Pubdate: Wed, 23 Jan 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Section: International
Author: Steven Erlanger


Hamburg Journal

HAMBURG, Germany, Jan. 21 -- Ronald Schill, known in the press as "Judge 
Merciless," came into office in this elegant and seamy city state on a tide 
of disgust with crime and immigration, shaking political assumptions. Now 
he is thinking about going national.

Mr. Schill, who is locally notorious for his harsh judgments in court, came 
out of nowhere to win nearly 20 percent of the vote in Hamburg's state 
elections last September, helping to turn the flaccid Social Democrats out 
of office here after 44 years in power.

The showing was a record for a new party -- the Party for a Law and Order 
Offensive, known more commonly as the Schill party. Now Mr. Schill, 42, 
intends his party to run in state elections in April in Saxony Anhalt, in 
former East Germany, where he is getting around 20 percent in the opinion 

He is even considering a run in the federal elections in September, which 
could make or break the conservative Edmund Stoiber's challenge to the 
Social Democratic chancellor, Gerhard Schroder.

But only 85 days in office, Mr. Schill is already facing criticism that he 
is not delivering on his promises to push out Hamburg's drug addicts and 
dealers and flood its streets with 2,000 more policemen. A headline this 
week in Hamburger Morgenpost, a local tabloid, charged, "From Judge 
Merciless to Minister Planless."

Mr. Schill confronts the problem of any right-wing leader in Germany: his 
rise stirs anxiety linked to Germany's past. His manner is modest as he 
curves his 6 feet 5 inches into an office chair, but his message is clear: 
other politicians have undermined the police, treated crime as the fault of 
the society and not the individual, and allowed "unhindered immigration 
into Germany, especially of black Africans, people from the former 
Yugoslavia, Turkey and other Muslim countries, which led to imported 
unemployment and imported crime."

Hamburg, a cosmopolitan Hanseatic port and media hub, has long been "the 
crime capital of Germany," Mr. Schill says. Drug dealers infest the 
cavernous central railroad station and the city's parks. Muggings are about 
10 times more common here than in Munich, the capital of Mr. Stoiber's 
low-crime state, Bavaria.

In 2001, theft rose by more than 19 percent and drug trafficking by 17 
percent, according to official figures.

In Hamburg, too, one of the main cells of Al Qaeda terrorists who attacked 
New York and Washington last September planned and plotted, melting into 
the large immigrant Muslim community of the southern district of Harburg.

"The terrorists chose the right place to plot their crimes," Mr. Schill said.

It was fertile ground for Mr. Schill, whose election showing won him the 
post of state interior minister in a conservative-led coalition. The office 
legitimizes him and his politics, troubling the left and posing a distinct 
problem for the mainstream conservatives.

Mr. Stoiber is already trying to keep his distance from the political 
novice with the uncomfortable opinions that rattle Germany's European partners.

"I exclude partnership with such a party on the federal level," Mr. Stoiber 
said recently. "We don't need it."

But in a close election, Mr. Stoiber might need Mr. Schill, who for now is 
merely relishing the attention and saying he will see how he fares in the 
Saxony election before deciding on a national run.

Then he gives a sort of wink and says that a "high-ranking member" of Mr. 
Stoiber's party has encouraged the judge to run, to help the southern, 
Catholic Mr. Stoiber with the skeptical Protestants in the north. He 
already criticizes Mr. Stoiber for "diluting his position on the issue of 
immigration and moving toward the center."

Germany's left, eager to see Mr. Schill out of politics just as swiftly as 
he entered it, is expressing the view that he has already broken his promises.

"Schill's making propaganda that he's solving the problems of ordinary 
people," said Michael Neumann, a Social Democratic member of Hamburg's 
Parliament. "But people are already asking where are his programs and ideas."

Mr. Schill counters that money is tight, that he has already put 280 new 
recruits into the police academy, increased training for police staff and 
brought in some Bavarian police officers on contract.

There have been other contretemps. A dealer who had swallowed plastic 
packets of cocaine died when the police administered a drug intended to 
force him to vomit up the evidence. The police have now been required to 
have two doctors present.

A Schill proposal to leave a prison on the grounds of a former Nazi 
concentration camp, Neuengamme, where 50,000 people died, created a big 
fuss. Mr. Schill argues that a new prison will cost $50 million, that the 
Social Democrats put the prison there originally after the war and that his 
own grandfather, a Communist, was killed in the camp in 1944.

"The prison should never have been built there," Mr. Schill said. "And the 
Social Democrats should have removed it long ago."

After protests from Jewish survivors of the camp, Mr. Schill agreed to 
dismantle the prison.

Mr. Schill's effort to rid the railway station of drug dealers had a 
setback, too. He wanted to bus them to the port, but the customs 
authorities who run the port refused to play along.

Still, the German train company, Deutsche Bahn, has had its own success.

It set up big loudspeakers and started playing Vivaldi to improve the 
atmosphere. The constant repetition of "The Four Seasons," says the 
newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, "has been an effective street sweeper, 
guaranteed to drive the most stubborn junkie crazy." To avoid Vivaldi, the 
paper said, many junkies and dealers have left the station of their own accord.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom