The arson in 1993 at home in Solingen, where a Turkish family lived, was the culmination of xenophobic sentiments in the FRG in the early 1990s. After 25 years, the country is still trying to learn a lesson from this crime. 25 years have passed since the four ultra-right on May 29, 1993 set fire to a house in the German city of Solingen, where a large Turkish family lived. A fire broke out at about two in the morning – the attackers doused the front door and wooden panels in the entrance with gasoline from the canister. Ten minutes later, the whole house was engulfed in flames. Five people were burned alive in it – three women and two girls. The youngest of them, Saima Gench, was 4 years old, the oldest, Gursun Inje was 27 years old. Hatice Gench was 18 years old, Gulustan Ozturk – 12, Hulje Gench – 9 years old. Another eight people received burns of varying severity.
Xenophobia has no regional boundaries
In the early 1990s, the slogan “Foreigners – get out!” could be heard in various regions of Germany, many Germans did not hide their xenophobic sentiments. The reasons for this were very diverse. In East Germany, for example, after the unification of the country, the socialist planned economy, previously controlled by the state, was liquidated. Millions of residents of the former German Democratic Republic became unemployed, feeling like second-class people, and the foreigners living there perfectly suited the role of the scapegoat.
Until 1993, German politicians preferred to believe that hatred of foreigners was mainly carried out by residents of the eastern federal states, although since 1991 xenophobic crimes have occurred in both eastern and western Germany. But the events of May 29, 1993 in the city of Solingen in the West German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia clearly demonstrated that the problem of ethnic hatred has no regional borders.
“We must remember the victims of the crime in Solingen.”
The commemorative events held in Düsseldorf and Solingen on Tuesday, May 29, and dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, were attended by the Gench family, German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, FRG President Frank-Walter Steinmeier , German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and other German and Turkish politicians.
“Our family doesn’t remember this tragedy,” says Mevlude Gench, who lost two daughters, two granddaughters and a niece on that tragic night. The woman herself managed to escape due to the fact that at the time of the fire she was on the ground floor of the house. “I never tell my children and grandchildren about this. If you continue to stir up the old wounds, they will never heal, and will bring more and more pain, ”Mevlude believes. According to her, she doesn’t want her children to constantly hate the society in which they live, constantly remembering this tragedy.
But society should not forget about the tragedy in Solingen, said German Foreign Minister Heiko Mas. “We must remember the victims of this terrible crime. We must not forget, look away or be silent, ”said the head of the German Foreign Ministry. Justice Minister Katarina Barley has warned against xenophobia and racism. “It is shameful that 25 years after the crime in Solingen, people in Germany are still forced to hear threats or become victims of attacks because of their origin, religion or sexual orientation,” Barley said, stressing that neither politics nor society should not allow this.
“Hostility towards migrants is unacceptable”
The president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called for a decisive struggle against xenophobia and right-wing radicalism. According to him, it is necessary to remember that “the duty of our society and our organizations is to protect all citizens of the country – regardless of their origin.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel, in turn, stated that violation of a number of taboos by right-wing populists is unacceptable, and that a new wave of violence could result from this. Right-wing populism, unfortunately, is not a thing of the past, Merkel said. “Anyone who sows violence in their own words is ready to reap violence,” and this is “a dangerous game with fire,” she said.
The head of the German government called unacceptable hostility to asylum seekers or migrants. “Such crimes are unacceptable. They are a shame for our country, and we cannot and will not put up with it, ”Merkel assured.
Changes to Asylum Law
The crime in Solingen on May 29, 1993 occurred three days after the German Bundestag introduced substantial restrictions on the country’s asylum law. The then-ruling coalition, consisting of the CDU / CSU bloc and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), with the support of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), amended the constitution. Prior to this article 16 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany provided for an unlimited right to asylum. The introduction of restrictions was an attempt to regulate the number of migrants who flooded into the country in the early 1990s.
For a long time, the annual number of asylum seekers in Germany did not exceed 100 thousand. In 1990, it suddenly doubled and amounted to 200 thousand. Two years later, it more than doubled, reaching 438,191. At that time, right-wing parties in western Germany achieved great success in the elections. In 1992, the far-right Republican party won 12 percent in land elections in the economically prosperous Baden-Württemberg. Later, the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) even managed to enter the land parliaments in the east of the country.
Moods in Germany – 25 years ago and today
Anetta Kahane, head of the Amadeu Antonio Berlin Anti-Racism Foundation, draws parallels between the explosive mood in Germany 25 years ago and today’s situation. The question “how many refugees can we accept?” is inextricably linked with another question: “but will this lead to the dominance of foreigners?”. The fact that foreigners and refugees are perceived by society as uninvited guests and foreign elements “greatly poisons the mood,” says Kahane.
The situation that reigned in German society shortly after the unification of the country cost the life of the man whose name the Berlin Anti-Racism Foundation was named. In November 1990, Amadeu Antonio, a native of Angola, was beaten to death with baseball bats in Berlin by a group of ultra-right teenagers. Five of them were sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison, some escaped with suspended sentences.
Solingen – a stigma in the history of post-war Germany
The sentences of those accused of setting fire to a house in Solingen were much stricter. Four young men between the ages of 16 and 23 who committed the crime were accused in 1995 of killing five people, attempted murder of 14 people, arson with aggravating circumstances and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment from 10 to 15 years. “Solingen will forever remain the stigma, the most monstrous manifestation of xenophobia in the history of post-war Germany,” said lawyer Rainer Brüssow, representing the Genc family, at the trial.
Anette Kahane of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation would be glad if German politicians left unchanged the asylum rules in force in the country until 1993. She believes that those who were behind the amendments to the constitution were driven by a very specific model of behavior: “If people are racist in their reaction to migrants, the number of migrants arriving should be reduced.” And this, in her opinion, was a “very bad signal” – including to the western lands of the country, since until that moment the West German society had quite successfully coped with the migration process, Kahane said. But this attitude, in her opinion, was destroyed by the pernicious discussion about toughening the FRG law on asylum.