Saxony in the German Press

Editor’s note: All links in this text but the first are to German-language sources.

At least certain influential parts of the English-language media seem to have problems comprehending racist violence in Germany. Thus the International Herald Tribune’s report on the attack on eight Indians in the German state of Saxony on Sunday bears the headline “Indian visitors attacked in Eastern Germany.” But the eight were not “visitors” to Germany. They live and work there, selling textiles twice a week at the market in the very town of Mügeln where they were attacked. According to a report in the Berliner Zeitung, four came from the nearby town of Düben and four from the vicinity of Mügeln itself.

The IHT also appears to have problems even presuming that the attack was racially motivated, limiting itself to citing the Police Chief of Western Saxony, Bernd Merbitz, to the effect that “We are not ruling out a xenophobic motive.” One can well wonder if the parent company of the IHT, the New York Times, would display such remarkable prudence if, say, eight black men were chased and beaten by a mob of young white men in a small town on Long Island, having to barricade themselves in a local pizzeria, whose doors the mob promptly attempted to break down before finally being dispersed by a contingent of some 70 police.

The IHT report also takes pains to point out that the “chief of the local police” Reinhard Böttcher could “not confirm whether the mob had shouted racist insults.” Well perhaps he could not confirm this to the IHT. Or, more precisely, to the German news site Spiegel Online, from which this and several other of the details in the IHT report appear to have been lifted wholesale. As of Monday, however, Steffen Bergt, the deputy of Western Saxon police chief Bernd Merbitz, had indeed confirmed that cries of “Ausländer Raus!” — “Foreigners Out!” — could be heard during the attack. In the German reports, incidentally, Böttcher is identified as an official of this very same regional police authority.

Although the German public media appear thus far likewise to be hewing to the line that a racist or xenophobic motive for the attack “cannot be ruled out,” private German and German-language media organizations, large and small, have for the most part acknowledged the obvious. Thus, for example, Harald Lachmann writing in the Heidenheimer Zeitung notes: “When Saxony’s designated police chief Bernd Merbitz says a ‘a xenophobic motive cannot be ruled out’ what this means in plainer speech is: such a motive is present.” The “leftist” Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung asks “How can a simple scuffle turn into a wild chase [Hetzjagd]?” and answers: “This is hardly imaginable without xenophobic motives.” And the Swiss daily the Neue Züricher Zeitung writes that “everything points to a xenophobic act.”

Gorvinda Singh, one of the victims of the attack, in a video image (N24 TV)

The eight Indians were attending a fair in the small town of barely 5,000 inhabitants on Saturday night. It was past midnight when the trouble started. The German-language service of the Associated Press, citing the account of 39-year-old Kulvir Singh, describes what happened as follows:

They were in the fair tent and were constantly being jostled, Singh remembers. It was there too that the Indians were first struck: with glass bottles on the head and in the face. They were also attacked with pepper spray. “At that point, we got out of there immediately,” Singh said. But it was outside the tent that the pursuit of the Indians first began in earnest. A pizzeria some 50 meters away belonging to another Indian was their salvation. The eight Indians and two policemen shut themselves in the pizzeria.

“They were looking to protect themselves,” the 35-year-old owner explains. But the mob continued its pursuit nonetheless, seeking to get into the building from the rear entrance. The owner’s Renault was smashed with pieces of pavement. “If the two police officers had not been with us, the people would have definitely killed us,” Singh believes. The nightmare was only brought to an end by the deployment of some 70 police to the scene.

The daily the Berliner Zeitung, citing the account of Jamil Jawabra, a social worker who talked with the eight victims, notes that the assailants had “knives and pepper spray” and were yelling “Foreigners Out!” and “Here it is the National Resistance that rules!” The “national resistance” is a common theme of neo-Nazi groups in Germany, who also have declared certain areas of Germany “national liberated zones,” i.e. off-limits to foreigners. The term “foreigner” in this context can include long-time residents or even citizens of Germany who are not of German “ethnic” origin.

Another of the victims speaks to reporters (N24 TV)

The Berliner Zeitung also cites the eyewitness account of a resident of Mügeln:

“There had been a brawl at the tent and my wife and I wanted to get away from there,” he says. “When we got to the pizzeria, there were five Indians standing in front of it arming themselves with bars. When I asked them why, they said they had to defend themselves. A little later, the mob arrived.” The Indians then barricaded themselves in the pizzeria. Some young men tried to kick in the glass door – at first without success. A lot of people had gathered around the pizzeria. They were supporting the assailants or, at any rate, they did nothing to stop them. “At that point, I tried to get the security people from the town fair to come help, but they didn’t budge.”

The man saw how youngsters took some metal grating and used it to smash in the door. Then he heard someone say that the Indians had “cut [as with a knife] a German.” “At that point, I started really to fear for the Indians . . .”