Integration is a two-way street

The beginning of two-way street Ludwig Straße (MunichFOTO/Jeff Ely).

The status of Germany's integration.

Since Germany opened its borders to assist with reconstruction after World War II, the increasingly wealthy nation has had large waves of immigration. This inevitably led to cultural clashes as the very different communities built a new nation together.  Furthermore, while the Germans attempted to put as much distance as possible between the new generation and its conservative predecessor, the immigrant communities did not share the same feeling of rejection and horror regarding their genealogical roots. This situation, in addition to the language barrier, created a complex relationship.

The immigration boom has continued to the point where Berlin has become the city with the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey. These approximately 116,000 Turks could develop a significant political voice and organization force that would allow for a change in dynamic in the German capital. This is part of what has led to the present discussion on integration. German politicians sounded the call to create a cultural melting pot, as is the case in many other countries' international cities. Most politicians have resoundingly agreed. Instead of having a heterogeneous mixture of different communities, the idea as to establish a functioning rainbow nation where the different cultures evolved to merge into a new German identity. For obvious reasons, this was not well received by those for whom it was intended. It further generated a serious discussion among not only politicians, but also private citizens and organizations, both liberal and conservative.

Spurred on by politicians eagerness to appeal to a broad base, attempts at integration reached their climax by 2008/2009. Language and culture classes were offered and even required even in order to obtain citizenship for new immigrants. This would then be coupled with inclusionary measures at schools in order to ensure that their children would also find a comfortable and open home in Germany.

It was not until 2010, when anti-Islamic voices grew louder and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle demanded an unquestioning acceptance of "German values", that things came to a head. He called for a "fordernde Integration", a demanding integration, which would expect foreigners to integrate German, Christian values into their own regardless of their historical cultural heritage. He cited his sexual orientation as a qualification as a minority, which ostensibly gave him the right to make such aggressive demands.

Also the close relationship with Israel has been called into question over issues such as Palestine and, more recently, the 9 nuclear submarines which were sold to the Israeli Navy. Conservative politicians, such as Horst Seehofer from the CSU, further raised the issue of religion as a cultural basis. This has done little to increase mutual understanding. His insistence on referring to Germany as a Christian nation further polarized the issue of cultural integration by highlighting critical differences, especially among the older immigrants. And finally, near the end of 2010 Chancellor Merkel declared that integration had been a failure.

That marked the end of the political discussion, especially as the economic crisis pushed everything else out of the foreground and the national attention shifted to the job market. However, the issue continues to be as relevant as it was two years ago. The immigrants have not gone anywhere, after all, and Germany's relative stability during the crisis has attracted many Europeans who could not find a job at home.

The main problem with integration in politics, though, is that it is not merely a political problem. There are certain services that need to be provided on a government level, such as language, history and culture, but learning them has to be done individually. Only when a community is ready to open up and accept new members can integration fully take place. It also requires new citizens to take an interest in their place of residence beyond the bare minimum.

Furthermore, considering almost half of the German national football team has close ties to other nations, such as Boateng, Khedira, Gomez and of course Mesut Özil, one can surmise that the level of acceptance, especially in the younger generation, is growing.

As in most countries, there will always be a racist minority, who, at times, has been able to generate significant media attention. Its appearance and opinions are amplified by voices on the other side of the divide demanding greater flexibility from the German culture in accepting foreign practices. Yet, when one speaks to individuals, their desires are quite simple. They want to live comfortably, work a decent job and have a good relationship with the people around them. It might be more of an issue of time, than of political rhetoric.

In fact, the main reason why the subject has been raised so often in the Media is more likely an election issue than one based on reality. While there are always outliers to any group of people, the majority of immigrants in Germany have naturalized quite effectively. One point of reference being the multitude of Döner Kebab stands and Vietnamese restaurants, and another being the phenomenon of second and even third generation immigrants entering politics. It does make for an interesting image though, when two politicians argue about which one of them is less integrated.

While it is useful to install measures on a national level, the real integration takes place on a level that politicians from on high cannot directly impact. It is a topic that was on many people's minds, which is why it found its way into the political mainstream in the auspicious way it did. Furthermore, since some politicians are responsible for policies, their opponents are often quick to point out flaws, or even the "failure" of integration. In reality, this will most likely be an ongoing issue, at least as long as immigration continues. The flow of immigrants is regularly in flux. For example, in the United States it is no longer the only destination for Mexican laborers. Interestingly enough, this has caused a significant shortage in the work force.

The bigger issue is the underlying implicit racism. Racism has seen a severe decline in the last generation, as travel and communications technologies have been revolutionized, and will likely continue to do so.

The real question politicians should be asking is not "how", but "when".

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