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Tuesday October 12, 2010

Unified Germany faces division

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First published in The Australian on 8 October, 2010.

The German nation might be unified, but its society is not.

All should be well with Germany. Twenty years after unification, the signs are good: economic growth has resumed, unemployment levels are declining, and reunified Germany is firmly anchored in a unified Europe.

The challenges of achieving German unity were formidable. The communist regime left the East German economy in tatters. The mindset of East German citizens, with their uneasy dependence on the omnipresent communist state that a great majority of people rightly despised, was not conducive to liberal democracy.

Germany's neighbours, particularly France, were initially somewhat suspicious of German unity. In the end, however, the (West) German Federal Republic was remarkably successful in integrating the former East Germany.

By all measures, the Germans can be proud of their accomplishments; to have achieved unity in law and freedom, as is promised in the opening line of the German anthem, is no mean feat. Yet the general mood is one of despondency and lack of confidence.

Economic growth, fuelled by an export-oriented economy, cannot pacify widespread fears about economic decline in the euro zone and the rising prospect of the need for more bailouts, for which Germans are increasingly reluctant to foot the bill.

Closer to home, Germans are losing confidence in their ability to renew their society, owing to extremely low birthrates and an inability to integrate newcomers. The German nation east and west may well be unified, but German society at large is not.

The problems of the euro zone, with its extremely high levels of sovereign debt, and the inadequate policy responses to the challenges of migration, test the limits of the German welfare state that underpinned the success of post-World War II liberal democracy.

West Germany prides itself on finding a compromise between Western-style capitalism and socialism. The answer, endorsed by both sides of the political spectrum, has been the so-called soziale marktwirtschaft or a social free market economy, in which the state takes a great deal of responsibility for citizens' welfare.

It may have helped to ease the integration of about 16 million East Germans into the political and economic system of the federal republic, but it has largely failed Germany's foreigners.

Germans are becoming painfully aware that demography is destiny.

Their pension system, for example, based as it is on the principle of intergenerational solidarity, in which the working population supports retired people on a pay-as-you-go basis, is clearly unsustainable.

The problem is not new, neither is it limited to Germany; but talking about demography has been extremely difficult in Europe owing to the legacy of the Nazi party and its attempt to engineer, through racist demographic policies, a superior Aryan race.

A controversial Canadian commentator, Mark Steyn, argued more than four years ago that Europe was in the process of undoing itself by leaving the tiresome business of making children to its migrants.

A more parochial version of the same argument was recently advanced by a former German Social Democrat and prominent board member of the German Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin, in a bestselling book, Deutschland schafft sich ab, which translates as "Germany undoing itself".

Sarrazin's critics are appalled by arguments that smack of biological racism, such as the assertion that the German nation is becoming dumber owing to the uncontrolled intake of migrants, predominantly Muslims.

In Sarrazin's dystopian vision, Germany within the next couple of decades may well be turned into an Islamic state in which ethnic Germans will be a minority. In contrast, Sarrazin's adherents applaud his courage to discuss problems, which are very real, such as the failure of the German education system to enable migrants and their children to succeed. Some of the ideas that Sarrazin advances, while still controversial in Germany, have been reality in Australia for many years, such as managing migration according to economic needs.

At any rate, Sarrazin cannot be easily dismissed as a loony right-wing extremist, even if many of his arguments clearly betray his proclaimed commitment to the ideals of social democracy. Sarrazin's defenders include the likes of Necla Kelek, a prominent German sociologist of Turkish origin who, in her fearless criticisms of some traditional Muslim practices, can be compared to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Revealing in its own right is the staggering success of the book, with more than a million copies printed within the first month of publication.

Sarrazin has no political ambitions and he has been, in fact, expelled from his party, but it is telling that one in five Germans have reportedly expressed their preference to vote for his political party, were he to lead one.

Celebrations of German unity are hence muted by existential anxiety about the very survival of the nation. This is a pity. To live up to the hopes of freedom fighters from 1989, what Germans and Europeans need is not yet another fearful, vulgar Darwinian account of the rise and demise of nations, but confidence in open, free-market societies that empower themselves through enabling newcomers to improve their lives. Only a confident Germany will have the capacity to integrate the migrants it needs.




Source: La Trobe University http://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/articles/2010/opinion/unified-germany-faces-division

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