‘When Angela Merkel defends her humanitarian granting of refuge on a large scale and in the same speech denounces multiculturalism, she is being entirely consistent with German governmental thinking.’
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in an address to the annual conference of the Christian Democrat party on Monday, said: “Those who seek refuge with us also have to respect our laws and traditions, and learn to speak German. Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies, and therefore multiculturalism remains a grand delusion.”
Some will find this odd given that Merkel has taken a brave stand in allowing large numbers of refugees – perhaps up to a million – to enter and be welcomed in Germany over the past few months. Of course the plan is that their claims for refuge and asylum will be processed, some may be refused and repatriated, some may stay until there is peace in Syria, but it is not unrealistic to assume that the large majority will become long-term settlers in Germany. Some may even think that her anti-multiculturalist remarks are a sop to her party’s angry right wing, who are opposed to her humanitarian stand.
There is, however, no necessary contradiction here, as regards either Merkel or long-term German policy. Since the second world war, the former West Germany and then the unified Germany have been generous in receiving refugees and displaced persons, initially those of German ethnic descent (the Aussiedler) but latterly more widely. At the same time, in the 1960s Germany entered into treaties with countries such as Turkey to import labour for its industries – “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers). Unlike the Aussiedler it was never intended that they would settle, raise families and become German citizens. This has indeed happened on a large scale, not because of but in spite of policy.
Those of German descent – even if they could not speak German – were regarded as Germans, but the Gastarbeiter were meant to be temporary and despite having several millions of foreign-born or foreign-descent in their midst (the number now stands at 16 million), chancellor Helmut Kohl declared in the 1990s that Germany was “not a country of immigration”.
Even though German governments had made provisions that superficially looked multiculturalist, such as the provision of Turkish-language classes, this was only so that Turkish children could be prepared for their return to Turkey. What Germany was very slow to do was to grant citizenship to Turkish settlers or their children. Even now, more than 50 years after the first Turkish guest workers came to Germany, it can be difficult for their children and grandchildren to acquire citizenship.
So when in 2010 in a famous speech Merkel said that “multikulti” had “utterly failed” she was not referring to what in the UK is understood by “multiculturalism” – the pluralising of what it means to be British – but to the policy of not integrating groups such as the Turks into German society and citizenship. Hence, when now Merkel simultaneously defends her humanitarian granting of (temporary?) refuge on a large scale and in the same speech denounces multiculturalism she is being entirely consistent with German governmental thinking.