Ausländerfeindlichkeit in Contemporary Germany: Not Just an "East German Problem" Open Access
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In the years since unification, the phenomenon of xenophobia (Ausländerfeindlichkeit) in Germany has been largely understood as an "east German problem." The recent discovery of a series of murders by an underground cell of eastern German neo-Nazis - who killed eight Turkish immigrants and one Greek immigrant between 2000 and 2006 - has again directed Germany's attention to the problem of Ausländerfeindlichkeit and right-wing extremism in eastern Germany. Scholars, politicians, and members of the media base their treatment of the subject on the assumption that eastern Germans are more xenophobic than western Germans, despite the fact that very few foreigners actually live in eastern Germany. This thesis employs historical analysis, population data, and public opinion survey data to determine whether or not this assumption holds true. Ausländerfeindlichkeit, meaning "hostility toward foreigners," is a type of prejudice in which native Germans view non-German immigrants to be inferior based on characteristics such as culture, religion, and ethnicity. In both East and West Germany, as well as in united Germany, Ausländerfeindlichkeit has led to social and institutional discrimination and even violence against foreigners. Since the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent revelation that part of the attacks were planned by immigrants in the northern German city of Hamburg, the primary target of Ausländerfeindlichkeit in Germany has been the country's Muslim population, which is comprised primarily of Turkish immigrants and their German-born offspring. Though many countries around the world experience prejudice within their societies, this problem is of particular importance and interest in the German case because of the country's Nazi past.German population data shows that only about 5% of the 7.4 million foreigners in Germany live in the eastern part of the country. Foreigners comprise less than 3% of the total population in eastern Germany. Turkish immigrants in particular are highly concentrated in the west and only 1% of the Turkish population lives in eastern Germany. Despite the smaller number of foreigners living in eastern Germany in comparison to western Germany, a majority of the public opinion surveys consulted show that eastern Germans have more negative attitudes towards foreigners than western Germans. Other survey data, on the other hand, finds no statistically significant difference between eastern and western German attitudes towards foreigners, making it unclear if eastern Germans really are more Ausländerfeindlich. The public opinion survey studies consulted also found that Ausländerfeindlich attitudes vary within the eastern and western regions themselves and that in several western German states, anti-foreigner sentiment is just as high as in the east, facts which are obscured when Ausländerfeindlichkeit is only looked at in terms of east and west. Survey data makes it clear that significant portions of both eastern and western German society hold negative attitudes towards foreigners.In light of these findings, this thesis advocates a shift away from this east-west paradigm in the study of Ausländerfeindlichkeit in Germany. Instead, the issue must be dealt with on the national level, with the recognition that the potentially higher levels of xenophobia in the east do not absolve western Germans of a need to deal with prejudice in their own region.