This is how it should look on New Year's Eve 2016 in Cologne… © City of Cologne
The mass assaults by migrants last New Year's Eve shocked politicians and the public alike. One year on, only a few perpetrators have been convicted. Political responsibility also continues to be discussed.
Light against fear: With an art installation at the cathedral, the city of Cologne wants to set an example at the turn of the year 2016/17. Under the motto "Time Drifts Cologne", the Cathedral Square and Roncalli Square will be brightly illuminated. Several hundred police units will be deployed around the cathedral and in the city, and no rockets or firecrackers may be set off in the vicinity of the cathedral.
All means are to be used to prevent a repeat of the events of last New Year's Eve. The mass sexual assaults on women, primarily by immigrants from North Africa, shocked many politicians, church representatives and citizens. The worst fears and populist cliches about the danger posed by single young men from Islamic countries seemed to have come true.
"And then came Cologne"
Already before the 31. December 2015, there had been fears about whether the many refugees could be integrated into German society. The Cologne incidents acted as a catalyst: "And then came Cologne" – this statement has since been used to refer to the supposed failure of German integration efforts.
For right-wing populists, the reference is part of the fixed repertoire of their incantatory rhetoric. Tightening of asylum policy and debates about safe countries of origin were the result. Meanwhile, representatives of churches and Islamic associations insist that refugees in general and Arab men in particular should not be placed under general suspicion.
Balance: 28 convictions
It also quickly became clear that prosecuting the suspects is not as easy as assigning blame. A good year after the events at the main train station, only 28 of those involved have been sentenced by the Cologne District Court. Twelve of them are from Morocco, eleven from Algeria. Other perpetrators come from Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Tunisia.
Six more criminal cases with six defendants are currently pending. In view of more than 1.200 charges filed with the Cologne public prosecutor's office, the number of proceedings opened is thus very low.
Only one conviction for sexual assault
Although sexual assault predominates in public discussion, the proceedings mostly involved accusations of theft, robbery or predatory extortion. Only six defendants actually had to answer for sexual coercion. Two of them were convicted; in the other proceedings, the accusation could not be proven – for example, because the victims did not recognize the defendants beyond a doubt. In one case, a defendant was convicted of "groping".
The age of the defendants ranged from 16 to 50 years old. In six cases so far, prison sentences without probation have been handed down, otherwise the perpetrators got off with suspended sentences or fines. The harshest sentence was handed down to a defendant convicted of predatory theft in combination with dangerous bodily injury, as well as theft: He received a prison sentence of one year and ten months without probation.
State government under fire
Political responsibility for the incidents is also still being debated. The Cologne police president at that time Wolfgang Albers had already to 8. January to take his hat. North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister President Hannelore Kraft and Interior Minister Ralf Jager (both SPD) have faced accusations of failure and cover-up from many quarters for not addressing the incidents publicly sooner. A parliamentary investigative committee in the state parliament is still looking into the ie.
It is not only in Cologne that the upcoming turn of the year will probably be celebrated less lightheartedly than in previous years under the impression of the past New Year's Eve night. Police will also be on increased duty in other major German cities, where there were also assaults last year.