Total strangers hug one another. People dance for joy in the streets. Tears pour down their faces. It is Germany, November 1989. The Berlin Wall has fallen and for the first time in decades people can move freely back and forth in Germany’s old capital. A people feels its solidarity, in the truest sense of the word. Anyone who lived those hours in Berlin knows what lies hidden behind the abstract notion of “nation.”
Another picture: the smoking ruins of a house where five men died in a fire set by a disturbed German teenager, driven by hatred for foreigners. It happened in Solingen in March of this year. This picture, too, went around the world, so fast that it seemed the world was hungry for it. In fact, Germans learned about “German hatred of foreigners” from reports in the media. Millions of foreigners, people from every country on the planet, have lived in Germany for decades without anyone hatching a plot to set fire to their houses. I have yet to meet anyone who expresses sympathy for the arson that took place in Solingen.
It was only when these activities led to discussions of the revival of National Socialism and of a “Fourth Reich” that it became clear why they aroused such unmerited attention. On the face of it, the comparison is faulty. In Hitler’s Third Reich, before the outbreak of World War II, no foreigners were persecuted. There were plenty of foreigners, to be sure, the Russian refugees in Berlin who had been driven from Russia by Lenin’s and Stalin’s communism or the Italian workers in the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg who had been enthusiastically received into Germany. The people who were persecuted were Germans, those with the wrong political opinions and those of Jewish ancestry. They did not look different from their non- Jewish neighbors. They spoke the same language and acted alike. They had been assimilated in Germany for generations. They were treated as different because of propaganda, the ideology hammered into people by the media, branding Jews as bad people.
People who speak of a general German hatred of foreigners, with one eye on the Third Reich, are misguided and uninformed, so little has the one to do with the other. On the other hand, there is no point in denying that there has been a growing irritation in Germany over the past year or two between some foreigners who live there and part of the native-born population. What has caused this irritation?
The foreign population of West Germany before reunification with East Germany was about five million. In the past three years about two million have been added. One might think that in a country with a population of 80 million, it would not make much difference whether there were five, six, or eight million foreigners. It is not an issue of numbers alone, however. Four-fifths of the foreigners come from various poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. These people have nothing in common with Germany. They do not share her language or culture. They all, however, have a “right,” the right to stay in Germany by speaking a single word, “asylum.” They then enjoy a de facto right to stay on German soil indefinitely with a claim to free health care, food, and housing at the expense of the German taxpayer. Only America maintains so insane a system. Since the situation is well known everywhere from Sri Lanka to Zaire, hundreds of thousands pour into Germany from these countries. They are by no means the poorest of the poor. On the contrary, only the relatively privileged in their native lands can find the money—usually thousands of dollars—which the trip to Germany requires. But it is an investment that is soon reimbursed. A negro from Ghana receives monthly in Germany many times what he would earn at home in a year of harsh struggle to survive. About 50,000 claimants for asylum arrive every month in Germany. They are distributed among the German states, who send them to the local communities, who then have to find housing and other provisions for them. Because there is no more free housing in Germany, many immigrants now live in expensive hotels—all at taxpayer expense.
This is not the end of the ideologically motivated insanity. Before the right of asylum is granted, of course, a formal request must be made, which may be rejected in obviously unjustified cases. (Since July 1, 1993, new laws have enabled the government to reject at the border those seeking asylum for purposes other than political persecution in their native countries.) These “unjustified cases” constitute 95 percent of those seeking asylum. The asylum-seeker, however, has the right to appeal the rejection with the help of an attorney provided by the state, and he may appeal all the way to the highest court in the land. This does not change the outcome of the proceedings. Even after the appeals, more than 90 percent of all cases of asylum are found to be unjustified. However, during the appeal process, the appellant can live in Germany for years at no cost to himself. About 90 percent of those whose appeals have been rejected remain in Germany, because the authorities are afraid of the uproar that would be caused by expulsion.
Over 60 percent of the overburdened German criminal courts are occupied with senseless asylum trials, the outcome of which is predictable. According to independent evaluations reported in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last October, the true cost of German asvlum politics, when the hidden costs for legal services, police, etc., are included, amounts to about 35 billion German marks a year. These costs are not mentioned in the official government statistics, where only the direct cash and in-kind costs are included, so as to arrive at a supposed sum of only seven to eight billion marks. The real sum of over 30 billion marks represents about half of the annual new indebtedness of Germany.
The abuse of the German right of asylum is not new. When this debate began at the beginning of the 1980’s, however, there were four or five thousand asylum-seekers entering Germany every month, not 50,000. More importantly, in 1982 and 1983, West Germany had a booming economy, which offered the population steady increases in real income. Nobody worried about a few thousand asylum-seekers grabbing crumbs from the kitchen table by misrepresenting the reasons for their arrival.
The current situation is fundamentally different. Besides the worldwide recession, which has affected all industrial societies, Germany has two additional problems. The first is German reunification, which has led to enormous burdens on the official budget because of the net transfer of over 100 billion marks a year from West to East Germany. East Germany’s economy, however, has still not been rescued by these expenditures because of the economically irresponsible decision of the Kohl administration to exchange the East German mark for the West German mark at the rate of 1:1 or 1:2. The debts of communist Germany were thereby enormously increased while aggravating the ability of East German industries to compete on the world market.
All this was bad enough. Then came the crisis in Eastern Europe, caused by the transition from socialism to a market economy. Without an appreciable improvement in the social and economic spheres, there are fears of immigration to the West of millions of Eastern Europeans fleeing poverty, and of general political instability. In the worst case, these problems could lead to a threat of unpredictable dimensions in a (still) stable Western Europe. These fears help explain the enormous sums Germany gave to aid the former Soviet republics, especially Russia, amounting to over 80 billion marks, a sum more than 20 times all American aid for Eastern Europe.
However well-intentioned the motives for these expenditures, they did not change the fact that Germany had taken on more than she could bear. Germany’s economic crisis can be seen in her rising unemployment and increasing inflation, which is barely held in check by the restrictive monetary policies of the Bundesbank. If one includes in the official unemployment statistics part-time jobs, the many hidden forms of unemployment, and the official definition of jobs as “apparent work positions,” we reach a number of nearly six million unemployed in Germany. This is the magic number at which Hitler came to power in 1933. The quality of daily life is simply the worst in 40 years. Naturally this affects lower classes the most, while the majority of citizens of the middle and upper classes still do not notice it as much. This could, however, be the calm before the storm. Of course, the situation today is different from that at the beginning of the 1930’s because the social safety net is basically intact, but the social consequences of unemployment are now relieved only by increasing the indebtedness of the state, which must in the end lead to the nation’s collapse unless emergency measures are enacted soon.
Now we can see the connection between the politics of asylum and the arson at Solingen. Working people are involved in an ever harsher competition for the remaining (and increasingly unaffordable) housing and poorly paid jobs. It seems sheer mockery to these people that, while they are losing first their jobs and then their homes, aliens from the Congo under the right of asylum receive tax-financed free housing, which a German citizen does not receive. The situation creates great bitterness among native Germans. To understand it, just talk to a barber or taxi driver or any of the other thermometers of popular opinion. A “hatred of foreigners” you will not encounter, but anger against asylum-seekers, indeed.
This feeling becomes dangerous in poor young people who are deprived of training or a job, who are beginning to drink, and who see in the presence of the rapidly increasing number of immigrants the cause of their misery. The young do not know enough to distinguish between the hardworking immigrant and the alien who abuses the right of asylum. This is the atmosphere that drives the poorest and most ignorant, who exist in every nation, to acts of arson and other attacks on foreigners. These attacks are ongoing in other European countries in at least equal numbers, but when they happen in England or France, the world press does not find them worthy of attention.
We should not ignore the fact that for the past two or three years, parallel to the dam-breaking flood of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants, the crime rate has been increasing at a worrying pace. In many German states the crime rates are increasing 80 or 100 percent annually. Although the foreign population in Germany is only around 8 percent, every third criminal act involves a foreigner, and here too asylum-seekers are disproportionately represented. The worse the crime, the higher the representation of foreigners—for muggings, 43 percent; for murder, over 50 percent; for drug trafficking, over 70 percent. Naturally the street rabble do not see that the asylum-seekers are not responsible for the situation. The problem lies in the criminal negligence of the party politicians in Bonn, who are so notoriously distant from the needs of their people that they no longer notice them.
Here is the heart of the problem. From a pragmatic, hardheaded understanding of politics, it is impossible even for a German well acquainted with this situation to understand why the state and the parties do not respond to these problems and attack them at their root. How can foreigners understand the confused dawdlings of the German political elite?
The root cause of the impotence of German politics is the presence of a power elite in the public institutions, especially in universities, schools, and the media, that is animated by the spirit of 1968. This attitude is a mere fad in the United States, but in Germany this group aims at permanent revolution, presenting citizens with social goals that are not desired by the majority of the people.
After the March attack in Solingen there were days of Turkish protests, in Solingen itself and in countless other German cities. Politicians and journalists in Bonn demanded easier naturalization procedures for foreigners. Chancellor Kohl himself suggested that German citizenship be granted to every foreigner who has lived in Germany for five years. The most absurd assertions were made, in Germany and abroad, about the German law of citizenship. For instance, it was supposed to be a law of “blood and soil,” which opponents denounce as fascist. Such assertions are striking for highlighting the pitiful state of the education of the people who make them and not for any light they throw on the situation. In fact, the law of jus sanguinis in Germany, as in many other countries, has as much to do with the Nazi period as does the jus soli system of citizenship prevalent in the United States. It is a case of two equally justified methods of regulating citizenship, which have different historical developments as their explanation.
German law, which emphasizes descent from German parents as the basis of citizenship, has to be seen against the historical background of the absolutist tendencies of the princes of the small German principalities to increase as much as possible the number of their subjects. Considering the small size of German states before the foundation of the Empire in 1871, it was comparatively easy for a state to claim as its “subject” a baby who was born there by the accidental presence of a pregnant woman from a neighboring village, even against the will of the parents. The law was simple. A German was someone born of German parents, people who held German citizenship themselves. The development in the United States, of course, was different. In a country that had no homogeneous ethnic population, all children of immigrants received citizenship upon birth in U.S. territory, since there was no common ancestry and the population consisted of a community of immigrants. Both conceptions of citizenship have their different histories as well as their advantages and disadvantages.
Clearly, the debate over citizenship is a pure charade, meant only to distract attention from the real question. Should Germany become a country of immigrants? If the answer is “yes,” then naturalization should be made easier. If the answer is “no,” then there is no reason to change the present law. I want to suggest most emphatically that the answer must be “no.” Considering that the United States has only some 27 inhabitants per square kilometer even with its current immigration policies, it is downright absurd to clamor that overpopulated Germany, with its 224 inhabitants per square kilometer, should accept new waves of immigration.
The most important point, however, is what the German people want, and there is no doubt that the majority of the population is against a transformation of their nation into a “multicultural society.” This is the banner under which the immigrants and their political allies march. The leadership of the movement is the generation of 1968, the real establishment of Germany. They are not restricted to parties such as the “Greens” and the socialist opposition. Heiner Geissler, longtime chief ideologue of the ruling Christian Democrats, is one of the most significant proponents of the multicultural society, as are his fellow Christian Democrats Rita Sussmuth, who, as president of the German parliament, holds the second highest office in the state, and labor minister Norbert Blum. Their goal is to remake Germany after the model of the American “melting pot,” a peaceful if motley society whose members come from every different culture, complementing one another like the colors of the rainbow. This naive conception has little to do with reality.
If one thinks of the racial unrest in Los Angeles in 1992, doubts arise about the peaceful character of multicultural societies. The United States is, after all, a society composed of many different peoples and races, all living together under the abstract ideal of “the pursuit of happiness.” When a society that has slowly evolved this way does not function, what chance for success will the ideal have in a land inhabited mainly by a homogeneous population according to jus sanguinis when it has to handle the swift and artificial introduction of other groups?
Every society strives to preserve its own customs and mores. Anyone who wonders what a multicultural society will be like has only to glance at the evening news, at the pictures of Sarajevo, Tadzhikistan, or Beirut. There is the reality of people of different cultures and religions living together. That will be the future of German-Turkish relations, in spite of their previously peaceful nature, if uncontrolled immigration is not ended. For Turks and Germans are friends as long as Turks live in Turkey and Germans live in Germany, each nation enjoying its wealth of traditions and unique characteristics. Mixing produces only uncertainty and anxiety.
The irritations are already there, and they will only get worse unless we start thinking and speaking clearly. The Turkish example is instructive. With 1.8 million people, they represent the largest foreign colony in Germany. They also have the most problems. Their way of life is very different from that of Western Europe because it is distinctively Islamic. They have little contact with Germans and live in voluntary segregation from Germans in their own ghetto-like quarters of the cities. They attribute no value to integration, which would mean accepting the German way of life, because they have their own deeply rooted culture. Since there are so many of them now in Germany, they can live among one another without changing their way of life or coming into conflict with German customs. No ideal unites them with Germans. How easily conflicts can arise, we now can see. What has happened in Germany in the it a different name, there will then be no more riots between past two years should serve as a warning to avoid such possible sources of conflict.
The politicians in Bonn have devised only one solution to the North Sea and the Alps to conduct negotiations and to this problem—i.e., give German citizenship to anybody who watch over the distribution of humanitarian aid to the hostile has lived a couple of years in Germany, even though he has his parties in yet another “civil war.” own citizenship. This is the perfect solution for those who have created the crisis, meaning the political parties who are totally isolated from the German people, who understand nothing of populist needs, and who increasingly receive a decreasing number of votes. If the problem is eliminated by merely giving Germans and Turks, only riots between “Germans.” Then we can await the arrival of the U.N. peace-keeping forces between the North Sea and the Alps to conduct negotiations and to watch over the distribution of humanitarian aid to the hostile parties in yet another “civil war.”
This piece was edited and translated from German by E. Christian Kopff.
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