'Germany is indifferent to neo-Nazi violence'
It's an intriguing premise: Are Germans ready to elect a Jewish politician chancellor? British journalist David Crossland has written a novel exploring themes of racism and neo-Nazi violence in Germany. The Local has excerpts.
David Crossland was born in 1967 in Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, where his father was a foreign correspondent. He was educated at German schools until he was 16, and then attended a school in Bristol before studying politics and economics at Exeter University.
He has been a journalist for over 20 years, working for Reuters from 1994 until 2004, first in Frankfurt where he covered financial and economic affairs including the wrangling that preceded the launch of the euro, and then in Berlin as chief political correspondent, in charge of covering news from Germany. He has worked for Spiegel Online International since 2005 and also freelances for other publications.
He has written extensively about the growing threat posed by neo-Nazis in the former communist east, and has tracked the country's probing search for a new, bolder role in the world as new generations throw off the chains of guilt. "The Jewish Candidate" is his first foray into fiction.
The Local: Why did you write a book on this theme?
David Crossland: In the many years I have been reporting about Germany I have been struck by how indifferent the authorities are to the problem of neo-Nazi violence against immigrants. Experts have been warning for years that the extreme right is being underestimated. The NSU case has proven them right. The combination of well-armed racists, official inaction and the backdrop of Germany striving to be a normal country again and put the Holocaust behind it, struck me as potent material for a political thriller.
TL: Do you think Germany is ready for a Jewish chancellor?
DC: In theory, yes. But I think he or she would have to be an extremely gifted politician to stand a chance. He would have to suppress his Jewish identity to overcome public doubts about his loyalties. And he would get a lot of hate mail. But given the dearth of Jews in German politics at the moment, I think it's unlikely anytime soon. The rebirth of Jewish life in Germany is much-hyped, but I don't see much real evidence of it.
TL: To what extent is the far a threat in Germany?
DC: This country is too enlightened to vote them back into power again. I think the NPD and their ilk will remain negligible as a nationwide political force. The threat is to people on the street, in trains, on buses, getting harassed and beaten up or worse. And the threat is to Germany's reputation as a civilized nation, which will suffer unless it gets tougher on far-right thugs and tackles blatant institutional racism in its police -- as Britain has tried to do.
TL: You grew up in Germany. What's your view on it?
DC: I hope my affection for Germany and the Rhineland in particular, and for its beer, comes through in the book. It has so much going for it. But I’m disappointed at how immigrants are still viewed as foreigners even after decades living here, and at the general complacency about neo-Nazism. You get racists and far-right whackos everywhere. But Germany, which perpetrated the Holocaust, should have a zero tolerance policy here.