Recent events in Chemnitz have shown how demagogues can deploy absurd delusional notions to incite a large number of people against all reality. Heinrich von Treitschke wrote in 1879: "The Jews are our misfortune" – the Nazis gratefully took it up. Today, foreigners are apparently our misfortune, particularly in eastern Germany, where there are hardly any immigrants and where people are better off than their eastern European neighbours.
An irreversible immigration society
Sober objectivity is key to any discussion on immigration. Twenty years ago, I founded the "Rat fuer Migration" (Council for Migration) with the historian Klaus J. Bade and a number of others. At the time, we wanted to make clear that Germany is a country of immigration. That may sound obvious now, but it was regarded as revolutionary at the time.
Two decades later, we need to go a step further: German society has become an irreversible immigration society. The idea of a monocultural receiving society facing refugees and requiring them to adapt to it no longer holds true.
Germany has experienced dramatic change through immigration and will continue to do so. That is not automatically good and it unsettles some people. But it is a fact that must be acknowledged. We can then move on to the next step: immigration must be cleverly managed. Incessant problematisation will get us nowhere. Yes, some things are in a sorry mess – but overall coexistence is working well, much better than the current debate would have us believe.
Everything in Germany has changed – take food, an example as mundane as it is obvious: whoʹd want to return to the 50s when it comes to eating? But Germany has gained from immigration in many other important respects. It has become cosmopolitan. The private libraries of our great-grandparents may have been impressive – but they lack much of what is an obvious part of our culture nowadays.
Bid farewell to the ethnic nation
Shaping migration means shaping society. We need to bid farewell to the ethnic nation and fashion a republican constitutional nation. In principle, all people can become citizens of the republic, if they commit to the republican constitution and its values. Legally speaking, this is theoretically already the case.
But as the discourse shows, many are still some way off accepting this approach. We need to work on this. Of course, a pluralist, republican nation is also not immune to demagogues, ignorance and serious setbacks. But it's the better alternative to ethnic narrow-mindedness and an ancestral arrogance that degenerates into criminal acts of violence.
Managing the immigration nation demands an approach that was essentially already clear 20 years ago: the process requires language development, access to the labour market, political participation, opportunities for social encounters in everyday life, as well as through sports and the voluntary sector; it requires integrative local policies, universal suffrage and comprehensive education sector reforms. This is all within our reach. Much has already been achieved, much must simply be continued.
The Federal Republic is strong, despite everything; its citizens must now fight to prevent their nation sliding back into barbarity. In 2015, the lives of refugees were paramount. Anyone fleeing a hail of bombs, toxic gas attacks and other threats to survival should be helped. That is how it must be. Anything else is inhumane.
© Suddeutsche Zeitung / Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Freiburg political scientist Dieter Oberndorfer, 88, is one of Germanyʹs immigration research pioneers