German Media Roundup: Sarrazin’s radioactive immigration debate

Inflammatory comments on Muslims and race by Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin have caused widespread outrage in Germany. Newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Tuesday explore the repercussions.

German Media Roundup: Sarrazin's radioactive immigration debate
Photo: DPA

Sarrazin, who presented his controversial new book in Berlin on Monday, faces expulsion from the centre-left Social Democrats and losing his post at Germany’s central bank for saying Muslim immigrants threatened the country’s future and claiming Jews are genetically different than other people.

The cantankerous Bundesbank official, famous for his politically incorrect outbursts while serving as Berlin’s finance minister, had hoped to spark a debate about integration and immigration. But the consensus among Germany’s leading newspapers on Tuesday was that he had done neither himself nor the country’s political discourse any favours.

The Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger pointed to a pair of genuine “provocateurs,” the Greens’ Joschka Fischer and the Bavarian Christian Social Union’s Franz Josef Strauß, each of whom was at times controversial but who ultimately – unlike Sarrazin – energised the political debate.

“Democracy tolerates such challenges – indeed it needs them, for the provocateur poses uncomfortable questions, he brings out truths that some people don’t want to see. And ideally they are even entertaining.

“Thilo Sarrazin has nothing to do with this. And this Bundesbank board member with the pinched lips is certainly not entertaining.

“His truths are a precarious and well-worn mix of xenophobia, of murky statistical games … Sarrazin is no provocateur, he is a demagogue.”

The left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung wondered if there was a silver lining to the Sarrazin affair: a reminder that racism did not always come in the form people expected.

“The Sarrazin case is a healthy shock for Germany. It is high time to rid ourselves of the illusion that racist convictions always arrive in bomber jackets and combat boots. As we see, they can also thrive splendidly in bankers’ suits and on executive floors.”

Unlike other opponents of Islam, Sarrazin was claiming not just the existence of a ‘clash of cultures’ but of cultural and social differences based on genetic differences. And it was this racial theory that was most disturbing for Germany, it wrote.

“What should we do when, 65 years after the ban of Mein Kampf a racial theory tract once again rises to be a bestseller?”

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Sarrazin had only himself to blame for his current predicament, however, emphasised the issues he raised needed to be addressed.

“Someone speaking of a Jewish gene in Germany can no longer be helped,” wrote the paper. “But tossing him into the camp of racists and anti-Semites will do little good.”

The FAZ said as long as the country’s political parties refused to address the issues of immigration and integration, German society would continue to be divided and people would turn away from politics.

“The debate about Sarrazin shows just how strong this alienation has already become,” the FAZ wrote.

The right-wing daily Die Welt concurred, saying Sarrazin had sabotaged the issues he was trying to draw attention to.

“The true casualty of the Sarrazin debate is that citizens get the feeling politicians don’t even want to talk about integration,” commented the paper. “Sarrazin is already radioactive. Anyone who wants to defend him publicly now has to have a Muslim background.”

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung criticised Sarrazin’s comments, but warned against kicking him out of the SPD or relieving him of his post at the Bundesbank.

“Dismissal instead of dialogue doesn’t instil confidence and it would simply create a martyr who should have been better debated,” the Munich daily wrote. “But he highlighted a problem that will exist long after the outrage has subsided: the enormous integration deficit by Germany’s Muslim minority.”

The paper said, however, that Islam is not to blame for these problems, pointing instead to attitudes putting religion over the liberal values of the state.

“There’s no alternative to taking this path together with Muslims in Germany,” Süddeutsche Zeitung opined. “Integration is only possible when we avoid painting horror scenarios and give Muslims a real chance.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


How well have refugees integrated in Germany since 2015?

Five years after Chancellor Angela Merkel controversially opened Germany's doors to hundreds of thousands of migrants, studies show the newcomers have integrated relatively well, but room for progress remains.

How well have refugees integrated in Germany since 2015?
Famous archive photo shows Merkel posing for a selfie with a refugee in September 2015. Photo: DPA


Around half of the nearly 900,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015, many from conflict-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, now have a job, according to Germany's Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

Migrants have been “rather successful” in finding employment in Europe's top economy, said IAB's migration expert Herbert Brücker.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany handle the refugee crisis?

Many are working in hospitality, the security services, cleaning services and retirement homes, plugging gaps in Germany's labour market.

The pandemic has, however, slammed the brakes on the positive trend, Brücker said, with many working in sectors hardest-hit by virus restrictions and vulnerable to lay-offs.

A separate study by the DIW economic institute also concluded that the integration of Germany's newcomers was on the right track.

But it said more needed to be done to help find work for migrants with low education levels and for female migrants, who often have young children to look after.

READ ALSO: Integration in Germany: Half of refugees 'find jobs within five years'

Far-right anger

The influx of more than a million mainly Muslim asylum seekers in 2015-2016 deeply polarised Germany.

While some engaged in “welcome culture” and volunteered to help refugees, others railed against Merkel's liberal asylum policy.

READ ALSO: Merkel 'would do the same again' five years after Germany's refugee influx

Anger over a series of high-profile crimes committed by migrants helped fuel the rise of the far-right, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which in 2017 won its first seats in the national parliament.

The AfD's approval ratings have declined in recent months as the pandemic pushes the refugee debate into the background.

“Germans are generally less worried about immigration now, but migrants' concerns about racism have increased,” the DIW report found, noting that migrants tend to have little faith in law enforcement.

Language skills

For many migrants, learning German is the fastest road to acceptance into German society.

Just one percent of the refugees had good or very good knowledge of German upon arrival,” said the IAB's Brücker.

Today around half of them speak German relatively fluently while another one third speak the language “at a medium level”.

Brücker said it was important to ensure that coronavirus restrictions didn't hamper migrants' access to language classes and educational courses, because they are crucial to integration efforts.

Demographic shift

Looking ahead, Brücker said migrants would play an increasingly important role in Germany's economy as they help make up for a rapidly ageing population.

“We are in the middle of a demographic shift,” he said. Last year alone, the number of people of working age in Germany shrank by 340,000 year-on-year.

“This trend will increase once the 'baby boomers' start retiring,” Brücker said.

Given Germany's low birth rate, the only way to make up for the shortfall is through immigration, he added.