Everyone’s het up about Angela Merkel’s speech in which she said that multiculturalism had failed in Germany. Here’s the King’s College London War Studies blog, for example, being overheated. Here’s respected correspondent Tom Ricks being even more overheated.
There is one problem with this whole festival of Terribly Serious People stroking their beards about The Problems Of Integration. It is this: Multiculturalism is not German policy and never has been. It is true that Germany doesn’t have a policy of deliberate official racism. But the word “multiculturalism” doesn’t mean very much if you define it as the absence of apartheid, in much the same way that “peace” isn’t just the absence of war.
In fact, official Germany pretended for years that there were no immigrants in Germany, which is about as far from multiculturalism as you can get while remaining a liberal democracy. And it’s not as if it was hard for journalists and others to find this out:
“We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn’t stay, but that’s not the reality,” she told members of the youth group of her Christian Democratic Union party, referring to the influx of workers, known as guest workers, who helped fuel the country’s postwar economic boom. “Of course the tendency had been to say, ‘let’s adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side, and be happy to be living with each other’. But this concept has failed, and failed utterly,” she said.
Yes, she referred to it two sentences before the bit everyone freaked out about.
Of course, you could go on to ask in what way this concept has failed utterly – Germany had not, when I last checked, descended into race war – but that would be to lend the whole affair a dignity it does not deserve. Banging on about “christliche Leitkultur” is an utterly routine and tedious habit of right-wing German politicians. It’s depressing that Angela Merkel of all people should descend to this, but it’s of a piece with the generally crappy performance of the CDU-FDP government – her version of the special tax break for hoteliers.
Veteran journalist Michael Spreng‘s excellent blog has reasons why this has come up just now – basically, the coalition has lost its way and there is trouble in the ranks. Important people in the CDU (and even more so in the CSU) have become keen on the idea of Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, the aristocratic defence minister, as an alternative chancellor. You have to remember that large chunks of the party, and especially the Bavarians, have never been reconciled with Merkel to begin with – she has usually been significantly more liberal, more northern, more Protestant, and more female than the party.
So this should really be considered a bit of cynical fan service, intended to queer the rivals’ pitch. Now can you all calm down?