Who is my neighbour?

Who was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? Diagramme his family tree (paternal and maternal) back to the 14th century.

Germans have been shocked lately to discover that a lot of their schools suck.

The schools in question are typically Hauptschulen, the lowest in the tripartite German division of secondary schools (the others are the Realschulen and the Gymnasien.) Traditionally, the Hauptschule was designed to ensure a basic education while providing vocational training and facilitating its pupils’ entry into an apprenticeship. Not all that long ago, people in other countries looked upon Germany’s programme of vocational education with considerable envy.

Things fall apart, alas, and the centre cannot hold. These days many German firms can select their apprentices from out of the ‘higher-class’ Realschulen, and many inner-city Hauptschulen have become mere dumping-grounds. Worse, they are all (or are all perceived at this moment by the populace to be) festering hotbeds of nigh-American levels of intra-schoolchild violence, though there might be rather fewer firearms in the schoolrooms.

But what has really grabbed the Germans by the collar about this issue is that it is not really about schools. Rather, it is about the very serious question of what it means to be a German. Or, as all too many Germans see it, it is about the strangers among us.

Inner-city Hauptschulen are dumping-grounds, and the dumpees are the poor and excluded. It is as unsurprising at it is disheartening that these are disproportionately immigrants and the children of immigrants. For far too long, Germany indulged itself in the fantasy that it knew no immigration, and this over decades when it was one of the primary immigration countries in Europe, with immigrant numbers rivalled only by the USA — a nation that long defined itself (at least, until recently) as a nation of immigrants. That fantasy engendered the hens now coming to roost.

Goethe is the brightest star in the firmament of German literature. Write out his entire oeuvre by hand in the space below.

So long as Germany could pretend that it had no immigrants, nobody here had to worry very much about integrating them. For völkisch-minded Germans from the Union, the fiction that these hewers of wood and drawers of water would in the fulness of time depart for their distant homelands provided great comfort. And if I am honest, I must admit that plenty of people more politically congenial to me than the Union let warmhearted notions of multiculturalism distract them from the fact that these new Germans needed to be integrated into society.

For many years, Germany had a racist law of citizenship. The roots of this law lay in the Bismarckian unification of Germany and were, by 19th century standards, quite progressive. But things change, and their meanings change too. In a postnazi Federal Republic, Germany’s ius sanguinis was indefensible. A few years ago, an SPD/Green government partly reformed the citizenship laws over the anguished howls of the Union. The period immigrants had to wait before applying for naturalisation was shortened significantly; German-born children of immigrants would, for the first time, be Germans by birth, so long as their parents had been legally resident in the country for a minimum period.

Alas, implementation of the reformed law lies, in part, in the purview of the Länder, and some of the Länder are governed by the Union. The suggestion of the governments in Baden-Württemberg and Hessia has been to make applications for naturalisation subject to a very long and difficult test, intended to measure the applicant’s knowledge of German history, politics, culture and societal values. In principle, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. In practice, many have remarked that the tests proposed by the governments of B-W and Hessia, if given to native Germans, would lead to their forced expatriation in huge numbers.

Choose one:

— It is unacceptable to live one’s life according to values dictated by arrogant, obscurantist, illiberal, bigoted, misogynistic clergy, unless of course those clergymen be native-German Roman Catholics.

— Stuff me into a crate and ship me back to Wogistan!

To make things worse, various voices in the Union have piped up now to suggest that the recent and long-overdue reform of the citizenship laws be revisited. I understand and sympathise with the worries these people have about the shortcomings of integration thus far but, I am sorry, their suggestion could not possibly be more wrongheaded. For a few, the point of the suggestion is to draw a racial distinction between ‘Germans’ and ‘non-Germans’. I think better of the majority in the Union. I think most of them are merely confusing the notions of integration and assimilation, and throwing up their hands in despair that a Neukölln-born Turk is not very much like a Franconian farmer (as though anybody should be surprised at that).

Assimilation is one thing, integration another. If pious women of Turkish descent wish to wear the headscarf, fair play to them. That is no hurdle to being a German. Indeed, until quite recently many rural German women would themselves have worn colourful headdress for religious reasons. Headdress and other oddments don’t matter. What matters is that every citizen assent to the following: I live here, I accept that I live in a pluralistic democracy; I demand the right to live by my values and respect the right of others to live by theirs. ‘German-ness’ can never again be what it was 50 or 100 years ago (and thank heaven for that); but Germany can rightly expect all Germans, whether their origins lie in Swabia or in Anatolia, to uphold the values of a democratic and tolerant republic. Like it or not, döner is now an essential part of the German national cuisine. It is incumbent on German society to make clear to the purveyors of döner that (i) they are welcome as fellow citizens and (ii) that citizenship carries responsibilities.

9 thoughts on “Who is my neighbour?

  1. Mrs. T,

    thanks for that. I’ve just been watching the grumpy old men chat show called “das philosophische Quartett” dealing with, essentially, this topic (and a couple of the other usual suspects older German men like Arnulf Baring from the upper echelons of academia and publishing enjoy complaining about when discussing “values” these days) until I could not possibly bear it any longer. Your article – strangely – somewhat reconciled me with the Germany I live in. Btw, I had a Döner for dinner tonight.

    I think most people, not only in Germany, are rather unaware of the conceptual differences of integration and assimilation. Practically, pure liberal ‘integration’ is unlikely to work, and, therefore, politically, a watered down version of ‘multiculturalism’ which, I think we agree on, has been recently put to rest even by most earlier advocates as a rather unworkable political idea.

    The real trouble is negotiating a workable balance of integration and assimiliation. Academically, you might call this “renegotiating the social contract”, using Union speak it would be a Leitkultur-Diskurs.

    Speaking of nationality tests, they can be truly simple: even in times of multidimensional identities and organisational affiliations, football is the ultimate test of localty 😉 – I once asked a fellow student, a Jewish German, who was born in Argentine, went to an English boarding school, and now lives in France, which football team he will support when Argentine plays against Germany – he said he would always be Argentinian in that sense…

  2. “What matters is that every citizen assent to the following: I live here, I accept that I live in a pluralistic democracy; I demand the right to live by my values and respect the right of others to live by theirs.”

    Well, in the US they demand quite a lot more than that. Both in terms of intensity (bombardment with nationalist symbols etc at school, sporting events and public life); and in terms of substantive flavour because there is an Americanwayoflife which goes beyond tolerance and pluralistic democracy, with certain demanding and distinctive conceptions of freedom, participation, responsibility and democracy. All of which are the post-exclusivist, post-racist versions of a certain sort of anglo settler protestantoid nationalism.

    Now if you could come up with a post-exclusivist, post-racist version of German nationalism which could be intensively inculcated, but had a more distinct and precise content than tolerance-plus-pluralism, you’d be onto a winner…

  3. …versions of a certain sort of anglo settler protestantoid nationalism

    What Eurocentric gobbledegook! All of your comments reek of postmodernist multiculturalism.

    But, back to Mrs. T’s, yes, well put. But I wonder if the there’s too much stress on identity and not enough on “how I earn my living?” There’s way too much European focus on identity/vocation, as opposed to opportunity/productivity. Take away all the restrictive labor laws in the EU, open up the labor markets to real competition, and you will witness a desire for assimilation to the society at large.

    Muslim communities in the US are remarkably assimilated compared to the EU. Most of that is due to the fact that they’re too busy making money to be too restive.

  4. Readers may like to know of the recently published OECD Factbook 2006. It contains comparative data from the world’s affluent countries with market economies for many economic and social indicators, including education attainment and spending on education. Perhaps the best access is via this website which displays the various categories of indicators with links to the various indicators:

    Specifically on education attainment and public spending on education:

    International student assessment

    Tertiary attainment

    Public and private education expenditure

  5. So long as Germany could pretend that it had no immigrants, nobody here had to worry very much about integrating them.

    That tells a one sided story. Many of the original Gastarbeiter believed that, too. It is much easier if the immigrants know and accept that their children will be changed by the host country.

    I live here, I accept that I live in a pluralistic democracy; I demand the right to live by my values and respect the right of others to live by theirs.

    That’s ducking the issue. A community needs laws. These laws will and must reflect the community’s values. Yet there can be only one set of laws in a society like ours. That in itself is one of the values. Whose values shall it be?

  6. “Take away all the restrictive labor laws in the EU, open up the labor markets to real competition, and you will witness a desire for assimilation to the society at large.”

    I don’t disagree that freeing up labour markets is a good idea, but I’m not sure this is sufficient. Denmark is not especially known for rigid labour laws and seems to be having a huge problem adapting.

    It will also be interesting to see what happens in Ireland as fertility continues its decline and non-Eu migration accelerates.

    Also, not everyone in the US seems so happy on this topic at the moment. Both Paul Krugman and the Republican right seem to share doubts about how open your labour markets should be allowed to become (and of course others are expressing similar doubts on product market openness).

    The issue seems to be that Latinos are arriving in large numbers in places where they haven’t been before, and this is producing a fuss. Just like it is in Denmark, and just like I predict it will do in Ireland.

    At the end of the day economics isn’t everything.

    But none of this of course addresses why Germany has been so unable to adapt, and not only to Turks of course, East Europeans don’t seem to be much more favourably viewed.

  7. Assimilation of a group of emmigrants takes time (a few generations). Especially when the group is physical distinct from the greater population. Which is the case between Turks and Germans. Nor does the law help because Turkish and German law onlyt differ in their detail

    ps. how is the asssimilation going of the blacks in the Northeast of the USA

  8. Edward has finally made me see what Mrs. Thatcher once intended to convey when coining one of her most memorable phrases.
    There is no such country as Germany.

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