Cologne: what happened and where to from here?

A Deutsche Welle report I heard on NewsRadio began along these lines:

    She was pulled to the ground by her long blond hair, then a man laid down on top of her.

An extensive investigation by Der Spiegel tells us that groups of men humiliated, sexually assaulted and robbed women around the main railway station in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. What happened was not new and was not limited to Cologne. What was different was the scale, the presumed predominance of men from North Africa amongst the perpetrators, and the timing in relation to the dilemmas faced by the influx of refugees from Syria.

Ercan Yasaroglu is a social worker who works in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. He was appalled but not surprised by what happened.

    “What happened in Cologne has been happening here in Berlin for a year, but on a smaller scale,” he says.

    In recent months, he has seen how, time and again, women are verbally harassed, then groped, then robbed. “This is not some sudden loss of inhibition, but calculated action by criminals.” Thieves intentionally distract women with sexual assaults, he says, and many of those responsible are from countries in North Africa. Some of them have had their applications for asylum rejected, leaving them with a “tolerated” immigration status and a miserable life.

Kreuzberg, he says, has been carved up in the last year or two by a dozen or so organised gangs, roughly 10 to 15 people in size, who are increasingly terrorizing residents and tourists.

    The number of registered drug-related crimes has increased by 90 percent in the last year, the number of pickpocket thefts by 30 percent. Numerous business owners in the area complained in a letter to the city government of the new level of aggressiveness at Kottbusser Tor. The square is dominated by criminals.

From the Spiegel account, what happened in Cologne seems to have included organised groups, but was more chaotic. Humiliation, sexually assault and robbery occurred singly or in any combination. Many of the perpetrators were described as “drunk”. This led to a social psychologist from Potsdam University interviewed by Deutsche Welle to think that the events may have been spontaneous rather than planned. Yet many of the events described in Der Spiegel and other accounts do seem planned.

One witness told The Guardian that she saw three Arabic speaking males who were “clearly giving instructions and directing a lot of the males”. In one case (I’ve lost the link) 11 young women went out in a group. They found themselves surrounded by 20 to 30 men, then comprehensively groped. They were also robbed.

The performance of the police seemed inept and confused. One police spokesperson said the crowd was so dense that they had no idea what was happening a few metres away. The police performance has been roundly criticised and the police chief has been sacked. It seems they were completely undermanned, although they had twice as many on duty compared to the previous year. Some thought their attitude on the night rather slack and permissive, including allowing fire crackers to be thrown into the crowd.

One report said at least 121 complaints were made to police, three quarters of them involving sexual assault or harassment, meaning a quarter did not involve sex. The Guardian says there were reports of incidents from seven other German cities:

    Out of a total of 167 complaints to police of attacks in the cities – around two-thirds of them being described as sexual assault, including two cases of rape – 100 relate to Cologne, and 53 to Hamburg.

We can’t know how many victims didn’t make a complaint. Accounts of the number of men making trouble varied from 400 to 1500. Identifying the culprits seems nigh impossible. From The Guardian:

    …the German interior ministry said 31 people had been identified as being involved in the violence, of whom 18 were asylum seekers suspected of crimes ranging from theft to assault. None of the asylum seekers was suspected of committing sexual assaults of the kind that prompted outrage in Germany over the past week.

    Plate said the vast majority of the criminal acts documented by federal police on the night were related to theft and bodily injury. Three were related to sexual assaults, but police had no names linked to them.

    Of the 31 people identified, nine were Algerian, eight Moroccan, five Iranian, four Syrian and two German, plus an Iraqi, a Serb and a US citizen.

Now get this, and get it well. The social psychologist from Potsdam who was an expert on sexual assault said there was no causal link between ethnicity and sexual assault. Other things came into play. She mentioned education level, but presumably employment status is also a factor. Police confirm that refugees are less likely to commit crimes than Germans.

Yet in Cologne on that night they did, and the connection being made in Germany and beyond is that refugees from Islamic cultures are the problem and what happens flows inevitably from letting them in.

I got the police link from an article by Majid Nawaz who accepts that in general refugees are less likely to commit crimes than Germans, but says that cultural differences do exist in the treatment of women and must be explicitly addressed:

    Norway has led the way here, offering voluntary nationwide classes that expand upon Norwegian social and sexual norms to newly arrived migrant men. The German border town of Passau in Bavaria, has already started a similar program for male refugees, while Danish politicians aim to approve the same measure after a string of attacks in Denmark. Among other measures, it is my view that such classes should be mandatory for new arrivals across the continent. These classes should form part of a citizenship, integration, and employment course, before residency permits are provided.

Meanwhile Angela Merkel’s closest supporters are telling her that things simply can’t go on as they are. It seems clear that the attacks in Cologne and elsewhere had nothing to do with the recent surge in Syrian refugees. However, the chances of other European countries taking Syrian refugees have been reduced, some say eliminated. Plans to fast-track the deportation of economic refugees, already under way, will no doubt intensify.

Meanwhile polls on whether Britain should leave the EU are showing a 6-point Brexit advantage since the Paris massacre, Cologne sex attacks and Syrian migrant crisis.

In the AFR today, an article reported that Merkel’s party, the CDU was in open revolt, as was the Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

Merkel’s plan was to strengthen the border at the extremity of the EU, share the refugees that did come through evenly, help Turkey and other first receivers to cope and try to stop the war. She is concerned that, were Germany to begin turning people back at its borders, the Schengen system of border-free travel in Europe would collapse.

Eric Hobsbawm said that with the almost total removal of the Germans and the Jews from eastern European countries from WW2 those countries have become effectively monocultural. To them refugees, especially Muslims, are dangerous, and they don’t want them. Resistance is being led by Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico. By July he may well be president of the EU Council of Ministers.

Merkel has asked for time to try out her ideas. Will she get it, and what, seriously, does anyone else have to offer, apart from video cameras everywhere and instant deportation of convicted offenders? Der Spiegel ends with:

    part of the truth is the fact that politicians like to talk about integration but have not yet given any indication that they understand the magnitude of the challenge facing them. Another part of the truth is this: German society is becoming increasingly divided.

12 thoughts on “Cologne: what happened and where to from here?”

  1. Now get this, and get it well. The social psychologist from Potsdam who was an expert on sexual assault said there was no causal link between ethnicity and sexual assault.

    I didn’t hear the Deutsche Welle report, but that sounds like a generalization based on national crime figures, reporting offences perpetrated by rapists/assailants acting alone.

    As you say, Cologne (and the other cities) seemed to involve large numbers of predators, acting in concert. How disgusting, and how frightening for the women attacked.

    No doubt an enormous police effort is underway to identify alleged perpetrators.

    It is sadly understandable that a mugger/thief might molest as a shock tactic (no need then to carry a knife or gun?) But some of the assaults sound likely to have been done solely to humiliate. How cowardly, in a boisterous crowd.

    I don’t think it was “a plot to make the male refugees look bad”, though it will have that effect.

    It is a serious and disturbing event. I thank you for posting this.

    Alles besten
    all the best,

    (der) Ambi

  2. We felt safe in Berlin, although the Lufhansa lady had warned us about pickpockets. I didn’t feel safe in Prague, but nothing happened. On the last outing of the tour in Budapest, we went up to the castle on the hill. There at the lookout an Australian lost his passport, wallet and credit cards. He had them in a bag, apparently, but was holding an umbrella and taking a photograph. Someone just bumped him and said “Excuse me”, but when he regained his balance his stuff was gone. Definitely more than one involved.

    The sexual assault distraction seems a definite new method, but some of it is just sexual.

    Cologne may be cited in years to come as a turning point, so worth a post. One point I didn’t mention is that there was no press coverage for about five days, which has people wondering.

  3. Brian: There are subgroups with in society who really do have high crime rates. However, the stats in places like Australia usually find that public perception of who the peak offenders is often quite wrong, particularly in the case of immigrants and refugees.
    The media sometimes makes this worse by doing things like reporting that a recent king hit killing involved by reporting that “an islander” was responsible for the killing while not labeling a “native born white Australian” in similar situations.
    When we moved to WA we were amazed by the number of crimes the media reported that were committed by “suspected criminals from the Eastern States.”

  4. Brave of you to write about this Brian and I think you’ve presented a good report. I really don’t know what to think about this – apart from the fact that it’s awful – there are so many different rumours and opinions swirling about. Hopefully some clearer evidence will emerge. One clear thing is that police and other authorities need to take women’s complaints seriously and not downplay them for whatever reason. Needs to be said again and again it seems.

    Just a small point from my own experience. When I was studying German in Frankfurt there were a group of former child (boy) soldiers in my class. Lord knows what kind of experiences those young men have had. It’s a particular background, but no doubt many young male refugees (who often make the majority of refugees) may have had terrible experiences in their formative years. Certainly cultural education seems urgently needed, but also authorities need to look at if and why the numbers of refugees (or immigrants) are skewed to young men and what can be done about it.

  5. Val, that’s an interesting point about boy soldiers.

    The usual explanation for the predominance of young men is that they are seen as the future for families.

  6. I heard the French President talking about the situation. He said, secure Europe’s borders, set up EU reception centres in Italy and Greece, assess them there and if they are not refugees, send them back. If they are, share them around the EU.

    Sounds rational and simple, and I suspect, won’t work.

    He says that if Germany closes its borders the ‘European project’ is kaput.

    This report in Der Spiegel suggests the German state is kaput. In effect it has lost control.

    It has detail about how the police are going about trying to catch perpetrators, which appear to be predominantly North African. They are not getting far.

    But they asylum seeker system is such a shambles, if they have a person they don’t necessarily have good ID. Some of them have multiple IDs.

    That’s one reason deportation mostly fails with the North African countries. The other is that fully 28 countries are positively uncooperative.

    One German government document states that around 5,500 Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians were “subject to deportation” as of the end of July, but officials only managed to deport 53 nationals from those countries during the first half of 2015.

    It’s a mess!

  7. There are rapists, molesters, gropers, muggers and thumpers in every society – hopefully, a very tiny minority of men in any society.

    However, in addition to the very isolated incidents one might expect at times like New Year or Oktoberfest or major football games, what happened in Germany has the stench of planning all over it. No doubt with the enthusiastic participation of those actually ordered to take part in planned attacks.

    Further, I suggest that these attacks on women were not, of themselves, the main objective of such planning; rather that this was an experiment, a field trial, of a new, nasty and very inexpensive tactic, one that could well deliver successful outcomes out of all proportion to the effort involved and the risks taken.

    Organized rape has been used as a weapon of war and instrument of conquest since way back in prehistory. Not by every army, as some suggest, but often enough for it to be in the minds of the planners of wars and conquests. It certainly does intimidate and demoralize that populace being attacked or conquered. That, counter-intuitively, it might make the nation being attacked become fiercer in their resistance and more ruthless in their determination is regarded as simply one of the many risks of war.

    The planners – and I do believe there were planners – would have been delighted by the despicable activities of any men who were acting on their own accord and unaware of any planned attacks of a similar nature – such offenders would have helped camouflage any obvious pattern that might have been detected by authorities.

    The hostile reactions against migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and anyone else not of German ethnicity – well-intentioned though most reactions might have been (excluding Neo Nazis jumping on the bandwagon) – would have suited the planners right down to the ground too.

    If this was the “user-trial” of a new and vicious tactic, I wonder where and when it will be applied en masse? Given that some terrorist groups seem to chose random dates for unpredictable simultaneous attacks against “soft targets”, all I can suggest is that ladies resort to the century-old method of carrying a solid hat-pin and applying it with tremendous vigour and rapidity if any groups of men try attacking them.

  8. Brian it seems as if the gender imbalance may be about asylum seekers particularly and in the teenage and early adult years particularly. Therefore I guess there are two aspects: boys and young men more likely to seek asylum (ie more likely to leave their families and travel to seek asylum); and destination nations who accept refugees (through humanitarian visa applications from outside the destination nation) being able to exert more control over who they give visas to, but not being able to control who seeks asylum.

    So nations could try to get a gender balanced intake of refugees on humanitarian visas (or immigrants on other visas) but they can’t control who seeks asylum and young men are disproportionately represented amongst asylum seekers. This is not disagreeing with your suggested explanation but just putting a little more info around it. (Information particularly from here and here

    People tend to blame the culture of the country of origin (particularly Muslim/Islamic countries) for the young men’s attitudes to women, and while I’m not disagreeing with that, it should also be noted that young asylum seekers are also likely to be exposed to pornography in the destination countries as well. I know I’m opening up another can of worms here (how and how much does pornography affect men’s attitudes to women? Is pornography more common in ‘western’ cultures than Islamic or other cultures? Etc etc) but I am aware that this happens so I think it needs to be part of the discussion.

    The overall thing I think we need to be wary of is a simplistic ‘our (‘western’/AngloJudaic/etc) culture is all good and their (Islamic) culture is all bad’ approach. I know that you are really trying to improve the level of debate here so hopefully I won’t get too many responses of the ‘Islam is evil and you are stupid/naive/evil for suggesting otherwise’ type. I certainly don’t support extremist attitudes to women such as are found in some Islamic countries but I think it’s important to also recognise that there are subcultures of very problematic attitudes to women in ‘our’ culture (or say in German culture) which ‘respectable’ people like you and me may not be exposed to.

    I apologise if this all sounds a bit confused – I think this is such a difficult topic that it is hard to write clearly in a limited number of words.

  9. Graham, that’s a terrible thought. I do hope you are wrong.

    Val, I suspect the offenders are coming from the shadow lands created by the German asylum/refugee system. This report from a Polish study centre identified (last September) 129,000 individuals who are tolerated because they cannot be expelled, 150,000 individuals (last March) who had been ordered to leave the country but were remaining in Germany and between 100,000 and 400,000 who were there illegally and had not applied for asylum.

    That sounds like a breeding ground for gangs and crime.

    The Spiegel article I linked to above talks of:

    By Thursday of last week, some 650 criminal complaints stemming from New Year’s Eve had been filed in Cologne, half of them for sexual assault, three of them for alleged rapes. In 103 cases, sexual assault and theft were combined.

    Only 13 suspects had been identified, all of them North African.

    This article, apparently more up-to-date, mentions 821 complaints and 30 suspects, all of North African origin. It mentions 126 claims of “rape by a group” and 47 allegations of “sexual assault by a group”.

    This site gives a full list of the complaints.

    Deutsche Welle reports Cologne-like attacks in 12 states, but most were in North Rhine-Westphalia, and most of those were in Cologne.

  10. BTW Deutsche Welle says:

    a team of “super recognizers” from Scotland Yard so named for their unique ability to pick out faces in a crowd, have been asked by Cologne police to analyze video footage of the New Year’s Eve attacks.

    But the Spiegel article said that a lot of the cameras were broken or didn’t work properly.

Comments are closed.