Right wing wants to keep Germany for 'Germans'

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THERE IS something peculiar about Germans. Encoded in their genes are traits that mark them out from the rest of the human race; their precious strands of DNA, storing information that generations of immigrants have failed to acquire or absorb.

Such, at least, is German legal opinion, almost unaltered since 1913. The principle of Jus Sanguinis - "Blood Law" - decrees that Germanness is passed from one's ancestors, wherever they live. Being born on German soil is irrelevant if the parents are foreign.

The "Volga Germans", who have mostly forgotten Goethe's language in two centuries of migration, are welcome to return "home" as full citizens, but second- or third-generation "Turks" born in Germany can be "repatriated" to Turkey if they commit a serious crime. That happened to one 14-year- old "Turkish" boy last year.

Many Germans believe the law is an ass. But the new government's plan to change it this year - the last opportunity to drag Germany into the 20th century - has provoked furious resistance. Now the Christian Democrats, formerly led by Helmut Kohl, are organising a petition against it. Officials of the party that would not consult the citizens about the abolition of the deutschmark propose to spearhead the biggest extra-parliamentary movement in years.

Why a bunch of decent conservative people should be doing that was best articulated by the populist Bavarian leader, Edmund Stoiber. "We do not want a multi-cultural society," he said last week.

There are more than seven million "foreigners" in Germany, half of them already resident for at least 10 years. But that does not make society a multi-cultural one. As the deported teenage "Turkish" criminal discovered, the rights of those who do not hold a German passport can be severely limited.

Foreign residents pay their taxes like everyone else. But when it comes to entitlement to housing, education, work, social provisions or opportunities to practise their religion in peace, there is no equality.

The "foreigners", often descendants of the "Gastarbeiter" imported from poorer countries to perform work Germans considered below their dignity, have little chance to break out of their ghettos. To most Germans they are invisible, except at the restaurant or the kebab shop, so people of Mr Stoiber's ilk can pretend to be living in a homogenous nation.

Giving such people German passports would be the end of the "Gastarbeiter" ideology, upon which the post-war economic miracle had been built. The "guests" could no longer be thrown out when the hosts tire of them, and their strange customs, languages and gods would eventually blend into the broader palette of German life. From atop minarets, muezzins would compete with the peal of Christian church bells. And one day some extremely talented new-German footballer might even be allowed to represent Deutschland in the World Cup.

Not that any newcomer will be handed German citizenship on a plate. The proposed new nationality law is a compromise between the multi-culturalist Greens and the more traditionalist Social Democrats. In other words, it is on Social Democrat terms. Only third-generation immigrants born in Germany would have an automatic right to German citizenship, and be permitted to hold dual nationality. But long-term residents would be entitled to apply for a passport after eight years.

It is estimated that about 4.2 million "foreigners"- half of them Turks - would be able to claim German citizenship.

For a nation that has defined its identity in so archaic terms, that is a shock. Germans are confused about what to do with their "foreigners", or the "ethnic Germans" arriving in waves from the former Soviet Union who seem to them a lot more foreign than the resident Turks. Now it is crunch time. The largest opposition party is asking them to choose.

A snap poll by the tabloid Bild Zeitung showed 50 per cent of those asked were against dual citizenship, yet 69 per cent said children born in Germany should receive German nationality automatically. That indicates Germans are more open-minded than Christian Democrat leaders had assumed.

Under new management after their electoral defeat, the CDU are in danger of being overtaken by the kind of xenophobic madness of the Tories following their exit from office. "We are delighted that leading politicians in Bonn are now borrowing our arguments," crowed Gerhard Frey, leader of the racist German People's Party.

The petition will have no impact on the legislative process but might stir evil passions in the streets. "It's going to awaken voices in this country that we don't want," said Michel Friedman, a leading member of the CDU and the Central Council of German Jews.

For this reason, or simply because they agree with government plans to integrate nearly 10 per cent of Germany's population into German society, many Christian Democrats are appalled by their leaders' action. Several regional organisations and prominent party figures have called for a boycott of the petition, which has also been denounced by the Catholic Church.

But the petition will go ahead, and a terrified Germany holds its breath.

"It's a very dangerous development," said Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats who shared power with the CDU in the last government. "They are raising ghosts that we may not be able to lay to rest. These are ghosts no one in a democracy wants."