Angela Merkel: “Multiculturalism has Been an Utter Failure”

During the last few weeks, Germans have engaged in a heated debate about integration and immigration policies focusing mainly on the three and a half million Turks of whom only a fraction have been integrated. They form a parallel society.

Naturally this debate is closely connected with attitudes towards Islam, an increasingly potent theme in European politics everywhere. Now this debate has culminated in the Chancellor’s dramatic declaration. One argument opposed to multiculturalism is that Germany is not an immigrants’ country, in contrast to the New World, the U.S., Canada – and Israel. Attitudes towards minorities naturally are extremely sensitive issues in Germany, the left, on the whole, being more tolerant than the right. Angela Merkel’s statement has been widely interpreted as indicating a manifestation of old-fashioned nationalism, a requirement perhaps for her re-election as the leader of the CDU next March.

An article in Der Spiegel takes the Chancellor to task. The author is Henryk Broder. If he had been acquainted with Canada, he would no doubt have found many examples there to support his case.

Here is an excerpt.

Why does the term “parallel society” have such a negative connotation in Germany? Why has multiculturalism “utterly failed?” Why should people “with immigration backgrounds,” as Germans so carefully say, be forced to merge into the society of the majority if they would rather remain among themselves?

Only primitive societies that allow no differences of any kind, and dictatorships, which control all aspects of life, are free of parallel societies. Both the Third Reich and communist East Germany, for example, had no such thing. In flexible, changing populations, parallel societies are almost inevitable.

And they aren’t difficult to find. Chinatown and Little Italy in New York are just the best known examples. Not that long ago, Yorkville occupied Manhattan’s East Side around 86th Street, which was called “German Broadway” at the time…. A subway ride through New York is a trip from one parallel society to the next.

In Israel, where the vast majority of residents have “immigration backgrounds,” there used to be at least a dozen different German groups that stayed true to their culture from back home. Jews from the Rhineland celebrated Carnival, those from Bavaria had Oktoberfest and the ones from Königsberg commemorated the birthday of Immanuel Kant. Jews from Austria, Hungary and Bukovina all stayed true to their own cultures as well, as did the Poles, the Romanians and the Lithuanians.

Today, Russian Jews represent the largest parallel society in Israel, and have their own newspapers, radio stations and clubs. Indeed, there are four parallel societies in the Jerusalem Old City alone: Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian. Then there are the Samaritans in Nablus, the “Black Hebrews” in Dimona, the Bahai in Haifa, the “Jews for Jesus,” and finally the leftists, who meet every Friday afternoon in Café Tamar in Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street. Nothing but parallel societies – and they have very little contact with one another.

Indeed, it would seem that only Germans have difficulties realizing that parallel societies are unavoidable and perhaps even desirable and useful. They give people the feeling of belonging to something that they can grasp – provide the kind of security that society at large cannot. And they reflect society’s diversity, an asset that even Germany cannot live without.


10 responses to “Angela Merkel: “Multiculturalism has Been an Utter Failure”

  1. David Schatzky

    Germans themselves have created parallel societies in other places. Israel, for example. The community of Mt. Carmel is part of the city of Haifa. When I visited my grandmother there many years ago, she pointed to one of the residents of the old age home where she lived, and said to me: “See that woman there? She’s been here in Mt. Carmel for 3o years, and she still doesn’t speak German.”
    So much for multiculturalism not working!

    • Excellent. This reminds me of an anecdote about a German diplomat in a café in Tel Aviv overhearing a couple of elderly ladies at the next table – it must have been on a January 27th – reminding each other in German that today was the Kaiser’s birthday. Nobody, he said, in Germany would remember.

  2. Michael Gundy

    Of course parallel societies exist. People from my village aways band together here in the big city. Where “multiculturalism” fails is when the parallel society members are excluded from common institutions, be they political, cultural, etc because of a wide spread attitude of inferiority.

    • Very very true. Many Germans are now rightly blaming themselves for not allowing their Turkish guest workers to become German citizens – until quite recently. They thought the Turks would go home after a while. But they decided to stay – to live in a parallel society. (Better than conditions at home.) It seems many of them are now more fervently Islamic than the (so far) largely secularized Turks in the old country.

  3. An old joke (somewhat to the point): Two German Jews are walking along the seashore in Tel Aviv when they hear a drowning man shouting for help in Hebrew. One of them says “My good man, if you had learned to swim instead of Hebrew, you wouldn’t be in this trouble.” (I never did hear the ending — whether they helped him or not.)

    • Of course they helped him, paid for swimming lessons and he’s now Minister of Sports in Bibi’s government.

  4. I also feel that a parallel ssociety woukld not be bad. In the US and Canada there are numnerous parallel societies. Here in Westminster there is Little Saigon, there is Koreatown, etc., in New York Yorkville, i.e., around East 86th Street was German and once upon a time the Lower East side was Jewish. Here Boyle Heights was Jewish, now you only hear Spanish there. These problems have a tendency to solve themselves in a generation or two.

    • In fact, we ONLY have parallel societies and the society to which they are parellel is a myth. The poor and the rich certainly have parallel societies and each has a thousand subdivisions – the rich can afford more than the poor. Not to mention people with red hair. And don’t forget the left-handed.

  5. One of the best lessons I learned in my cross-cultural training early in my public service career was that, despite its flaws, the Canadian immigrant experience was unique, across much of urban Canada (I now know even Calgary – bless them!).

    Unlike most other countries, even immigrant receiving countries, almost all non-aboriginal Canadians share an immigrant experience as their family legacy, even those here many generations. Amazingly compared to most elsewhere, and I have personally witnessed the contrast, most urban Canadians especially those under fifty do not view new arrivals or different coloured skin in “us and them”. (They can still chose to stereotype/dislike, but know that different does not equate immigrant.)

    Furthermore, urban Canada, especially Toronto, is unique in the lack of permanent geography to our parallel socities. As one immigrant settlement expert impressed upon me, the “ghettos” keep moving. This has been very helpful in ensuring that these self selected “ghettos” do not become ceilings (glass or concrete) to social and economic mobility. My sense is that there is a danger that in recent years this is slowing.

    One the one hand, I am not sure Germany can change its self image of a country equating a specific religion/culture/tradition. Then again, look what they achieved in Berlin. If only they could show the same wisdom and determination to their muslim residents.

    Could a Turkish comedian mocking Bavarian pomposity become a popular folk hero in Bavaria, in the same manner as Indo-Canadian Russell Peters in English Canada and another Indo-Canadian comic who is a very big hit in Francophone Quebec for brutally mocking seperatists – in flawless Bill 101 French apparently. Maybe the German adaptation of “My Fair Lady” (replacing Cockney with flawed Turkish/German) starring a Turkish woman in love with a German, would fit the bill?



    • I hope that an enterprising theatrical entrepreneur in Germany will read your excellent response and stage a German My Fair Lady à la turque. I will make sure you will get all the royalties minus, of course, 5 percent for me as the originator of this blog.