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Germany should open the gates of citizenship

The lights may not be going out all over Europe, but the gates are surely slamming in the faces of immigrants and asylum-seekers.

As recession bites, xenophobes use foreigners as scapegoats. In France, a demeaning "zero immigration" is proclaimed as a goal; in Germany, the asylum law compensating the world for accepting refugees from Hitler has been repealed. Who gets the blame for unemployment, crime, homelessness? Outsiders.

Take the subway to the Kottbusser Tor stop in the Kreuzberg district of this German city, and you find yourself in "Little Istanbul."

Turks live here, 130,000 of them; Turkish "guest workers" and their families make up a third of the 6-million foreigners living in Germany. Some were born here, most speak German, and the menus on the walls of cafes advertise Turkish food in two languages. (I had a mini-pizza, a combination of two other languages.) The neighborhood is respectable lower-middle-class, near what used to be the wall, but the hard-working residents are fearful and resentful.

No wonder: neo-Nazi thugs have been firebombing immigrants all across Germany. The reaction of Chancellor Helmut Kohl has been formally disapproving; he is fearful that a show of personal outrage at thuggery _ which would be demonstrated by his presence at a Turkish funeral _ might be interpreted by host voters as siding with guest workers.

The rush of immigration by asylum was admittedly getting out of hand. Most of the newcomers were refugees from poverty, not political persecution, and added to the social burden and intergroup hostility. The United States limits immigration, too.

But the shut-the-gates argument breaks down under the weight of ius sanguinis, the German "law of blood." This notion holds that parentage _ the right conferred by the blood line _ determines what makes a German. It preceded, but is allied to, Hitler's "master race" fulminations and his search for polluting "Jewish blood."

Under this concept of citizenship, non-Germans in far-off lands who can show ancient Germanic family ties can claim a "right of return" to the fatherland, while children born in Germany to Turkish workers face bureaucratic obstacles. In the past decade, as many of these "Germans by blood" have been taken in as those seeking asylum; the ingathering was intended.

In this day and age, such "ethnic purity" is an insult to the rest of humanity, as many Germans admit. Pressure is building to further geographically restrict the law of blood and to make naturalization more open to people like the workers of "Little Istanbul."

But here we run into blood and irony. The agitation in this community, as in Turkish enclaves throughout Germany, is not for German citizenship but for dual citizenship. Longtime resident Turks, regular taxpayers, with children born here, want the right to vote in German elections and complete equality with their neighbors _ to which they are surely entitled _ but then they want something more. They want to be Turkish citizens at the same time.

Few Turks apply for German citizenship because they would lose property rights in Turkey. The answer to that injustice is not to demand dual citizenship from Germany, but to demand that the Turkish government stop penalizing its emigrants.

I have not been a Kohl enthusiast. His begging for a Reagan visit to SS graves in Bitburg lest his government fall was shameful; his toleration of the Libyan poison-gas buildup by German companies was worse (and only recently did a German publisher admit that a column I wrote titled "Auschwitz in the Sand" was accurate).

But it seems to me the German government is being unfairly burdened with creating a conflict of interest on citizenship. Respect for ethnic heritage is one thing; dual loyalty is another. If a Turk chooses to be Turkish-German _ with the right to vote and run for German office _ that citizen should not also be a Turk.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" was the proud boast of free men under siege. An immigrant living in Little Istanbul willing to make the painful choice of national allegiance should be given the opportunity to deepen that to "I am a German." And Germany should open the gate.

New York Times News Service