Thursday, October 21, 2010

Multiculturalism Fail

Coat of arms of the Federal Republic of Germany.Image via Wikipedia
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared on Oct. 16 at a meeting of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, that multiculturalism, “has failed totally.” This is merely stating the obvious as the failure to integrate non-Germans into society was quite clear a very long time ago. The same can be said of France and all the other members of the old EU to one degree or another.

Horst Seehofer, minister-president of Bavaria and the chairman of a sister party to the Christian Democrats, said at the same meeting that the two parties were “committed to a dominant German culture and opposed to a multicultural one.” The reference to a dominant German culture is striking, for obvious reasons. However, the phenomenon is not confined to Germany as right wing populists gain in the polls, much as in the US. In this context, it is clear that immigration issues are affecting all of Europe and the response is not pleasant.

Of course, much of the reaction to immigration is driven by the deteriorating economies of Europe (although Germany is doing rather well despite a shortage of highly trained specialists). But, the perceived problem in Germany is of its own making.

Germany’s labor shortage began, again for obvious reasons, following World War II. So it began to import some skilled, but largely unskilled, labor from other European countries. These workers were referred to as “guest workers” and they came from Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. They were considered temporary, as the name implies, not immigrants. Most returned as expected and in any event Germany had no plan for assimilation. Furthermore, Germans could now rely on the unskilled migrant workers to perform, well, unskilled and rudimentary jobs, thereby allowing Germans to move into far less menial positions.

Germany had a very liberal policy for the guest workers – including social benefits and the ability to bring in family members to join the already large number of migrants. Guess which migrants took advantage of this the most. Turks. And not Turks from the cosmopolitan west of Turkey or Istanbul, but from the very poor east. The Turkish community became permanent, raising families and, as the economy slumped, taking advantage of a very liberal German social safety net as they became un-employed.

Germany never wanted to assimilate any of the guest workers, but their own policies created a situation where they needed to do something. So they came up with the smoke and mirrors multi-culturalism solution. It seemed a great idea at the time, but contained a time bomb because the deal was that the guest workers (and at this point this really only included the Turkish population) could retain their cultural and social beliefs but had to pledge loyalty to Germany. This ended up creating a sub-class – a sort of separate but equal system – which did not share (and were not required to share) German values.

As I said earlier, this is not solely a German prediliction. Europeans in general have no idea how to assimilate different cultures. Germany, like France, hid its head in the sand and, until now, never defined what it meant to be German. There was never a core culture that the immigrants were required to accept in return for citizenship - a contract of shared values. Multi-culturalism is not dead because it never was alive in the first place. The German (and French) view was a pretence and merely created ghettos. Is it surprising that after being made second class persons that Turks in particular considered Turkey their home to which they owed loyalty?

For the Germans to claim failure now is a little like the shock – shock – that Greece lied about its finances in order to enter the Euro zone or that the unregulated, shadow banks in the US precipitated the latest economic crash.

But the current German view points to a broader issue. The fact that Germany is using the language of nationalism is, to put it mildly, a little alarming. Germany is looking beyond the old constraints that tied it to the Western defense and economic establishments, including the EU. Back to the future.

Germany already has the closest economic ties to Russia of any Western European state. Russia ties Germany to itself with energy and Germany provides investment to Russia. There is already the shadow of a political alliance. The Baltic States and Poland should view this developing relationship with alarm. So should the US.

The outcome the last time Germany talked up national interest was not at all agreeable.

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