'Women are being attacked every day': violence at small town festival reignites migration debate

DPA/The Local
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'Women are being attacked every day': violence at small town festival reignites migration debate
Police in Schorndorf on Monday. Photo: DPA.

Reports of sexual assaults and attacks on police during a small town festival have again sparked debate in Germany about integration, while also leading police to correct what they say are "misinterpretations" of what happened.


The news that around 1,000 young people gathered on Saturday night during a festival in Schorndorf, Baden-Württemberg where some began throwing bottles at officers has grabbed national attention in Germany, particularly because police said many came from “immigrant backgrounds”.

This coupled with the fact that cases of sexual assaults or harassment were reported by women on Friday and Saturday, with Iraqi and Afghanistani men being investigated, has further added fuel to the fire.

Jens Spahn, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party in the Bundestag (German parliament), said that the events during the fest reflected Germany’s problem with integration of immigrants.

“Schorndorf is a symbol of what is happening on a daily basis in many places in Germany,” Spahn told Die Welt on Wednesday.

“It is becoming ever more clear how big the task of integration is.”

Spahn, who is openly gay, added that German society runs the risk of becoming more anti-Semitic, homophobic, macho, and violent. Claiming that regional newspapers report every day on attacks against women, he called for a greater debate.

“We must face up to this. Too many people are of the opinion that every other culture is an enrichment. I do not feel that the everyday debasement that women experience is an enrichment.”

Ralf Stegner of the centre-left SPD fired back on Twitter, writing that “not all input” from the conservative CDU/CSU parties is enriching either. He also tweeted that the fact that the far-right AfD party had praised Spahn meant there was “no further comment necessary”.

Local police on Wednesday, meanwhile, sought to correct what they called “misinterpretations” of their original report on the Schorndorf fest, emphasizing in a new report that the vast majority of the 1,000 people who they said had gathered on Saturday in the grounds of Schorndorf Castle were not involved in the crimes reported.

In fact, police said that just around 100 teens and young adults there were deemed to have “high potential for violence” and that bottles thrown at police officers came from within this smaller crowd.

At one point, a German 16-year-old threw a bottle that ended up hitting a 19-year-old Syrian in the head, leading him to be treated by emergency medical services. Police then doubled the number of officers in the area.

Then a 20-year-old German was detained over assaulting another member of this crowd. Police say this young man put up great resistance to officers trying to detain him, leading the group of about 100 people to rally behind him and try to fight back against officers. Police observed that most of the people in this group had an immigrant background.

Police then threatened the crowd with pepper spray and batons. More bottles were then thrown at officers, hitting many of them, though not injuring them because of their protective gear.

Six police cars were also damaged by graffiti, bottles and scratches.

'Not a second Cologne'

In total, 53 crimes were recorded by police over the course of the five-day festival, of which 28 were committed between Saturday night and early Sunday morning. This was nearly twice the number of crimes reported last year in total: 28.

Nine sex crimes were reported, three of which could not be corroborated. Police and public prosecutors are currently investigating four cases involving unknown suspects, as well as another two known suspects for sexual harassment. No arrests warrants have yet been issued in these cases.

In one of the cases, a 25-year-old woman reported that on Friday night, a man had grabbed her multiple times on her backside. A 20-year-old Iraqi refugee was questioned as a potential suspect, but police subsequently let him go.

In another case, a 17-year-old Austrian girl told police that in the early hours of Sunday, she was held against her will and grabbed on her backside by someone. Police suspected one of three Afghan teens between the ages of 17 and 18 to be the culprit, but authorities could not corroborate the initial report of the girl being held against her will.

While police said in their new report that the reports of sexual harassment were unusual for the town festival, officials have also denounced comparisons by the AfD party to the mass sexual assaults reportedly committed largely by men of North African or Middle Eastern appearance on New Year’s Eve 2015-16 in cities like Cologne.

“This is not a second Cologne, and it’s not a second Hamburg,” mayor Matthias Klopfer told public broadcasters ARD and ZDF on Tuesday, referencing the violent riots in Hamburg amid mainly left-wing protests during the G20 summit there earlier this month.


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