Migrant Crisis & Germany

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Reflections on German Nationalism and the ‘Migrant Crisis’ in Europe
Text by Robert Imre, Photos by Heikki A. Kovalainen

Editor’s Note: In the article, Robert Imre, Senior Researcher at IASR, takes up the case of Germany with regard to the potential avenues of multiculturalism. A brief discussion is offered as to how Germany distinguishes itself from other European nation states in its response to the global “Migrant crisis.” A further question is raised as to whether Germany’s incipient success with multiculturalism may be seen to share parallels with the liberal-pluralist migrant societies of Australia and Canada.

One of the most interesting aspects of the recent European summer has been that so many migrants and asylum seekers have publicly stated that Germany is their country of destination.

Creating a pathology of migration has made it quite easy for government officials all over the continent to revert to paranoias of the ‘other’, rebuild borders long-forgotten, and ignore real and more serious policy problems. In the midst of all this stands Angela Merkel, a serious political persona opposed to the populists, and making concerted attempts to convince those around her to take in comparatively large numbers of migrants.

There are a number of related problems political, social and economic here, and I can only deal with a very small aspect of this, and one of the things I find most interesting is the changing nature of Germany.

For example, as in successful multicultural countries such as Australia and Canada, it is rare to find ‘ghettoes’ in Germany. Certainly there are areas that appear more affluent, and those areas where co-ethnics have grouped together, but there is nothing like the collapse of living standards we see in certain places in Belgium and France. Even Sweden – the only European country with an official multicultural policy – has areas that are approaching the infamous banlieues of Paris. This is quite rare in Germany and in many of the cities and suburban areas there is much more mixing of peoples going on.

Is Germany, then, a ‘proper’ multicultural nation like Australia and Canada? Our experience in multicultural nations tells us that social mobility is the key to breaking down barriers among pre-determined ethnic and religious groups. Once the social mobility is achieved, the dynamics of the society become quite different. And this is precisely where Germany might well be moving away from other European countries.

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There is of course still the question of the German far-right. A key point to remember about Germany is that conservative parties have been very careful to dissociate themselves from far-right nationalists. This is unlike what has happened in a variety of countries such as France, UK, Hungary, and even Australia. In those countries, among others, far-right nationalists have been able to influence conservative politicians and even policy-makers, to shift political agendas into this right-wing territory. This is not happening in Germany and the far-right remains isolated and very small.

Recent events might even point to the dynamic that many such social movements have experienced: the violent dying stages of a single-issue protest group. In almost every case, their rallies are ridiculed and outnumbered, and with almost no connection to any electoral success, they will not be anywhere near political decision-making processes.

Thriving multicultural nations with official multicultural policies such as Australia and Canada are always able to deal with the fact that wealthy countries will have birthrates below replacement level coupled with the need to increase tax revenues. This is achieved, in part, by having a regular migration intake that has immediate permanent residency, and very short timeframes for citizenship applications. A number of small cities throughout Germany have mayors who have claimed outright that they wish to have more people join their cities and are happy to have migrants from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, Germany already has people from these parts of the world living there, and depopulated German cities are set up with available housing and infrastructure – they need workers and taxpayers, families and individuals, to move in and work, pay taxes, and get on with their lives.

This is the same problem throughout Europe and migration would be a solution, both long-term and short-term, as evidenced by the migrant societies of Australia and Canada. A vast majority of German denizens seem to agree with this and can see the sense in the progressive move of finally shedding the 19th Century view of a mono-lingual, mono-cultural, mono-ethnic, nation-state, that so many European political leaders are trying to force their polities back in to.

So is ‘German nationalism’ starting to look like the liberal pluralism of Australia and Canada? Are we seeing a Germany that will leave the rest of Europe behind, shedding the repressive cloak of ethno-nationalism for the progressive liberal-pluralism of other successful migrant societies? Perhaps this current ‘crisis’ of migration will be the test for the ‘German’ population and policy-makers and political leaders of the German state.