On January 1st Wolfgang Albers, head of the Cologne Police Department, issued a press release stating that the night of New Year's Eve had passed without incident. A few days later, as is now widely known, he was hurriedly dismissed from his post by the German government. Albers is not the only person to have ignored the disgusting acts committed on New Year's Eve; for two days some of Cologne's public television networks remained silent about what had transpired, despite the fact that a crowd of nearly 1,000 men surrounding, molesting and robbing hundreds of women right in the city center is a difficult thing to ignore.
Other acts of violence committed by young asylum seekers have come to light in other German and European cities after this scandal emerged in Cologne. Moreover, it seems that this is not an entirely new phenomenon. On January 11th a report from the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, which was immediately republished by international media, stated that in 2014, during the yearly music festival "We Are Sthlm" that takes place in Stockholm and in which approximately 170,000 young people attend, 15 people filed cases of various aggressions and injuries by bands of young asylum seekers, the majority of whom allegedly had come from Afghanistan without any family. Just as was the case in Cologne, the police did not release any information on the violence even though the victims brought forward numerous charges of molestation, including one charge of rape. When questioned as to why the forces of order had no information on the events that transpired, the spokesperson for the Stockholm police responded with a terse "I don't know."
"Political forces must take the lead in this public debate by overcoming the conflict between vapid appeasement and the return of xenophobia that seems to be dominating the public scene in the majority of European countries."
It is difficult to justify the silence from Cologne and Stockholm, not only because the public has the inalienable right to be informed of such horrendous crimes, but also because the silence will only exacerbate current problems. It will certainly not help to resolve the problem of growing racism against refugees and migrants; the attempt to suppress the news has likely created a boomerang effect that will provoke indignation on the part of the public, increase skepticism over the authorities' ability to effectively regulate the new waves of immigrants, and feed the flames of far-right movements.
The silence from Cologne and Stockholm will also raise significant doubts regarding local public authorities' ability to address fundamental questions or find satisfactory answers regarding the issue of assimilation of new immigrant populations. It is becoming increasingly evident that the central question is: Up to what point can a peaceful cultural existence be possible with new migrants and refugees coming mainly from largely Islamic countries? Although this question encompasses various aspects of our society, the problem becomes most evident when the daily interactions between people are taken into account. When considering this issue, it is necessary to know if these migrants and refugees are willing to accept and respect the freedom that nearly every European country bestows upon its women, minorities and gay people.
A few days ago, the The Guardian published an editorial that urged readers to not be afraid to raise difficult questions regarding the assimilation of migrants and refugees. This reasonable suggestion was certainly not heeded by the Swedish and German authorities, who, with the willing collaboration of some media outlets, had chosen to ignore a serious episode of violence that emphasizes the necessity of raising questions on cultural coexistence. Ignoring a problem undoubtedly does not make it easier to find a solution, which will never occur unless the problem can be discussed openly. It seems a public debate on the subject of immigration is necessary; one that will confront the heart of the multiculturalism issue. Political forces must take the lead in this public debate by overcoming the conflict between vapid appeasement and the return of xenophobia that seems to be dominating the public scene in the majority of European countries.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.