Is multiculturalism really a “failure” in Germany?

by Michelle L.

In our class we came upon the quote of the German chancellor Angela Merkel: “multiculturalism has utterly failed”

Unfortunately we did not discuss about the backgrounds and the deeper meaning of this quote. In this post I would like to take a closer look on this topic.

Germany‘s migration image has been changing tremendously since the end of the second world war. As of 2011, 19.5% of the German population had some sort of immigration background, meaning either being born in a foreign country as a non-German citizen or born to a foreign-born parent in German with or without German citizenship. Nowadays, the largest share belongs to the Turkish community (18.5%), followed by Polish (9.2%).

After the second world war, Germany was in need of labour to rebuild the country. People were encouraged to come to Germany and work there. This applies mostly to Turkish immigrants to former West Germany and Vietnamese immigrants to the former GDR, as for being a fellow communist nation. The government did not invest in language training or did not provide any service to make it easier to adopt for the migrant workers, since they were only seen as temporary cheap labour or so-called Gastarbeiter. Gastarbeiter is a German term for immigrant workers who came to Germany between the end of the war and the 1970s. Literally meaning “guest worker”, it refers to the temporary contracts after which the immigrant workers were supposed to return. In recent times this word got quite a negative connotation.

However, many people stayed and brought their family to Germany or married a German spouse. The government was not prepared for this. Since there literally was no effort in integrating the immigrants, those people were tolerated but not integrated in society. This continued for quite some time and the government somehow missed the turning point of Germany becoming a migration country.

Whereas other cities have a “China Town”, parts of Berlin seem like a Turkish parallel world. Even though some families are staying in Germany for the 3rd or 4th generation, many of them keep close ties to their home country and mixed slangs developed.

However, I do not think that multiculturalism has failed – it is the government who failed in creating opportunities to integrate immigrants into German society. It was only in 2005 that Germany introduced compulsory German language courses to immigrants, in case that the do not have sufficient knowledge of German to work. Moreover bilingual primary education only focusses on languages like French, Spanish and English. Most immigrant children therefore attend a regular school, where teachers are not prepared for them. This creates an environment where it is difficult for them to adopt. Since some districts in Berlin have a very dense immigrant population, people are more likely to stay in there national group.

I see Germany, my home country, as a multicultural society. Growing up in Berlin, I shared my class room with people from many different backgrounds. 24% of Berlin’s residents have a migration background and events in Berlin like “Carneval of Cultures” attract thousands of peoples. This percentage is still quite small compared to cities like Frankfurt (am Main), the heart of Germany’s financial sector and the most important international airport in Germany. The city is home to 42% of residents with immigration background.

Nevertheless, many “native” Germans are hostile towards immigrants. As of 2008, a survey found out that 53% think that “Germany has too many immigrants” and 50% think that immigrants like to stay along their fellows. In recent years, attacks on refugee homes increased and the National Democratic Party of Germany (a far-right German nationalist party) still manages to get many votes by promoting to “send all foreigners home”. Even though they were not able take part in any federal government, they are still active on a local level.

Recently, realizing the problem of demographic change (aging society) and the lack of high-skilled workers marked a shift in Germany’s immigration policies. However, it seems like the government is always only approving of immigration if it is in need. I hope that this attitude will change and Germany’s growing multicultural society will be seen as a benefit of our country.

References:
1) BBC News. “Merkel says German multicultural society has failed”. 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11559451
2) Abalı, Oya. “German Public Opinion on Immigration and Integration”. 2009. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/tcm-germanpublicopinion.pdf
3) Statistisches Bundesamt. “Bevölkerung mit Migrationshintergrund – Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus”. 2011. https://www.destatis.de/DE/Publikationen/Thematisch/Bevoelkerung/MigrationIntegration/Migrationshintergrund.html

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