Ominous rise in racism against refugees, Germany's top filmmaker says

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2015 8:58 AM

By Erik Kirschbaum

POTSDAM, Germany (Reuters) - Too many people in Germany are openly espousing fascist views about the half million refugees expected to arrive this year and more need to stand up and oppose racism, the country's leading filmmaker said in an interview with Reuters.

Til Schweiger, an actor, director and producer who is best known internationally for his role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds", became a lightning rod for racist comments on social media this week after he endorsed a charity drive for refugees.

"It was a shock for me to see that there are obviously more people in Germany with fascist opinions than I thought there would be," he said.

Schweiger said politicians, law enforcement officials and celebrities were not doing enough to thwart racism as the country of 82 million struggles to cope with the record influx of people fleeing conflict and famine. Some 150 newly erected shelters have been attacked, damaged or destroyed this year - often by arsonists trying to keep refugees from being sheltered in their towns.

Schweiger, who made the country's top film in 2014, "Honig im Kopf", which sold 7 million tickets, generated considerable public discussion across Germany this week after a bitter online exchange about refugees.

"Oh, man, I was afraid that would happen," Schweiger wrote on a social media page after some followers called the incomers "parasites" and "vampires". "You people make me want to vomit. Get away from my page, you pitiless pack. You make me sick."

Excerpts of the exchange, including a long selection of anti-refugee comments, were printed in newspapers across the country.

"They come out of the woodwork because they don't have anything to fear because there are no consequences against racism," Schweiger said during a break in filming outside Berlin.

"There should be consequences for those who openly voice racist and fascist opinions. Our politicians should stand up way more, our justice system should stand up way more and punish these people harder than they ever did before."

Growing anti-refugee sentiment has tarnished the image of Germany, a country that has done much to atone for its Nazi past. It has also eclipsed the work of those who are helping to support displaced people and the many Germans who are sympathetic to their plight, he said.

"I'm sure they're in the majority," he said. "But there are many on the other side who attack you openly, showing their profile pictures - Nazi faces and skinheads who write this unbelievable stuff and threaten you and say they're going to get you."

About 450,000 refugees, or more than double the 200,000 that came in 2014, are expected in Germany this year.

"A lot of people are thanking me for standing up but I don't want to be the only one standing up," Schweiger said. "Our political leaders are important. But I don't see anyone hunting down these guys setting refugee camps on fire or sending them to jail."

Schweiger, who also appeared in Hollywood hits such as "Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life" and "Driven", said what was most discouraging is that some conservative politicians are tacitly encouraging the far-right attacks on refugee shelters.

"There are politicians who make it all legit - they say things like 'we can't handle this flood of refugees'," he said.

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Digby Lidstone)