The 1992 attack in Rostock, not long after German reunification, saw residents cheering a mob attacking a block housing asylum seekers while the police stood by and did nothing for days.
President Joachim Gauck, a native of Rostock, returned to his home town and gave a speech in front of the apartment building in the Lichtenhagen district, where the five-day siege took place.
“Democracy must be resilient and cannot allow law and order to be taken from its hands,” Gauck said in the keynote speech of Sunday’s memorial service
But his words weren’t enough, according to the left-wing taznewspaper.
Gauck’s speech, wrote the paper, “… sounds pretty good. But it leaves a stale after taste. Because Gauck hasn’t said a word about the failure of the national security agencies in other right-wing incidents.”
The paper was referring to a string of ten murders by a neo-Nazi gang, one of which was carried out in Rostock, and which prompted outrage earlier this year when it was revealed that Germany’s security agencies had destroyed intelligence and seriously mismanaged the investigation.
“Gauck avoids drawing concrete connections to the present,” the paper wrote, concluding that the commemoration in Lichtenhagen “became a history lesson, far away from racism of 2012.”
The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung also made a connection between the events in Rostock and the present-day climate. The paper wrote that the events of August 1992 – and a lack of government action since then – had played a decisive role in the current climate of present-day eastern Germany, sometimes considered a ‘no-go’ area for foreigners.
“Twenty years ago, the threat of force was established, and as a result eastern Germany is largely free of immigrants today… since the days and nights of the xenophobic riots of Rostock-Lichtenhagen, foreigners know that it’s better if they do not live in East Germany”
The paper noted that less than 1 percent of the population in eastern Germany was non-white, writing that “in two decades, the government and politicians have not managed in to change that climate.”
Die Welt reflected on the conditions that led to the riot, a perfect storm of economic discontent and government inaction. Conditions at the refugee house were awful, wrote the paper.
“There was a lack of sanitation facilities, and the city refused to set up mobile toilets in order to not perpetuate a state of emergency. Piles of rubbish accumulated. The stench was unbearable. The smell increasingly drifted into the homes of increasingly angry residents.”
However, the paper found those residents responsible, writing that they showed “no compassion for the refugees, but did the opposite and quite wrongly made the refugees responsible for the economic problems in Germany – including their own personal concerns.”
The northern Kieler Nachtrichten also placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Rostock residents. “Civil society failed in Rostock-Lichtenhagen. Not because they actively supported the mob violence, but because they did not prevent this.”