Janine Dieckmann from the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena warns against drawing quick conclusions after the Berlin New Year’s Eve riots. From their point of view, the problem lies much deeper. The migration background is not an answer to the question of how the escalations could have happened.

FOCUS online: After the escalations on New Year’s Eve in Berlin, the demand for clarification of the origin of the perpetrators is getting louder. Do you think that makes sense?

Janine Dieckmann: No. The search for reasons related to the origin of the perpetrators is just as unsurprising as the annual discussion about a ban on firecrackers. This is a first attempt at an explanation, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. On the contrary, it obscures the real reasons.

The question is how young men commit such crimes and simply attack rescue and emergency services. Simply referring to the migration background as the cause is useless, there are other factors.

The criminologist Rafael Behr from the Hamburg Police Academy also says that the ethnic background does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about criminality.” On the other hand, he points to socialization, which is decisive. Is that your view too?

Dieckmann: That’s exactly how it is. The question is how people are socialized in our society. What opportunities and participation do young people have in our society? What, for example, have some people experienced in terms of racist exclusion?

People with a migration background are often attributed an increased willingness to commit crime. Under certain circumstances, these experiences can also lead to an increased willingness to commit crime. This is an eternal spiral: people experience racism in our society.

If some then become criminals, this is attributed to their migration background and generalized to everyone – that in itself is racist again. If we don’t break through this, if we don’t deal with racism in our society, there will always be new exclusion.

Janine Dieckmann has a doctorate in social psychology at the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ) in Jena. She researches and works primarily on topics of discrimination and heads the research area “Diversity, Commitment and Discrimination” at the IDZ with projects on social cohesion and dealing with racism.

What questions do we have to ask ourselves instead to uncover the reasons for the escalation of violence on New Year’s Eve?

Dieckmann: Above all, it is about the question of how much participation in society young people experience today and whether their perspective and reality of life is taken seriously and listened to, whether their needs are also addressed.

Many subcultures have formed in Berlin. Is the violence in Berlin a Berlin-specific problem or is there potential in other cities as well?

Dieckmann: There is basically greater potential in larger cities because more people live close together and several district cultures are developing.

That is why we must continue to work in the future so that everyone feels better represented and integrated in society, and that social problems in the individual districts are tackled in depth.

Does that mean you understand the escalation in Berlin as a call for help from today’s youth?

Dieckmann: We still have to learn to understand the message of this New Year’s Eve. But what I can say: many young people today apparently feel powerless and at the mercy of others. The feeling of powerlessness needs to be replaced with a sense of accomplishment and contribution.

In Berlin, young men demonstrated their power in their neighborhoods on New Year’s Eve – according to the motto: “This is our area and here we are the strong ones.” That’s why we also have to ask the question of what image of masculinity is behind the attacks on rescue workers.

Is this kind of violence and power struggles also in part the result of years of pandemic-related restrictions and prohibitions that have increased the potential for aggression?

Dieckmann: The last few years of restrictions and dissatisfaction have certainly contributed to the fact that after two years of a ban on firecrackers, people had the feeling of “now more than ever”. This certainly increased the willingness to engage in aggressive behavior and to commit crimes. But with rescue workers being targeted, the escalation of violence has taken on a new dimension.

It sounds as if you yourself still have no explanation as to how this could have happened. Am I correct?

Dieckmann: Yes, it’s also important not to look for quick explanations. The immigrant background’s quick answer is always the simplest, but not the right one. It prevents us from dealing with the causes in our society itself.

Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey is planning a summit on youth violence. Is that just symbolic politics?

Dieckmann: If we stick to symbolic politics, it won’t achieve much. We have to talk about social phenomena and, above all, politicians have to exchange ideas with experts and young people from the neighborhoods.

It is important that not only one explanatory approach is followed, namely that we have to meet people with a migration background with certain projects. Because then the explanation for problems would again lie in the behavior of these others and not in society itself.

How can such a spiral of violence be prevented in the future? More bans certainly don’t help.

Dieckmann: It has to be about long-term consideration of what the social significance of these events is and to understand where there is a need for change. Bans on firecrackers, for example, would only combat the symptoms, but are not sufficient for an in-depth discussion of violence in cities.

Also read: “A minority terrorizes the whole neighborhood”

Such escalations seem to have increased in recent years, even before the pandemic. Discussions on social media quickly become aggressive. Has violence increasingly become part of our everyday lives?

Dieckmann: The threshold for readiness for violence seems to have dropped. We are seeing increasing attacks on representatives of the state, on those up there, so to speak.

The dissatisfaction is not only aimed at politicians, but also at the media and now also at rescue workers. We also experience this in the greater willingness in public discourses to threaten and insult people on social media.

In a Focus Online interview with two suspected accomplices in the New Year’s Eve attacks, one of the youths said it gave him a sense of freedom. Has our society become too oppressive?

Dieckmann: I wouldn’t put it that way. In my perception, this means that we are coming out of two years of the pandemic with more restrictions than we have ever had in the Federal Republic. The corona factor also played a role this New Year’s Eve, that the desire for freedom has increased.