The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 2/12 |

Part I: Germany

In the centre of German nationhood traits primarily lies the idea of common descent: Germanness has been understood as a matter of blood.13 Thus, the settlement of migrants from other ethnic groups after World War II brought about huge public concerns. The main pattern of migration that laid down the foundation of “multikulti” of today’s German society was linked to economy. Industrialization and the fast economic growth in the post-war decades created a huge demand for workers, which resulted in guest worker policies. Guest workers were supposed to return to their countries of origin and Germany was intended to stay a mono-ethnic country as it regarded itself before. However, the foreigners not only stayed but also brought their families to Germany. In this way, Germany has been recently been confronted with the demand of the concept of the liberal modern state to reformulate its idea of citizenship based so far on descent. In other words, Germany had to admit that because it is a country of immigration, one should be allowed to be a German even without German roots. Although multiculturalism has never had fully public endorsement and has recently been even accused of failure, as has been mentioned in the introduction, the current governmental move is towards explicit policy of integration and recognition of minorities.

This chapter describes the challenging process of Germany becoming an ethnically diverse society and largely refers to controversy stirred over it. It consists of three subchapters. The first one addresses the history of migration to Germany after World War II focusing on main immigration groups and the public attitudes towards them. The second presents the process of changing assimilation policies in Germany and integration of population with a migration background into German educational and economic sphere. The third one is devoted to the social discourse on immigrants and their impact on the German society. It identifies the most crucial concerns with regard to immigrants and discusses them against the background of statistic data and governmental standpoints.

1.1. The history of migration to Germany after World War II: how Germany became a multicultural society

As the number of foreigners in Germany has been gradually increasing since the beginning of the 1950s, Germany has become one of the most important destination countries in Europe for immigrants. In 2011 the number of foreigners reached 6.93 million and the number of ‘people with an immigration background’ (Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund) was15,7 million in 2010, which means that nearly every fifth person living in Germany has some foreign roots.14 Turks, Italians and Poles belong to the biggest immigration groups.15 In order to understand how such state of affairs came about, the history of migration to Germany needs to be pictured.

After World War II various groups of immigrants arrived, among which the largest ones were: (1) ethnic German from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (Spätaussiedler), (2) the so called guest workers (Gastarbeiter) and their families, (3) asylum seekers and war refugees, and finally (4) EU citizens. Each of those channels was notably different. This chapter provides a description of the processes of influxes of the above stated groups as well as their societal consequences and integration peculiarities.

Returning to an unknown home: German refugees and late ethnic German repatriates (Spätaussiedler)

The first stage of immigration regarded German refugees from Eastern parts of the German Reich and from newly emerged Eastern Bloc countries such as: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary. They began to migrate immediately after Word War II as a consequence of a forced resettlement of the German population to the west side of the Oder-Neisse line as well as hostile attitudes and discrimination of natives. Between 1945 and 1950 approximately 12 million ethnic Germans emigrated to the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and Austria.16

Since 1950, when socialist countries restricted the emigration and cross-border mobility in general, the stream of Ethnic Germans remarkably decreased. Namely 1.4 million Aussiedler entered Germany in the period of 1950-1987, especially from Romania and Poland. The fall of the Iron Curtain initiated the mass ‘homecoming’ (primarily from former USRR), which reached its peak in 1990 at 397 000.17 From that year on the number of immigrants has drastically declined. This was due to a law introduced by the German government which restricted the immigration of ethnic Germans (Aussiedleraufnahmegesetz). It demanded from immigrants to apply in the country of their residence for the admission and prove their German roots by filling out a 50-page form. Thus, in 1991 the number of migrants was less than 240 000. This number decreased in the 90s as a consequence of next regulations such as setting of an annual quote of Spätaussiedler (Kriegsfolgenbereinigungsgesetz) and introducing an obligatory language test.

It should be taken into account that this group consists not only of the Spätaussiedler in their own persons but their close families and relatives as well (almost 80% of all ethnic Germans from East) who quite frequently viewed themselves as Russians. However, according to the constitution, Aussiedler, since 1993 called officially Spätaussiedler, and their families are not foreigners but Germans due to their ethnic descent. As such they have had the right to get German citizenship and be treated equal.

However, it does not equate with the lack of integration difficulties. Vast majority of the so-called Russlanddeutschen, the largest group of Spätaussiedler in the 90s, were socialized in the Soviet environment. The younger generations, i.e. following World War II, were orientated not towards the culture of their origin but towards the contemporary cultural pattern of the Soviet society. What is more, moving to Germany was often enforced against the will of relatives of Spätaussiedler. Especially older kids and teens, who are said to cause considerable integration problems, did not want to abandon their peer groups and life context. For many of them leaving their country would mean recurrence of stigmatisation: in the Soviet Union there were stigmatised as ‘Germans’ or even as ‘Nazis’, whereas in Germany they were perceived as ‘Russians’. The reason of it is down to the social definition of being a German. According to the study presented at the 47th Congress of German Society of Psychology, 96,6% indigenous Germans believe that you can be German upon the condition of a high proficiency of German language.18Unlike in the early groups of Aussiedler, there were only few people who had necessary language skills among the later groups. In addition, they were often under-qualified which did not improve their chances on the labour market. The story of their migration is therefore in many cases a story of social decline.

The level of integration is dependent not only on immigrants and their efforts and abilities of getting assimilated. It is also widely conditioned by a receiving society and its openness. A significant gauge of openness – beside legislative recognitions and integration programmes in a wider sense, which in case of Spätaussiedler were well developed– are social moods in regard to a certain group of immigrants.19 Figure 1 depicts one of the cofactors of the attitudes of German population towards chosen foreigners living in Germany based on the researches conducted in 1996 and 2006. Respondents had to answer the following question: “Would it be pleasant or unpleasant to you, if a member of the following groups married into your family?” Although there were several other questions given in this nationwide social survey which also covered the subject of attitudes towards foreigners, this question was chosen for the purpose of the analysis. In my opinion, it vividly reflects the level of acceptance as it refers to the most personal area of life, namely to family affairs. As we can see, Spätaussiedler belong neither to the most unpopular immigrants (like Turks and asylum-seekers), nor to the group of accepted immigrants (as Italians). Although nearly 30% of respondents claim that marriage between their family member and ethnic German from the East would be pleasant or very pleasant to them, still more than a quarter would find such an event unpleasant or even very unpleasant. In 2006 the number of ill-disposed German citizens has even slightly increased and the number of those favourably disposed – declined.

Nevertheless, according to the institutes dealing with the social processes including migration, such as Schader-Stiftung or Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung), the integration balance of over 2 million ethnic Germans from the countries of the former Eastern Bloc who entered Germany since 1989 should overall be seen as positive.20 Variety of programs and integration courses offered both by governmental and social institutions such as churches and foundations have played vital role in that process.

How, then, can this positive evaluation of integration be reconciled with the earlier stated results of the survey which showed that the social image of Spätaussiedler is not favourable? It can be explained if we take into account the fact that when you talk about ‘Deutsch aus Russland’ you mean those of them who do not integrated. Others of them do not only integrated in the meantime but became fully assimilated – so that it is hardly noticeable that their ancestors could have immigrated from Russia.

Figure 1: German Survey Results, 1996/2006

Figure 1

The chosen results of the German survey conducted in 1996 and 2006. Based on data provided by: M. Terwey and H. Baumann, German General Social Survey. ALLBUS / GGSS Cumulation 1980-2008, ZA Study No 4572, Electronic Data Handbook, Cologne: GESIS, pp. 252-255

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