MULTICULTURALISM: WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
By Gazmend Kapplani (Athens)
A ghost is hovering above Europe: multiculturalism. Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel “agreed” that in their countries (and in general, throughout Europe) multiculturalism has failed. Since one can say a lot about this subject, I choose to discuss only the German “model of multiculturalism” – a model which for decades treated the immigrants in Germany as gastarbeiter, or “guest workers” that one day would have to return to their country of origin. For this reason, immigrants had to have their own neighborhoods, their own schools, their own lives…. They had to have other people’s lives. For decades, the German model of multiculturism was “hey Greek, Italian, and Turk, you will never become a ‘true’ German.”
But alas, the immigrants did not leave. They stayed in Germany. They struggled, they endured, they created families, they moved forward. Their children no longer spoke broken German. They did not feel like foreigners and began to assert their rights like the locals. And then, suddenly they became bothersome, they began to seem too large a group. Not so much in the factories, but on their days off, on Sundays in the city squares, they seemed like too many – as Max Frisch would say.
After decades, the German governments finally realized that the model of “multiculturism” which was imposed upon immigrants was a “Waterloo.” It was then that the code of nationality in Germany was changed – from “jus sanguinis” to “jus solis” - and the wall that divided Germans into “locals” and “foreigners” began to slowly come down. Since then, Germany has taken huge steps, although problems still exist (in any case, is there a place where problems do not exist?). In Germany, the children of immigrants – equalGerman citizens now - are becoming leaders of German political parties, Euro parliamentarians, famous directors, and prize-winning authors. They are no longer considered “cheap labor” but a part of the German elite.
Those who are nostalgic for the slogan “you will never become a true German, you Greek, Italian, and Turk” and those same people who once said to immigrants that they would never become a part of German society and that they should go back to their countries, today say “we want the immigrants to integrate but they don’t want to be included.” What do they mean, though, by “integration”? That mainly, those who are not “true-blooded Germans” will be considered German citizens of “questionable Germanity” – German citizens under continual cultural examination. It is this perception of “integration” which Ms. Merkel is taking into account, I guess.
Personally, I’m not crazy about the term “multiculturalism”. Words like “coexistence“ and “pluralism” better express how I feel. However, I get the impression that Ms. Merkel, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron don’t think about the term “multiculturalism”– its failures and successes – as much as they think about the current polls. In times of economic and ethical crisis, the term “multiculturalism” more and more often seems like a threat. Because, moreover, in times like these, the majority hungers for a scapegoat.
On the other hand, I regard this entire conversation about the failure of multiculturalism as the anguish of a difficult and painful European birth.