‘Germany must face up to racist institutions’

Can a democratic state be racist? Of course, says Der Tagesspiegel's Andrea Darnbach - who argues that a nation with a past like Germany's must face up to the latent racism lying at the heart of German officialdom.

'Germany must face up to racist institutions'
Photo: DPA

Last week’s report by the German Institute for Human Rights left no doubt as to its views on racism in the police force. Rules which allow police to stop and search people on the basis of their appearance are not only against EU law, said the institute, but “compromise human dignity.”

In the aftermath of the report, journalist Darnbach wrote that Germany must stop feeling offended and come to terms with persistent institutionalised racism:

The human rights agency has thrown light once again on to a dark corner of political culture, which is the persistence of racism in the actions of the state.

The institute examined the Federal Police Act – which regulates the force’s remit and actions – and established that at least one paragraph illegally allows police to observe and watch people on the basis of their appearance. It is only a couple of words in a whole law. But it is illustrative.

It can be controversial to accuse a democratic country of racism, especially Germany of all countries. Not least because the wording of the law in question looks so harmless: In the text it only says that officers should rely on their “experience” – or rather their gut feeling.

No police officer is explicitly told that they should concentrate on stopping and searching black people. But that appears to have been the result.

German officialdom always likes to see itself as the model pupil of its own history, the story of how murderous race hate ended in genocide. To admit that even seventy years later the country is not completely finished with that process means that perhaps we have not learned our lessons quite as properly as we should have.

Racism also exists in democracies

But why? If we were talking about another issue, nobody would deny that even democracies which, on the whole, function very well are not immune to unsavoury developments more characteristic of dictatorships. The lively global debate about the USA’s spying program proves exactly that point.

But perhaps it is equality – always brutally destroyed by racism – which is so fundamentally a democratic principle, but one that democrats find can hardly bear being presented with the glaring reality so far from the ideal.

That’s what happens with racism, even more so when it’s not individual racism that’s the issue, but official, “institutional” racism on the state’s account.

Those who do not want to put a name to abuses are certainly not able to remedy them. The NSU murders could have almost certainly been prevented if racist bias by the investigating authorities hadn’t prevented racism from being recognised as the motive.

Instead racism continues to be routinely trivialised, even though it’s a danger for the whole society. And it weighs down on the lives of individuals: people who have to explain to their children why they are always asked to show their IDs, or why they cannot get a flat because of their skin colour or why they are always pulled off the train in full view of everyone.

Racism may be a serious accusation. But it’s much worse to do nothing about it.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”