'East made racists' claim;Briefing;International

9th April 1999 at 01:00

Racist attacks are more common in Germany's east because the communist education system turned out acquiescent subjects rather than young people who could think for themselves, according to the hotly disputed thesis of criminologist Christian Pfeiffer.

In the former East Germany racist attacks are 27 times more likely than in the western region, although foreigners form only 2 per cent of the population in the east, compared with 10 per cent in the west.

Most attacks are by groups, and the perpetrators are not necessarily poor or unemployed. Childhood deprivation was rare within East Germany's comprehensive welfare system.

German police have called in the specialists in an attempt to understand rampant racism in the east.

Pfeiffer claims children began their education in the communist system "far too early" and continued "far too long".

Four-fifths of east German children attended a full-day creche by age 12 months. Rows of toddlers on their potties became a symbol of pre-school conformity, promoting group identification under strict guidelines set by then education minister Margot Honecker.

While many are critical of the old education system, eastern newspapers also carry many letters of protest about Pfeiffer's conclusions, and discussion groups have been formed. Some have invited Pfeiffer to defend his thesis.

"There was a lot that was really good about pre-school and primary education," says one primary teacher who formerly taught in the east. "We really emphasised play."

Young easterners were generally believed to be "warmer, more helpful and less egoistic" than their westerner counterparts.

Simone Melhase, 18, is one of the few to speak out against the system. "You were sent to stand in the corner if you spoke out of line. When I came to the west, I was barely able to think for myself." But she is taken aback at the suggestion that it could have made her racist. "Of course not," she says.

Education researchers agree that children were not "emotionally catered for" and had little room for personal development. Kindergartens were not geared towards child development but towards ideological aims. There were too few staff to give children individual attention.

Researchers criticise Pfeiffer for lack of empirical evidence. Kai-Uwe Schnabel of the Max Planck Institute of Human Resources in Berlin said:

"Let's not forget that millions went through this kind of education and conditioning, and not all attack foreigners."

Schnabel maintains reunification was far more difficult for young people than politicians are willing to admit.

"The political upheavals which led to reunification meant far more serious changes for East German adolescents than for those in West German states. Their whole value systems fell apart. Everything was called into question. And there were no jobs. It is an alienated generation."

Other researchers compare it to the German depression in the 1920s and 30s which fuelled the rise of Nazism. "We do not blame that on our kindergartens," says Schnabel.

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