Why Merkel Fails Multiculturalism, Not Vice-Versa

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 10/19/2010 02:52:00 PM
It's interesting times in Germany-outwardly one of the most insular EU countries when it comes to discussions of multiculturalism. There is, of course, the still-unresolved matter of the French and Germans blocking several chapters for Turkish accession to the EU. (As a champion of Turkish EU membership, I even placed a clip of "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from the hit musical Avenue Q.) Now, we have an even more vehement statement of cultural insularity care of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Addressing the youth wing of the CDU, she avers that "multiculturalism has failed." This, of course, is partially aimed at the large Turkish minority in Germany who came as gastarbeiter (guest workers) but never left:
In a speech to supporters, Chancellor Angela Merkel said multiculturalism in Germany has not been successful. Party leaders also sparred over immigrants' role in filling the country's shortage of skilled workers. Attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed," according to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"This approach has failed, utterly failed," said Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in a speech to the party's young people's association in Potsdam on Saturday. She added that not enough was done in the past to support the movement. "The failures of the last 30 or 40 years cannot be resolved so quickly," she said.

The comments followed a similar speech from Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the CSU. On Friday he declared his party's stance against multiculturalism: "Multiculturalism is dead," he said, to delegates' applause. Seehofer's comments were criticized by Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews. In an interview with the Rheinpfalz am Sonntag newspaper, he said the idea that immigrants from Turkey as well as Arab countries found it harder to integrate was "not just tactless, but downright irresponsible."
There are two components to this version of multiculturalism. The one dealing with those living in Germany having to speak German is common sense and can fit within a concept of multiculturalism for the obvious reason that socioeconomic interaction would be difficult outside of diaspora communities. However, overtures to making Christianity the standard religion are very worrying to me. While this speech may indeed be an empty political gesture, the chequered history of German race relations suggests it may nonetheless spur untoward sentiments.
"We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here," said the chancellor. "Subsidising immigrants" isn't sufficient, Germany has the right to "make demands" on them, she added, such as mastering the language of Goethe and abandoning practices such as forced marriages.

Merkel spoke a week after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they pledged to do more to improve the often poor integration record of Germany's 2.5-million-strong Turkish community.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in a weekend interview, also urged the Turkish community living in Germany to master the language of their adopted country. "When one doesn't speak the language of the country in which one lives that doesn't serve anyone, neither the person concerned, the country, nor the society," the Turkish president told the Suedeutsche Zeitung. "That is why I tell them at every opportunity that they should learn German, and speak it fluently and without an accent. That should start at nurseries."

German President Christian Wulff was due for a five-day visit to Turkey and talks with the country's leaders on Monday.
Beyond the headline statement about multiculturalism failing, however, there is still much triangulation at play, with Merkel stating the need for Germany to attract skilled workers, who presumably would be able to speak fluent German. While making the usual conservative gestures about no-gooders sponging on the welfare state, she also says...
On Saturday, Merkel also underscored the continued importance of immigration to Germany and the job market, especially highly skilled migrants. She pointed out that every year, 200,000 Germans retired and left the job market, and weren't replaced, which could lead to companies leaving Germany due to labor shortages. The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce has said Germany's shortfall of about 400,000 skilled workers costs the country 1 percent in growth annually.

Merkel said, however, that older German workers should not be overlooked in favor of immigrant laborers, adding that immigrants should not be considered "until we have done all we can to help our own people to become qualified and give them a chance." For his part, Seehofer, in an interview with Focus magazine, said Germany should not use a lack of skilled workers as an excuse to open its doors to all comers, adding that demands made of those who wish to move to Germany should not be watered down. "We do not want to become the world's welfare office," he said.
It's the same all over the developed world, I guess. Skilled workers are welcome who do not disturb the postwar social fabric. At the same time, however, the welcome mat is always tenuous as scapegoating is not bound to any particular ethnic group. In that sense, immigrant-baiting at least is multicultural. As for making older workers work for longer, that is standard stuff in the immigration debate. Why hire foreigners when you can employ "your own people"?

Overall, I don't see the point in this speech other than repeating scare tactics that have been used by Germans at other points in time. Speaking fluent German is not a disavowal of multiculturalism, but forcing everyone to convert to Christianity would certainly be an affront. Not only is it very unlikely to happen, but it also offends many who would consider Germany as a destination for immigration. Let's face it: English speakers far outnumber German speakers, so asking even more for (1) Christian (2) skilled (3) German speakers is too much. (2) and (3) should suffice, no? And even (2) can be done away with in performing simpler service tasks.

And, like in the rest of Europe, the claim that Christianity is central to European or in this case German identity must be taken with a grain of salt. With church attendance still in fairly significant decline, Germany is at least as secular as the European average. In other words, politicians give religion lip service, but huge swathes of the populace couldn't care less about going to Sunday mass. The pretence is obvious, but hey, politics is largely symbolic. It's just that the rhetoric scares me given Germany's history.

UPDATE: A reader recommends this clip from Newsy.com.