Connect to share and comment
Chancellor Angela Merkel's comments about multiculturalism spur anti-immigrant dialogue.
It remains to be seen whether the party will make anything more than a ripple; it will contest next year’s Berlin city-state election. But its mere existence represents a shift in Germany which, unlike its European neighbors, had not spawned a modern, populist, anti-immigration party.
There are various theories as to why the debate has flared up now after being muted for so long. Some argue that Sarrazin and Merkel have broken a taboo and allowed the expression of pent-up fears about the loss of German culture and values.
Conservatives such as those of the Christian Social Union — the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU — are openly talking about defending Germany’s Christian heritage.
“The USA is an immigration country. Germany is not an immigration country,” said the party’s general secretary, Alexander Dobrindt, earlier this month. “We have a culture that has grown over centuries.”
Many Germans seem genuinely to fear that immigrants will undermine their culture.
“Foreigners such as Englanders, U.S. citizens, Italians and Greeks for example are well-integrated and bring their culture with them, which I find good,” said Michael Schulz, 42, who was one of more than 4,000 contributors to an online forum on immigration run by news magazine Der Spiegel.
“The problem is the Turks,” Schulz said after GlobalPost contacted him for an interview. “Their ideas about the role of women, the rights of girls, the problems of forced marriages and honor killings are only among the Muslims and in Germany most of them come from Turkey."
The Lower Saxony resident hastened to add that there are plenty of Turks who are well-integrated, law-abiding citizens, but then said: “There are also simply too many Turkish people in Germany.”
This week, Merkel’s government made clear it was targeting a perceived clash of cultures with the announcement that it would criminalize forced marriages, with those responsible to face five years’ jail time.
In the district of Pankow, where former East Berlin’s first mosque was built in 2008 against protests from locals, resident Christiane, aged in her 50s, said without rancor that she was worried there were too many foreigners in Germany.
Asked whether she thought multiculturalism had failed, she shrugged. “That’s difficult to say,” she said. “We live completely separately. I don’t know if you call that failure.”
Like it or not, Germany needs to have the debate, most commentators agree. With its aging population and looming skills shortage, Germany will increasingly struggle to maintain its manufacturing-based, export-driven economy, let alone support its welfare system, without more immigration.
“We are now discussing the core issues of German society that have not been discussed before,” said author and television commentator Henryk Broder. “The genie is out of the bottle and I don’t think anyone will be able to get it back in. I actually think it’s a very healthy process.”