Riot of Rostock-Lichtenhagen
From August 22–24, 1992 violent xenophobic riots took place in the Lichtenhagen district of Rostock, Germany; these were the worst mob attacks against migrants in postwar Germany. Despite stones and petrol bombs being thrown at an apartment block where asylum seekers lived, no one was killed. At the height of the riots, several hundred militant right-wing extremists were involved, and about 3,000 neighbourhood onlookers stood by, applauding them.1
The initial response of authorities and politicians was heavily criticised.2 For some days prior to the riots, there had been, in some newspapers, veiled warnings of impending trouble.3 Police and politicians seemed reluctant to respond and when they did so, the response was inadequate to meet the need.2 Outside the building where the refugees were housed, several hundred asylum seekers had been camping for several days with little or no access to basic facilities, contributing to escalating tensions in the neighbourhood.
Between August 22–26, 1992, there were 370 provisional arrests and 408 preliminary investigations relating to the riots. Among those arrested were 110 people from the former West Germany, 217 from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, including 147 from Rostock and another 37 from the former East Germany. During the riot, 204 police officers were injured.4
The Zentrale Aufnahmestelle für Asylbewerber für Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (ZAst M-V), or "Central Refugee Shelter" for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was in an 11-storey plattenbau apartment complex known as the "Sunflower House" or "Sunflower Tower", because of the large sunflowers decorating one side. The building was notorious for the inhumane conditions under which the asylum seekers there were living and the lack of much (or any) support for them. The authorities ignored the numerous complaints from citizens and residents over the filthy and deplorable conditions in the apartment building.
The shelter was originally intended to house 300 refugees a month, but by summer 1992 it was averaging 11,500 refugees per month. Primarily Roma from Romania, they were left by overstretched shelter staff to camp out in front of the building for days at a time. The municipal government refused to provide portable toilets and there was no water or garbage collection. Clashes between the homeless migrants and the Lichtenhagen residents increased. Neither the city nor the state government took action.5
For days prior to the riots, the newspapers Norddeutsche Neueste Nachrichten and Ostsee-Zeitung had been calling for a "Lichtenhagen interest group". There were anonymous warnings that if by the weekend, the refugee shelter was not "cleaned up," order would be made. This gave young gang members from every corner of Rostock, normally enemies, a date, place and purpose to congregate. One 19-year old skinhead said, "The police know the Rostock Skins and 'Hools' [hooligans]. When something like this is announced, we're there!"3
The first day's riot started with young people from the neighbourhood throwing stones. This was contained by the police, but media coverage encouraged neo-nazis to roam the area. This led to a situation where a xenophobic mob outnumbered the police by day three. The original target, the asylum accommodation, was evacuated on the second day, whereupon the mob stormed a neighbouring building where 115 Vietnamese immigrants, a social worker and a ZDF television crew had mistakenly been left behind. While the building burned, they barricaded their doors against rioters, who were climbing over the balconies armed with baseball bats and Molotov cocktails. Below, a mob of over 5,000 spectators eagerly watched and applauded.5
Charges of police and political incompetence were levelled from the beginning. One explanation cited for the lack of effective action by the police is that they were reluctant to take action that might be reminiscent of the recently cast-off communist state.2 Also, there were charges that the police and the politicians were privately sympathetic to the anti-migrant sentiment.2
The first major conviction relating to the riots was on March 4, 1993, though 24 convictions on lesser charges had already been handed down. A 22-year old man was convicted of throwing a firebomb at police, of seriously disturbing the peace, violating weapons laws and attempted bodily harm. An attempted murder charge was dropped for lack of evidence. Critics complained that no one was being convicted of assaulting a foreigner, only of assaulting the police or of disorderliness.6 It took almost ten years to prosecute 408 people.citation needed
The following timeline was reconstructed by the "Legislative Committee to Investigate the Refugee Shelter Incident" ("Parlamentarischer Untersuchungsausschuss zu den Ereignissen um die ZAst").
August 22, Day 1 From about 6:00 p.m. a large crowd begins to assemble in front of the refugee shelter. At 8:02 p.m., thugs start attacking the shelter and the violence escalates quickly. By 10:46, the police are forced to retreat from the area. 11:02 p.m. Riot police arrive on the scene and are attacked with Molotov cocktails. 11:24 p.m. Another police unit arrives from Schwerin. 1:34 a.m. Water cannons are set up and put in continuous use. Between 1:34 and 2:34 a.m., the rioters are pushed towards the autobahn. 2:25 a.m. A water cannon vehicle is set on fire by a Molotov cocktail. 2:30 a.m. Rostock police command declares a police emergency and the armoury is opened. Officers are issued with tear gas and fire at the crowd. The situation calms down by 5:30 a.m.
Day 1 Statistics: 160 police officers, 300 rioters, 13 police officers injured, 9 arrests.
August 23, Day 2, Part 1
100 people gather in front of the shelter.
11:15 a.m. Rostock police department requests back-up from other police departments. Squads respond from Schwerin, Anklam, Stralsund and Güstrow. The Landespolizei force of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern sends two additional water cannon. Two reserve units (Einsatzhundertschaften) from the Federal Border Patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz or BGS) are activated. 2:15 p.m. Plainclothes officers report the arrival of 30 known Neo-Nazis to the area.
August 23, Day 2, Part 2
At 6:45 p.m. about 400 rioters start attacking the shelter. 7:18 p.m. the rioters start throwing Molotov cocktails. 8:00 p.m. The police use water cannons to clear the area. 8:30 p.m. The police resort to firing live ammunition. 10:00 p.m. The police officer in charge reports that without reinforcements, within 30 minutes, the situation will be impossible to control. 10:30 p.m. A police car is set on fire. 10:41 p.m. State police declare a state of emergency (Landespolizeialarm).
The state level state of emergency allows for additional, federal brigades to be pulled in.7 Hamburg send out its SWAT (SEK and MBK) units. These riot police units (normally about 100 officers each), are reinforced by two police dog squads from Kiel, a reserve unit from Lübeck and helicopters from the federal police.
2:55 a.m. The 2nd Hamburg Unit arrives on the scene. 3:45 a.m. The 1st Hamburg Unit arrives. 4:10 a.m. The situation quiets down. The Hamburg units take over the night watch.
Day 2 Statistics: 850 police officers, 500 rioters, 70 police officers injured, 130 arrests.
August 24, Day 3, Part 1
2:00 p.m. Under the protection of the Hamburg units (now 16 hours in action) the shelter is evacuated. The large crowd of onlookers give notice of a melee at 4:00 p.m. The police learn of a telephone network that hooligans are using to organize the melee, which is to attack the police exclusively if the shelter is cleared out.
August 24, Day 3, Part 2
7:45 p.m. Reinforcements from the 4th Brigade, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern arrive to replace the Hamburg riot units, now in action for 21 hours. 7:55 p.m. Ten minutes after the replacements arrive, the order is given to withdraw all protection for the shelter.8
8:00 p.m. During the retreat from the building, the Federal Border Patrol units reinforcing the 2nd Hamburg Unit come under attack. At this point, the crowd of cheering onlookers has grown to an estimated 3,000. 8:05 p.m. Squads from the 2nd Hamburg Unit, which had already left the scene, are ordered back to reinforce the Border Patrol unit under attack. In order to push through the crowd, they resort to using batons. The commanding officer of the 1st Hamburg Unit reports that the threat of violence is higher than he has seen in five years' experience in Hamburg's rioting hotspots, Hafenstraße and Flora.7
8:15 p.m. The 1st Hamburg Unit and the 4th Brigade MV reach the other units. Water cannons are used and police cordons are formed. Rail transport police are radioed for back-up. The alarm is "Officers in distress." The 1st Hamburg Unit also provides support.
8:40 p.m. A technical problem knocks out one water cannon. 9:20 p.m. The retreating 1st Hamburg Unit seeks cover from the water cannon of the 4th Brigade, MV. 9:34 p.m. The water supply of the second cannon runs out. The 4th Brigade MV, about 100 strong, is up against 800 rioters. 10:37 p.m. The 4th Brigade MV forms a police cordon and aims the water cannon at the crowd to allow the fire department to get through. 10:55 p.m. The 1st Hamburg Unit is sent back to Hamburg after 25 hours of duty. At midnight the 4th Brigade MV begins clearing out the remaining hooligans, about 300 strong, while the 2nd Hamburg Unit is sent back to Hamburg after 26 hours of duty. 12:30 a.m. The area settles down.
2:00 a.m. 400 hooligans again begin to storm the refugee shelter, using every means possible. The police have a strong presence. Up to 7 water cannons are used to clear the streets surrounding the apartment complex where the shelter is located. About 1,000-1,200 rioters take part in the melee with the police. By 3:00, the situation is under control.
Day 3 Statistics: 2050 police officers, 2000 rioters, 117 police officers injured, 58 arrests.
In the week after the riots in Rostock, neo-Nazis put at risk 40 residences with firebombs and stones and fought street battles with the police. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the following few days, the asylum centers in Wismar, Rostock-Hinrichshagen, Lübz and Neubrandenburg were attacked, and there were three such incidents in Greifswald. In Wismar there was a six-day riot, between 15 and 20 September, in front of the asylum center, where as in Lichtenhagen there was applause from local residents. Even after that there were almost daily attacks. In one weekend between Friday 18 September and Sunday 20 September, asylum centers in Güstrow Ueckermünde Kröpelin, Schwarzendorf (in the district of Malchin), Schwerin, Wismar and Retschow were partially attacked repeatedly with Molotov cocktails.
The attacks led to 370 arrests and 408 preliminary investigations. Prosecutions proved very difficult, as there was little reliable evidence. Overall, the legal process is judged to have been remarkably slow and mild.
Against 257 persons cases were brought before the Regional Court of Rostock, most of whom were dropped. Only 40 young people in 1993/94 were charged with rioting and arson. Most were given fines and suspended sentences. Eleven of those convicted were given youth custody ranging from seven months to three years, but only four of them were actually incarcerated, for between two and three years, the other seven sentences being suspended. It took until ten years after the riots for the last three cases to be concluded. The sentences were for 12 to 18 months in juvenile detention, or probation, although the then 17, 18 and 19 year olds, convicted of assault were sentenced not only for arson, but for attempted murder. The vast majority of those involved in the rioting remained anonymous and unpunished, despite the whole three days of rioting having been filmed by national German television, by the BBC, and other foreign news broadcasters.
An investigation against Rostock police chief Siegfried Kordus was discontinued in 1994. Against the leader of the police operation, Chief Superintendent Jürgen Deckert, there was a case for criminally negligent arson by omission, which was dropped in 2000.
- Mark Saunders. "The Truth lies in Rostock (AVI, 698,7 MB)" (BRD, Great Britain, 78 min.) / Youtube: The truth lies of rostock - 1993 von Mark Saunders & Siobhan Cleary - 121 min
- Julia Jüttner. "Als der Mob die Herrschaft übernahm" "As the mob took control" Spiegel Online (August 22, 2007) Accessed Feb. 19, 2010 (German)
- John Eisenhammer. "Mistakes admitted in effort to end Rostock riots" The Independent (August 28, 1992) Accessed Feb. 19, 2010
- "Alle wußten, das wird lustig" "Everyone knew, this would be hilarious" "Spiegel Online" (December 28, 1992) Accessed Feb. 19, 2010 (German)
- Interim Report of the Board of Inquiry, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (June 16, 1993) (Zwischenbericht des Untersuchungsausschusses des Landtages Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)
- "Das Stigma Lichtenhagen". Schweriner Volkszeitung. "The Lichtenhagen Stigma" Newspaper article. (August 22, 2007) Accessed Feb. 19, 2010 (German)
- Stephen Kinzer. "Germans sentence anti-foreign rioter to 21⁄2 years" New York Times (March 4, 1993) Accessed Feb. 19, 2010
- Most police departments in Germany do not face riots and there had not previously been riots in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is left to the larger cities to have units trained in large-scale riot control. Only the police departments of Hamburg and Berlin had faced large-scale riots before, notably the squatter riots in the Hamburg districts of Flora and Hafenstraße.
- Whether or not the order to retreat was intended for just the Hamburg units or the state brigade as well, is a matter of controversy.
- "Ten years later: Progroms in Rostock-Lichtenhagen" Upheaval Picture Archive. Accessed Feb. 20, 2010 (German)
- "Recommended Resolution and Interim Report" (PDF) Legislative Board of Inquiry of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, June 16, 1993 (Parlamentarischer Untersuchungsausschuss des Landtags Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: Beschlussempfehlung und Zwischenbericht) (German)
- Liane von Billerbeck. "I was part of the pack" Die Zeit, No. 25 (2002) "Ten Years after the Lichtenhagen Pogrom: Offenders who are turned into martyrs, a murder charge and an uncertain verdict". Accessed Feb. 20, 2010 (German)
- Christoph Koch. "The Sunflower House: Rostock-Lichtenhagen 15 years after the riots, searching for traces" (originally published as a Stern/NEON report) October 26, 2007. Accessed Feb. 20, 2010 (German)
- Dieter Wulf. "Applause for incendiary acts" (Rich Text Format) Transcript of radio broadcast, Deutschlandfunk, April 9, 2002. ("Beifall für Brandsätze," Deutschlandfunk) (German)