Conform or leave, Germany's right tells immigrants

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The Independent Online

Wanted: German-speaking immigrants of the Christian persuasion willing to renounce garlic and the temptation to wash their cars on Sundays. In a spectacular break with long-held party dogma, the opposition Christian Democrats declared yesterday that foreigners were welcome in the Fatherland, provided they behaved just like Germans.

Wanted: German-speaking immigrants of the Christian persuasion willing to renounce garlic and the temptation to wash their cars on Sundays. In a spectacular break with long-held party dogma, the opposition Christian Democrats declared yesterday that foreigners were welcome in the Fatherland, provided they behaved just like Germans.

That is the message of the policy paper adopted yesterday by the party's presidium after months of anguished debate. It features emotive terms, such as "patriotism", "the nation", and "the Fatherland", and also the new word "Leitkultur" which critics say is an ill-disguised synonym for "assimilation".

As the first real attempt since the war to grapple with Germany's enduring identity crisis, the paper was always bound to attract controversy. Economic think-tanks say the country needs up to 250,000 immigrants every year to keep industry going and pay the pensions of the post-war generation. But many Germans feel threatened by the growing number of aliens in their midst.

The nation, an entity almost absent from the political vocabulary until yesterday, is walking a tightrope between rising self-assertiveness and ingrained humility ordained by its history. The answer to all these contradictions is the concept of "Leitkultur".

Originally coined by an Arab political scientist, the term means "defining culture" or "prevailing culture". Friedrich Merz, the Christian Democrats' parliamentary leader, says foreigners who want to come and work in Germany must adopt German "Leitkultur".

In a country where the holocaust is still a vivid memory, this has understandably provoked a furore. Angela Merkel, the liberal CDU leader Mr Merz is trying so hard to undermine, promised the Central Council of German Jews last Thursday that "Leitkultur" would not be in the policy paper.

It is. Only yesterday's version speaks not of "German Leitkultur" but the "Leitkultur of Germany". It remains an offensive phrase. "I think this term is too imprecise; it can lead to misunderstandings," said Peter Müller the senior CDU politician in charge of drafting the policy paper.

Mr Müller had written in phrases, such as "the boat is NOT full", and "Germany IS a country of immigration". But he was overruled by the right-wing lobby which holds sway in the party leadership, and forced to inject a bit of "Leitkultur".

Thus the wholly abstract philological debate of recent weeks continues, but with more immediate relevance. Now Germans and would-be Gastarbeiter must really find out the meaning of a word that figures in no German dictionary.

Mr Müller says his colleagues are demanding that newcomers should learn German, respect the constitution and uphold the traditions of the land. The latter he defined as those formed by "humanism, the Enlightenment and Christianity".

For instance, he helpfully added, immigrants should observe Sonntagsruhe, the rule requiring all creatures living in Germany - yes, it applies to dogs, too - to make no noise on Sundays.

Interpretations from the right wing of the party are even more sweeping. Any suspicion of their motives was confirmed by Brandenburg's Interior minister, Jörg Schönbohm. "To me, the term "Leitkultur" is the opposite of the multicultural model," he said.

The CDU politician has attracted attention for his zealous deportation of a Vietnamese beaten nearly to death by neo-Nazis. His administration has been criticised for not pursuing violent neo-Nazis energetically enough, yet he has found time to organise and attend official funerals for freshly unearthed Wehrmacht soldiers.

People like Mr Schönbohn have emerged victorious in the CDU's internal struggle, illustrating just how far to the right Helmut Kohl's party has drifted since his demise.

The debate about immigration was sparked by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder'sdecision last summer to grant 20,000 so-called "Green Cards" to hi-tech specialists from Eastern Europe and India. Fears by the custodians of German Leitkultur proved unfounded.

Thousands of the visa forms are piling up unused in German embassies. For some unfathomable reason, highly skilled immigrants are giving Germany a wide berth. Allegedly, the country suffers from an intolerant image abroad.

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