Thursday, November 27, 2008

After half a century, Germany shows racism is still alive

I'm coming back from the hearing at the Labor Court, the first after the case has come back from the European Court of Justice.

The judge (a new one on the case) complained that the case is lasting too long. She forgot to apologize for the two years of delay caused by the Court. On November 2004 the Bonn Court had decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The three questions to be posed where ready, but it took until January 2007 for the file to be sent!

Based on the too long duration, she expressed the wish to terminate it. She ignored most of the content of the answers by the European Court of Justice. In particular, the second one, in which it is stated that I should have been offered the possibility to choose between the two contractual possibilities. She showed a clear inclination for settling the case. On one hand side she offered an agreement in which I would get "some 2000 euro" (she did not even bothered to get informed about the request, which was in terms of lost social security). On the other she offered to rule on the case, after stating that it would not make much sense for me because the MPG has changed the policy already in 2005. The fact that I started my claim in 2003, while the old rules where still applied, does not matter at all.

I took the time to discuss the decision with my lawyer (rather obvious on my side, after 5 years of battle). When I met Ms. Gertrud Bilski, representing the MPIfR in Bonn, I told her that she should be ashamed. She lowered her sight and did not reply.

Once back in the chamber, I asked my lawyer to emphasize that I was not given the possibility of a choice, as that was the policy of the MPG, as stated in a written form on the Personalhandbuch of the society.

The lawyer of the MPG, Mr. Axel Sch├╝ltzchen, replied that there where German nationals paid with a Stipendium and foreign students paid on a regular contract, so there was no discrimination. The statistics indeed showed that there were exceptions, but those where on a level of 1-2% for the German students on a Stipendium and 15% for the foreign Students on a contract. And the rules where clear, those had to be considered exceptions, against the MPG rules.

Following Mr. Sch├╝ltzchen argument, it would be enough to show just a single survivor to the Holocaust to deny it had ever happened.

Now, don't tell me this is a harsh comparison. That is exactly the way of thinking of most of the people in the MPG, and unfortunately not only there.

I have a sad story to tell. In autumn 2005 I accompanied my wife to a scientific conference in China, attended by many scientist of my former institute, the MPI for Radioastronomy in Bonn.
During a short ride in the elevator, I had a chat with Christian Henkel, researcher at the MPIfR. He asked me what had happened, why I decided to leave the institute and what was my law suit about. I guess unpleasant information are not really circulated inside the MPI's. So, I tried to summarize the thing to him, who appeared surprised and not understanding the point. I tried to explain that discrimination based on nationality is, for the German Constitution, on the same level as that based on religious grounds. I wanted to make a strong example and I asked:
"Let's suppose that the Max-Planck Gesellschaft says: Jewish scientific personnel has to be paid less that Christian scientific personnel. Would you find that fair?". His reaction: "well, if you don't like it, you are free to leave".


The judge will probably rule within today. I could consider to settle for money if the amount would be sufficient to establish unlimited free legal counseling and assistance for students in Max-Planck Institutes.

Andrea Raccanelli, Bonn

P.S. After several years, I finally started making the documentation on the case publicly available at
It will take some time before the web site will be completed. The documentation is huge and I am alone. Be patient or offer your help.