After migrant influx, voters ask: What makes a German?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

After migrant influx, voters ask: What makes a German?

While absorption of migrants has long been an issue in Germany, recent surge has highlighted question of identity ahead of Sunday’s elections

This file photo taken on November 18, 2015, shows migrants walking to a train at the central railway station in Passau, Germany. (AFP Photo/Chirstof Stache)

This file photo taken on November 18, 2015, shows migrants walking to a train at the central railway station in Passau, Germany. (AFP Photo/Chirstof Stache)

BERLIN (AFP) — Germans vote in a general election on Sunday after a campaign which has seen parties spar over how closely refugees and immigrants should integrate into the national culture, sparking fierce discussions about what it means to be German.

What started the debate?

The armies of Turkish “guest workers” brought over for German factories after the devastation of World War II had kept the integration debate simmering for decades.

But it was propelled to center stage in the 1990s by university professor Bassam Tibi, himself from a migrant background.

Tibi suggested that the country needed a “Leitkultur” or “leading culture” which would transmit European Enlightenment values like democracy, tolerance and pluralism to new arrivals.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses an election campaign rally of her Christian Democratic Union party in Fritzlar, Germany, on September 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/dpa/Swen Pförtner)

But the term was quickly embraced by rightwingers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to mean an essentially German culture.

Since then, “the term is used to mean that there is something typically German, or Christian-European, that should unite a diverse population,” said Alexander Schunka, a professor at the Free University of Berlin.

“No one has ever really understood the term,” Tibi told the Tagesspiegel daily in July.

Why is identity back in the spotlight?

The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, mainly from Muslim countries, has deeply divided Germany.

The Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, in particular has capitalized on anger over the influx, transforming itself from an anti-euro upstart into an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party.

In this file photo from Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, an election campaign poster of the AfD party is attached to a streetlamp close to the headquarters of the CDU party in Berlin. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Some of the party’s views shade into conspiracy theories, including the “great replacement” belief that politicians plan to repopulate Europe with cheap, pliable immigrants.

And warnings that Islamic culture will overrun Germany are omnipresent in the party’s messaging.

AfD campaign posters feature messages like “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves!” over a picture of a beaming pregnant white woman, or “Burkas? We prefer bikinis!” plastered across an image of nubile beachgoers.

What exactly is German culture?

The trouble with calling for a German culture to overshadow whatever migrants have brought from elsewhere is deciding who gets to define what that means.

Centuries of history as a patchwork of princedoms before unification in 1871 have left Germany with dozens of strong local cultures, cuisines and dialects.

Most of those do not conform to the beer-and-lederhosen stereotype held by many foreigners, which reflects the heritage of southern Bavaria — as residents of the Franconia region in northern Bavaria would insist most strongly of all.

When integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz, who has a Turkish background, recently tried to make this point, the AfD’s lead candidate Alexander Gauland proposed that she be “dumped in Anatolia.”

The top candidates in the AfD party for upcoming general elections Alice Weidel (L) and Alexander Gauland leave after giving a press conference on September 18, 2017, in Berlin. (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)

The remark implied that he saw her German citizenship as meaningless, and harked back to “the worst memories our country has left all over the world,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said.

Merkel herself had a go at defining what it means to be German in an A-to-Z article for the Bild newspaper earlier this year, in which C stood for “Christian-Jewish tradition” and M for “Muslim” and “migration background.”

Bratwurst, Oktoberfest and the national football team also had a place in her Germany.

Fertile ground for the AfD?

Other politicians have also latched onto the integration theme, out of fear of losing voters to the AfD.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, of Merkel’s conservative CDU party, laid out his idea of essential touchstones of German culture in a May article for Bild, emphasizing “respect and tolerance,” “hard work” and “enlightened patriotism.”

“Social norms” like shaking hands and not covering one’s face — two endlessly debated questions about Muslim women — were top of his list.

Meanwhile, figures on the left of the spectrum have tried to expand “Leitkultur” to a broader definition closer to Tibi’s original concept.

Social Democratic politician Raed Saleh has just published a book called “German Me. The New Leitkultur,” which calls for Muslims to develop their own, specifically German vision of Islam.

“Why don’t we give the millions of Muslims who live in Germany a sense that they belong to society?” he told AFP.

Turkey accuses German politicians of ‘bowing down to populism’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Turkey accuses German politicians of ‘bowing down to populism’

Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on June 13, 2017.

(CNN)Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her election rival Martin Schulz of “bowing down to populism and prejudice” after both candidates called for an end to Ankara’s European Union membership talks in a live TV election debate Sunday night.

In a series of tweets posted Monday morning, presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said that the two candidates chose to attack Turkey and Erdogan “while ignoring Germany and Europe’s fundamental and critical issues” and accused Germany of embracing the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that the Turkish government has branded a terrorist organization.
Turkey’s deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Sismek, also reacted on Twitter. “EU never had a credible commitment to let Turkey in,” he wrote Monday. “Merkel isn’t only shooting herself in the foot but also jeopardising the future of Europe.”

EU never had a credible commitment to let Turkey in. Merkel isn’t only shooting herself in the foot but also jeopardising future of Europe! https://twitter.com/katipiri/status/904428499192217600 

In the debate Sunday night — three weeks before Germany’s federal election — Merkel called for accession negotiations to be stopped in an apparent change of stance on Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
“Turkey should not be a member of the EU,” Merkel said. “I will discuss with colleagues again to see if we can come to a joint position and end these accession negotiations.”
But she insisted that it was important for the two countries to keep talking, especially in light of the Germans currently being held as political prisoners in Turkey.
“I have no intention of ending diplomatic relations with Turkey,” Merkel said.
More than 10 Germans are being held. Two were arrested Friday, according to German authorities, but one has since been released, according to CNN affiliate N-TV.

The comments about Turkey came during a live TV debate between Merkel and Schulz on Sunday night.

Her Social Democratic rival also said he would seek to end membership talks. “We would be accepting someone who is now visibly calling into question all of the basic values of European cooperation,” Schulz said.
Turkey has “overstepped all red lines.”

Deteriorating relations

The exchange of blows marks a further escalation in tensions between the two countries.
Relations between Berlin and Ankara have been in a downward spiral since last summer, when a failed coup against Erdogan sparked a crackdown on civil liberties and mass arrests of the political opposition, activists and journalists, including German citizens.
Speaking at her annual summer news conference last week, Merkel said Turkey’s jailing of Germans was further damaging already fraught ties between the two countries, saying their imprisonment was “unjustified.”
Among the prisoners is German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was arrested in Turkey in February on charges of terror propaganda, and human-rights activist Peter Steudtner, held since July with nine others and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

Journalist Deniz Yucel has now been held in Turkey for more than 200 days, according to German authorities.

Germany threatens trade and travel restrictions

Germany has changed its tactics over Turkey in recent months, threatening to impose travel and trade restrictions if journalist Yucel and activist Steudtner aren’t released from prison.
In July, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned Germans against traveling to Turkey and suggested that the German government would review corporate investments in Turkey.
“Someone who detains law-abiding visitors to their country on the basis of outlandish, indeed absurd, accusations and throws them into prison has left European values behind,” Gabriel said, calling for Steudtner’s release. “We cannot continue as before.”

Nobel laureate on Erdogan's Turkey

Nobel laureate on Erdogan’s Turkey 06:45
A few weeks earlier, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry criticized an art installation in Berlin depicting Erdogan as a dictator that coincided with the G20 summit in Hamburg, calling it “a new example of rising racism and xenophobia in the country.”
Soon after, the Turkish government blocked German lawmakers from visiting German troops stationed in Turkey participating in NATO operations in Syria.
Earlier this year, German officials prevented top politicians, including Erdogan, from addressing Turkish rallies in Germany in the lead-up to an April referendum that handed Erdogan sweeping new powers.
In response, Erdogan likened the German government to that of Adolf Hitler. “I thought that Nazism was over in Germany, but it turns out that it is still going on,” he said. “It is still going on, it is clear.”

Merkel warns Erdogan over election

Germany heads to the polls in September

Germany heads to the polls in September 02:22
Relations with Turkey are a key issue in the days leading to federal elections in Germany, where there are some 3 million people with Turkish roots.
Earlier this month, Erdogan called on voters of Turkish origin to boycott the two biggest parties — Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — along with the Green Party in the election, describing them as “enemies of Turkey,” according to CNN affiliate NTV.
The call drew a fierce rebuke at the time from Merkel, who warned Erdogan against interfering in the election.
Germans go the polls September 24, with Merkel widely expected to secure a fourth term.