Friday, April 9, 2010

Ethnic Nationalism and Xenophobia

By Austin Cline

What does it mean to be German, French, or Italian? This is a question which European nations are facing and having trouble answering. In America, simply being born here is enough. The same is true for a few other countries, like Canada and Australia. For a country like Germany, however, ethnicity plays a role and this causes problems for immigrants.

The Economist explains the problem faced by Germany:

Germany is not the only country that has problems with immigration, but it faces a special dilemma. In a way, it is torn between its past and its future: it still yearns for cultural homogeneity, but will in fact need more immigrants, particularly highly skilled ones, to make up for its low birth rate and to keep its economy competitive.

It is the “legacy of romanticism”, in the words of Dieter Oberndörfer, a political scientist at Freiburg University, that holds Germany back. Thinkers such as Friedrich Julius Stahl, a 19th-century lawyer, developed the idea that Germans are a people based on descent. “The older and purer the tribe,” he wrote, “the more it will be a nation.” This became mainstream thinking, at least among the ruling classes, and helps to explain why, some time after Germany had become a nation at last in the late 19th century, it decided to base citizenship on blood rather than soil.

The emphasis on ethnic origin also explains why Germany has seen a huge influx of foreigners with German roots since the second world war, mostly from eastern Europe. Individuals who could prove German ancestry were invariably welcomed.
One other country where this is especially true is, ironically enough, Israel. Anyone who can prove that they are Jew, no matter where they were born or grew up, can become a citizen automatically. How much of the Israeli sense of nationality and national identity has been shaped by late 19th century German beliefs about ethnic purity? Too much, it appears.

Immigrants without German roots were also admitted in large numbers, but on different terms: under Germany’s “guest-worker model”, they were expected to go home when they were no longer needed. Predictably, though, many of the 14m guest workers whom Germany allowed in between 1955 and 1973 stayed on, particularly the Turks. They also brought their families over, which resulted in many German-born foreigners. Add other immigrants, refugees and EU citizens (who can come and go as they please), and it is easy to see why the number of foreigners grew rapidly, from 500,000 after the second world war to 6.7m (8% of the population) today. Another 7m or so Germans are naturalised immigrants. In record time, all this has turned Germany into nearly as much of a nation of immigrants as America.

Yet it took German politics until the late 1990s to accept this reality. Both big parties often felt they had to pander to anti-immigrant, if not xenophobic views. ... The third generation of Turkish immigrants, in particular, is increasingly marginalised—and not just because of the school system and the labour market. The exclusion starts when they become teenagers, explains Mr Ersan: they often switch to a Turkish football club at that point because their old German club makes it clear to them that they do not really belong there. When they have finished school, they are rarely offered even an unpaid internship, let alone an apprenticeship.

That is if they manage to finish school at all. According to a 2001 study by Bamberg University, 15.6% of young foreigners in Frankfurt failed to do so, compared with 6.5% of Germans. Far too many left school at 14. For Germany as a whole, the numbers are even worse.

The Turkish community is also to blame. Many have retreated into ethnic ghettos: the availability of a complete Turkish infrastructure makes it possible for them to live in Germany without having much contact with Germans. The fact that Turkish men in Germany increasingly look for wives in Turkey does not help: their children are often raised the traditional way and do not learn enough German to integrate properly.
Both Turks and Germans are to blame for the current situation, but who will take responsibility for fixing it? The Turks probably can’t move very far without cooperation from the Germans, but nothing the Germans do will help much unless more Turks are willing to take a chance and try to live more integrated lives in German society.

Both are going to have to take joint responsibility, then. Germans must ensure that young people of Turkish descent are able to get a decent education and have access to decent jobs. Turks, then, must be willing to move beyond their traditional ways of life and traditional neighborhoods in order to become part of the rest of Germany.

The parallels here with America are interesting. Africans were enslaved and made a sort of “guest worker” in America. Their descendants faced continual discrimination and a refusal to accept their citizenship in America — not to mention their very humanity. Today, young African-Americans also fail to graduate school in large enough numbers and, when they do graduate, they don’t have access to the same sorts of jobs. Perhaps America and Germany will be able to learn something from each other in dealing with these social problems.



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