The issue of immigration

German monoculture is a thing of the past

Germany, a nation of immigration – a phrase that was once revolutionary. Now, it's quite simply an assessment of everyday life. An essay by immigration researcher Dieter Oberndorfer

Things are currently being said in Germany that would have been inconceivable just 10 years ago. People who don't look typically German are being declared potential criminals by politicians; the fact that ours is an immigration nation is once again being called into question.

The debate over former national footballer Mesut Ozil has shown how difficult it is for us to unconditionally accept people of different ethnicity as German, even if they have grown up in Germany. According to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, immigration is the "mother of all political problems". Itʹs a position that resonates with many.

There it is again, the "ethnic" idea of the German nation as an ancestral community. Politics has never quite managed to abandon this concept: anyone born with German ancestors in Kazakhstan – or anywhere else in the former Communist eastern bloc – may return to Germany as a German, even if their forebears emigrated centuries ago. The definition of emigrants and displaced persons as "ethnic Germans" is an unabashed application of the ethnic nation model. It is a good thing that these people have received assistance to help them get established here, as well as friendly acceptance on the part of the authorities. But this is not the experience of other immigrants.

German society has become an immigration society. This development cannot be reversed – no radical right-wing politician in Germany, Europe or the U.S. will be able to prevent the demographically-prescribed changes occurring within their populations. The right-wingers may create divisions and strife, but they canʹt produce an ethnically pure body of people.

For a pluralist society – individual and diverse

The reforms introduced to citizenship legislation since 1992 have therefore been imperative. These days, being German has far less to do with oneʹs ancestry than it once did. Shrewd politicians have realised that success at the ballot box increasingly requires the votes of immigrants and their descendants. Even the AfD knows this, and actively campaigns for votes within Polish, Russian-speaking and other migrant communities.

Handshake symbolising diversity and integration (photo: Imago/Imagebroker)
"German society has become an immigration society. This development cannot be reversed – no radical right-wing politician in Germany, Europe or the U.S. will be able to prevent the demographically-prescribed changes occurring within their populations. The right-wingers may create divisions and strife, but they canʹt produce an ethnically pure body of people," writes Oberndorfer

In a recent conversation with Der Spiegel, British journalist and writer Timothy Garton Ash said Europe's intellectuals had paid insufficient attention to the need for homeland and identity; and that these concepts should not be ceded to the right wing. This is a popular thesis at present. It is nevertheless problematic. Within modern, pluralist societies, homeland is individual and diverse; it pertains to very different life experiences and values. The collective and binding definition of the concept of homeland comes at a high price – it would mean imposing it upon a whole range of different life stories and defining who belongs and, by extension, who doesn't.

Even the question of whether migrants belong to "our" homeland is pretty insidious. Invocations of "the" homeland and a "we" are almost always misused to distract from genuine need: wages, employment, affordable housing, health.

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Comments for this article: German monoculture is a thing of the past

I would question whether what the author describes as "German monoculture" was ever a thing in the first place? Luther is the only reason the different states even speak the same language. While it's true that there have been sustained attempts on the part of certain parties to create a unified German identity, regional cultural (and, to a degree, linguistic) differences are still more pronounced than some are prepared to admit.

Joshua Lepsy16.09.2018 | 19:11 Uhr