German Justice Minister Heiko Maas spoke out in a January 10 interview with the “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper, saying that he believes that the sexual assaults on German women by Muslim Arab and North African men on New Year’s Eve in Cologne was a planned attack that was well-thought out. “No one can tell me that it wasn’t coordinated and prepared,” Maas said. “My suspicion is that this specific date was picked, and a certain number of people expected. This would again add another dimension [to the crimes].” Maas is a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), a part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, which is led by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Details from official reports published by the media show that the assailants used social networks to encourage fellow refugees to join them at the city square between a cathedral and train station. Hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and thefts were recorded. The mayor of Cologne, however, dismissed any claims that would connect the assaults to the influx of more than 1 million refugees who have come not only from war-torn Syria but mostly from other Muslim countries. Even so, women who were celebrating New Years Eve reported that they were surrounded by hordes of North African and Arab men who jostled them, attempted to strip them, and fondled their breasts and genitals. One terrified woman told the BBC that she had never before experienced such fear in Germany, where such events are extremely rare.
Germany has a history of concerted rape that still sears the memory of some victims. Following the Second World War, the occupying Soviet Army systematically raped women and girls in the areas under its control. Witnesses believe it was done to humiliate Germany and exact retribution for the crimes committed by Germany's National Socialist Party and units of the Wehrmacht in Eastern Europe.
Despite his assertions about the attacks, Maas skirted the issue of blaming the immigrants by saying "to assume from somebody's origin whether or not they are delinquent is quite reckless." Maas dismissed as "complete nonsense" the notion that foreigners cannot be integrated into Germany.
Maas lashed out at the populists of Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and PEGIDA for allegedly exploiting the event in Cologne for their own purposes. "There is the only way they can explain how shamelessly they operate their sweeping campaign against foreigners," Maas said.
On January 9, police contended with a confrontation between a planned demonstration by PEGIDA at the Cologne train station, and with counter-protesters condemning racism and sexism.
Maas said that "cultural background justifies or excuses nothing. There is no acceptable explanation [for the assaults]. For us, men and women have equal rights in all matters. Everyone who lives here must accept that." He thus echoed some of the sentiments of his opponents on the right.
Chancellor Merkel and her CDU are expected to join with the SPD to propose new laws to the Bundestag to hasten the deportation of asylum seekers and migrants who commit crimes. Merkel has been under heavy criticism for opening the doors to largely Muslim immigrants, many of whom walked from Turkey through neighboring countries until reaching Germany. More than 1 million people entered Germany in 2015 and more are expected.
Eastern European countries, such as Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia, were much less welcoming to the onslaught of immigrants. Slovakia announced last year that it would accept only Christian refugees, for instance. Some of their governments feel vindicated in their caution, following the events in Cologne. Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico said quite clearly on January 7: "That's what happens when you let migrants in," Fico told journalists. "We don't want to let anything like that happen to us."
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