Chronology

2014

At the beginning of the year, German public television broadcaster ARD publishes a survey that suggests attitudes toward immigration are changing among Germans: 68 percent of interviewees are in favour of promoting the immigration of skilled workers. Another survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori, a British market research company, further affirms this trend, and suggests that this favorable appraisal is linked to a positive evaluation of one’s own economic situation.

On February 20, German Jewish author Maxim Biller poses the question “Why is contemporary German literature so unbelievably boring?” in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. According to Biller, contemporary German literature is lackluster because writers growing up in immigrant communities only strive to assimilate. Biller believes that this “assimilation fury” (“Anpassungswut”) has caused a total absence of “spirited” (“lebendiger”) migrant voices. Biller’s remarks result in a heated literary debate across German feature pages.

At the end of February, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) calls out Germany for its lax handling of cases dealing with racism and discrimination. Although the report’s authors acknowledge that Germany made progress compared to the organization’s last report from 2008, they criticize, for instance, that German courts fail to recognize hate as a motivating factor for many crimes. The report also suggests that Germany increases awareness about LGBT rights and people.

In March, the Bertelsmann Foundation (Bertelsmann Stiftung) publishes the “Globalization Report 2014.” The report examines which country has profited the most from globalization. While industrial countries such as Germany have further increased their prosperity, threshold and developing countries have profited only marginally from the effects of globalization.

In the same month, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration) publishes the study “Discrimination on the Training Market,” which concludes that “Germany has a serious discrimination problem.” The study shows that fictional applicants with a foreign sounding name had to apply more often than fellow applicants with a stereotypical German name and the same qualifications. Applicants from the first group were also more often ignored and addressed by their first name. Another study draws similar conclusions in its analysis of law exams.

At the end of March, the Grand Coalition agrees upon a new dual citizenship law, which abolishes the currently effective requirement to choose between two nationalities (Optionspflicht). If children born in non-European countries have resided more than eight years in Germany, attended German school for six years or graduated from a school in Germany, they can now apply for German citizenship at the age of 21 without giving up their other citizenship. The Federal Statistical Office reports in July that the number of applications for naturalization has remained relatively consistent during the past two years.

The original G7 nations suspend Russia from their midst (G8) to protest Russia’s stance on Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. German-Jewish author Wladimir Kaminer, born in Russia, garners attention in Germany with a Facebook post condemning Russia’s recent actions.

In March and April, Akif Pirinçci‘s non-fiction book Deutschland von Sinnen. Der irre Kult um Frauen, Homosexuelle und Zuwanderer (Germany Gone Crazy. The Mad Craze surrounding Women, Homosexuals, and Immigrants) causes a fierce debate about German social politics, which echoes the intense discussions about Thilo Sarrazin. While the book turns into a bestseller and readers increasingly support Pirinçci’s book, critics call it a “hate-book” and denounce it for its derogatory language.

The plight of refugees, who come to Europe in steadily increasing numbers, and debates about Germany’s and the EU’s policies for asylum seekers dominate the news for the entire year. In March, combined statistics of refugees registered missing or dead are published for the first time. The Migrant Files, a project to which journalists from across Europe have been contributing, indicates that approximately 23,000 people on their way to Europe died or went missing since 2000. Amnesty International’s 88-page report on the same topic denounces Europe’s refugee policies and condemns it for its responsibility in the drowning of thousands in the Mediterranean Sea. In April, Der Spiegel refers to an unpublished report by the German Federal Police that the number of refugees who cross into Germany illegally has further increased. Overall, the number of applications for asylum increases by 70 percent; only a few of these, as the Ministry of the Interior declared a month earlier, are actually approved. However, the number of overall approved applications increases. Many of the rejected applications are from applicants coming from the Balkan states. The statuses of these Balkan countries are re-evaluated in the middle of the year and are assessed as safe countries. Debates about other measures that will allow for faster deportation of asylum seekers abound. Afghans who supported Germany’s armed forces (Bundeswehr) during their mission in Afghanistan rarely receive permanent resident status in Germany. A makeshift refugee camp at Berlin’s Oranienplatz is being cleared after a year and half and weeks of negotiations: its inhabitants protested against asylum policies and their immigration status. At the same time, refugees hold out at Berlin’s Gerhart-Hauptmann-School, where the situation increasingly escalates. A study about global migration, published approximately at the same time, shows that the ways people are migrating worldwide have remained relatively stable over the last twenty years. The arrival of asylum seekers in Germany coincides with an increase in right-wing extremism, which the Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution 2013, published in June, also demonstrates that attacks on homes for asylum seekers have drastically increased during the first months of the year. In September, news breaks that employees of private security firms safeguarding the homes for asylum seekers had abused inhabitants: the incidents are being compared to the torture happening in Abu Ghraib, and the police investigate a few instances of assault causing bodily harm. At the end of the year, three houses in the town of Vorra, intended for refugees, are set on fire. The public debate centers increasingly on the ballooning costs and the question of who is responsible for covering these as well as the horrendous living conditions under which refugees have to live in Germany. At the beginning of November, the Bundestag decides to change the building legislation so that refugees can also be housed in industrial areas.

At the end of April, the first data about the number of Romanians and Bulgarians who enjoy full freedom of movement within the European Union since the beginning of the year and are now migrating to Germany becomes available. The debate about the influx of Romanians and Bulgarians and surrounding fears about poverty-driven migration already began last year but regains new momentum during the election campaign for the European parliament. An internal analysis of the Institute for Employment Research shows that 80 percent more Romanians and Bulgarians came to Germany in January compared to the previous year. In February, this statistic applies to only 24 percent. The authors of the study emphasize that the majority of these immigrants finds work quickly and do therefore not fall under the category of “migrants moving out of poverty.”

The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) publishes the study “Migration Policy Debates: Is Migration Really Increasing?”. The report shows that Germany now ranks second among the OECD countries with regard to immigrant intake, right after the USA. In 2009, it still ranked No. 8. The country’s demographic development for the year 2013 demonstrates that Germany’s population increased primarily because of immigration.

On May 23, German Iranian author Navid Kermani holds a speech in honor of Germany’s Basic Law at the Bundestag. In his speech, Kermani praises the country’s Basic Law and appreciates Germany for the “great efforts it has made regarding immigration.” However, he criticizes the government for changing paragraph 16 of the Basic Law, which, as he points out, essentially abolished the right to asylum. He calls out Germany for its failure in creating sensible refugee policies and investigating the murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). A day earlier, President Joachim Gauck also mentioned the topic of migration when celebrating the Basic Law and naturalizing 23 migrants: “There is a new German ‘We,’ that is the unity of diverse people.”

At the end of May, the visit of Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Germany causes controversy. Supporters and opponents from across Europe meet in Cologne where Erdoğan asks Turks living in Germany to integrate but not to assimilate. Tensions between Germany and Turkey also rise, because Erdoğan personally attacks the leader of the Green Party, Cem Özdemir. Only a month later, Erdoğan travels to Vienna. His visit earns a rather negative reception and is compared to the Turkish sieges of the 16th and 17th century.

On May 25, Germany elects, together with the rest of Europe, the European Parliament. The conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and its main candidate Jean-Claude Juncker win the election. Observers are particularly concerned by the support that Eurosceptic parties are receiving; they gathered 19 percent of the vote. In Germany, the CDU/CSU loses votes but wins the election before the SPD. For the first time, the Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD; Alternative for Germany) of so-called “Euro-sceptics” wins over 7 percent of the votes. Among other issues, the German election campaign was largely influenced by the CSU’s suggestion that migrants are mainly a burden for the social welfare system. Slogans such as “Those who cheat get kicked out” have been causing controversy and tension within the coalition since the end of last year.

At the beginning of June, the study “The Stabilized Center. Right-wing Extremist Attitudes in Germany in 2014” (“Die stabilisierte Mitte. Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2014”) is published. The authors conclude that right-wing extremist beliefs are less prevalent in Germany in recent years. However, the study shows that right-wing extremist attitudes that focus on specific groups – “group-specific xenophobia” – are increasing dramatically. This kind of xenophobia primarily targets Sinti and Roma, Muslims, and refugees. Moreover, these attitudes are still more prevalent in East Germany than in West Germany. Another study, “New Potentials. The State of Integration in Germany” (“Neue Potentiale. Zur Lage der Integration in Deutschland”), conducted by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development at the same time, shows that migrants increasingly assimilate into the native population. To facilitate integration and convince migrants to stay in Germany in the long term, “the country must increase its efforts to internationally position itself as a modern country of immigration and a ‘culture of welcome’ must be a given.” The “Annual Report with Integration Barometer,” published by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration in April, also shows German society’s rather ambiguous attitude toward immigration: people remain biased against certain groups while, at the same time, more and more people support immigration. This ambiguity is also part of German politics, the Expert Council argues.

At the beginning of July, the European Court of Justice decides in favor of a Turkish plaintiff whose subsequent immigration to Germany had been rejected based on unsatisfactory German language skills. The judges apply the European Union Association Agreement with Turkey signed in the 1970s to their ruling. Thus, language proficiency tests continue to be a requirement for immigrants from other nations.

A study published in July, conducted by the Media Service Integration, shows that teenagers with an immigrant background are generally not more delinquent than teenagers from non-immigrant families. The study thus undermines the common and popular notion of the “criminal foreigner.”

In July, the public debate in Germany primarily centers on the question if the country, as a result of the newly erupted Gaza conflict, is experiencing a new wave of anti-Semitism. Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against the Hamas-rule in Gaza also causes fierce controversy and protests in Germany. Anti-Semitic slogans soon dominate protests against Israel’s actions. Criticism of protesters’ anti-Semitic attitudes largely targets immigrants and their assumed prejudices against Jews.

At the end of July, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration) evaluates the EU’s Blue Card Program, which hopes to attract highly skilled workers from non-European countries: “The Blue Card stood the test in Germany. The over 16 000 Blue Cards handed out so far have proved to be a successful beginning to a more proactive immigration policy. However, this number must greatly increase. The potential of the Blue Card to establish Europe as a magnet for immigrants is far from exhausted.”

At the beginning of August, Mithat Gedik, after becoming champion marksman of Sönnern-Pröbsting, is informed that he has to return his title because he is Muslim – and not Christian, as the statutes of his shooting club require. Ultimately, he is allowed to keep the title but he is not eligible to perform his role on a regional level.

In September, the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) wins seats in three state parliaments (Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg). Also known as “Anti-Euro-Party”, the party’s success causes fierce debate and criticism. A study about right-wing extremist attitudes published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in November shows that “voters of the Alternative for Germany tend to agree with chauvinistic and xenophobic statements, as well as with statements trivializing National Socialism, above average.”

In October, the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (Zentrum für Türkeistudien und Integrationsforschung (ZfTI)) publishes the results of its annual survey on migrants of Turkish descent. The study’s authors conclude that the majority of these migrants living in Germany feel at home and have German friends.

At the end of October, a march organized by the “Hooligans against Salafists” movement, which is based in Cologne, escalates when almost 3000 people meet up and riot. The group has been active in different cities for the past few months. Experts caution about future riots and violent outbreaks between Hooligans, who belong to the soccer scene being prone to violence, and Salafists.

At the beginning of November, the relationship between Great Britain and Germany is turning sour: Prime Minister David Cameron suggests limiting EU-citizens’ freedom of movement. Germany responds by stating that such a decision would essentially result in Great Britain leaving the European Union.

At approximately the same time, a cartoon of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan published in a German school book leads to tensions between Turkey and Germany.

In the middle of November, a planned meeting between LGBTI-groups and Muslims at a Berlin mosque causes controversy. Criticism comes primarily from older community members and from Turkey. As a result of the negative press and overall controversy, the meeting takes eventually place at the Protestant Jerusalem Church.

During November, the public debate centers once again on young Muslims who leave Europe to join ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham). Parents who are concerned about their children increasingly contact the helpline “Radicalization,” offered by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, and the information center of the non-profit organisation “Hayat.”

At the end of November, the Berlin Institute for Integration- and Migration Research publishes a study that shows that the German language has become the main criteria for defining national identity. Many believe that ethnic origin is no longer the main characteristic of German identity. However, the study also shows that bias primarily prevail against Muslims.

On December 1, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) publishes the International Migration Outlook 2014. The report states that Germany is currently the second most popular immigration country, ranked after the USA only. Most immigrants come from other countries belonging to the European Union. The Outlook points out that these migrants integrate relatively smoothly into the German job market.

At the end of the year, Hans-Werner Sinn, President of the Ifo-Institute for Economic Research, causes controversy by arguing that migration is currently a “losing bargain” for Germany. Sinn calculates that migrants cost Germany more than they contribute economically.

Public debates during the month of December and the first couple weeks of January center on the sudden rise of the non-profit organization PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West). Since the end of October, PEGIDA organizes protests every Monday in Dresden. The group warns against the alleged Islamization of Germany, and demands stricter asylum and immigration policies. Shortly before Christmas, over 17 000 supporters join organizers, who are delighted by the increasing interest, in front of the Semperoper, which responds by turning off its lights to reject PEGIDA and its political message. PEGIDA gradually branches out into other German cities: MÜGIDA is founded in Munich, LEGIDA in Leipzig. While Dresden is dominated by PEGIDA supporters, other German cities draw more opponents to the streets. Social media plays a crucial role in gaining supporters for both crowds: PEGIDA is primarily active on Facebook, while opponents, for instance, sign a petition. To show resentment of German media, PEGIDA’s supporters spread the term “lying press” (“Lügenpresse”). The phrase ultimately becomes this year’s “Faux-Pas” Word, also because the term was widely used during World War I. as well as by National Socialists to slander the press. German media outlets, as well as the international press, commonly discuss the question: how should one react socially and politically to the PEGIDA phenomenon? Chancellor Angela Merkel – like President Joachim Gauck in his Christmas speech – chooses an uncommonly direct approach in her annual New Year’s speech: “Today, some people are again shouting on Mondays, ‘We are the people!’ But what they really mean is, ‘You don’t belong because of the color of your skin, or your religion.’ That’s why I say to all who go to such demonstrations: Don’t follow those who call for this! Too often, there is prejudice, coldness, or even hatred in their hearts.”

2013

The year begins with continuing concerns about the influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, especially Roma and Sinti, into Western European cities. Particularly the German and British governments express alarm at the potential costs to social security systems, as they warn about “Armutseinwanderung” (“poverty immigration”) and “benefits tourism,” respectively. Particularly the German and British governments express alarm at the potential costs to social security systems, as they warn about “Armutseinwanderung” (“poverty immigration”) and “benefit tourism,” respectively. Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Minister of the Interior, argues against extending the Schengen Agreement to Romania and Bulgaria. Critics point out that a change in restrictions of movement would have less of an effect than anticipated, as the majority of people willing to migrate have already done so, and as similar instances in the past – Poland being a case in point – have shown. Moreover, statistics reveal that fewer immigrants make use of social security benefits than Friedrich’s rhetoric suggests. While the current debate about “Armutseinwanderung” is thus to some extent characterized by questionable assertions, populist remarks, and disagreements about federal and regional responsibilities, the recent influx of Roma and Sinti – sometimes as whole villages – to Western European cities presents real challenges for local authorities, even prompting them to travel abroad to find solutions, as well as for other groups that rely on limited social welfare resources.

In January, the German feuilletons debate anew the issue of racist language in children’s literature. The fierce discussion follows remarks by Kristina Schröder, Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, who admitted to changing words such as “Negerkönig” when reading her daughter classics like Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. While newer editions of Lindgren’s work already contain only politically correct language, older editions as well as other popular children’s books are currently being reviewed and edited accordingly. The debate is further fuelled by Otfried Preußler’s long-awaited agreement to such changes in his own work. A survey shows that Germans are divided about the necessity of editing words such as “Negerlein,” and that the higher educated a survey participant was, the more likely s/he opposed the replacement of original words.

On February 22, Joachim Gauck calls for greater European integration in a passionate speech about the greatness of the European Union and being European. While he addresses the current crisis and people’s frustrations, he also makes an ardent case for a European identity and emphasizes Germany’s commitment to the project.

The Spiegel echoes Joachim Gauck’s Europe speech in its feature “Die neuen Gastarbeiter” (“The New Guest Workers”), which discusses the current wave of young, highly educated people moving from Southern and Eastern European countries to Germany. The Spiegel points out the ways in which this recent generation of immigrants differs from the guest workers of the 1950s and 1960s, the role European identity plays in people’s daily life, and the reasons why Germany has to make more of an effort to make these newcomers stay.

In March, prominent German rock bands such as Die Ärzte and Kraftklub boycott the well-known Echo music prize, because they oppose the nomination of Frei.Wild, a German-speaking band from Southern Tyrol. Frei.Wild has been criticized for promoting right-wing ideals and for their connections to Neo-Nazis. Since nominations are solely based on sales and charts rankings, the Echo commission initially refuses to withdraw the nomination. However, Frei.Wild’s name is eventually taken off the list, as organizers hope to avoid being drawn into a fierce discussion about the political orientation of the band.

Much of March is dominated by the controversy about journalist accreditation for the upcoming trial of the “Terror Group National Socialist Underground” (“Terrorgruppe Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund” (NSU)). The court allocates available places based on the time of request, which results in the absence of any Turkish press representatives and a scarcity of international media. Requests to simply add additional seats for Turkish media outlets and the Turkish ambassador are rejected by authorities, even when the German federal government voices its discontent about the situation. Consequently, the Turkish Sabah newspaper takes the issue to court and wins at the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). In April, the court thus re-allocates places, which are now divided among national and international media, by lot. Big German newspapers that fail to receive a spot are forced to work together with smaller news outlets to cover the proceedings. Later on in the year, the Bundestag investigation committee “Terror Group National Socialist Underground” (“Untersuchungsausschuss Terrorgruppe Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund/ NSU-Untersuchungsausschuss”) publishes its final report on the handling of the killings. Sebastian Edathy, the person in charge of the committee, says that a “historically unequalled disaster” took place during the police investigations.

In April, the United Nation Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) chastises the German legal system for its handling of the Sarrazin case in 2009. While German courts dismissed the complaint of the Turkish Association of Berlin-Brandenburg, which argued that Sarrazin’s statements were racist, the CERD finds that the court in question did not adhere to international law.

The U.S.-based Pew Research Center finds that many Europeans no longer trust the European Union. Germany, however, proves to be a striking exception, with Germans feeling better than other Europeans about the economy, the EU, and European economic integration.

In April, the Swiss government lowers the number of citizens from European Union states who can move to Switzerland. The majority of German emigrants moved to Switzerland this year.

In May, the Federal Statistical Office (Statistische Bundesamt) reports that the number of immigrants coming to Germany is as high as it was last in 1995, and that the rise is a direct result of the Southern European economic crisis. Earlier in the year, reports also showed that more illegal immigrants than in previous years came to Germany. The Federal Statistical Office points out that their research does not reveal if and how long these new immigrants will stay in Germany. Concern about long-term plans of immigrants and their continued presence in Germany increasingly pervades the public discourse, as many worry about Germany’s declining population, its effect on the economy and social security system, and Germany’s struggle to convince people to stay. A recent study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation) outlines the benefits of immigration and recommends that Germany promote migration more strongly, especially from non-European countries and of skilled migrants. The necessity of immigration is further underscored when the data gathered in the 2011 census reveals that Germany’s population is actually smaller than previously thought: “The nation shrinks,” Spiegel writes, reporting that approximately 1.5 million fewer people live in Germany than believed. Many are surprised by the announcement that only 6.2 million, rather than 7.3, foreigners reside in the country, and that most (9 million) of the 15 million inhabitants with a so-called immigration background have German citizenship.

In May, both the Islam Conference (Islamkonferenz) and the Integration Summit (Integrationsgipfel) are criticized for failing to accomplish their respective goals. While the future of the Islam Conference remains uncertain, members of the Integration Summit express their frustration about the continuing low number of immigrants working in the public sector.

The end of May marks the beginning of months-long protests against plans supported by the Turkish government to restructure Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Opposition to the new shopping center soon turns into broader demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s politics, especially when protesters face violent backlash from Turkish police. Erdoğan’s uncompromising response draws international criticism and causes German Turks to debate their identity and their role in the conflict. In Cologne, over 30,000 people gather to show their support for the protesters, and some German Turks join the demonstrations in Turkey. The debate in the German media heats up when well-known politician Claudia Roth (Green Party) is caught in the middle of the protests during a visit to Istanbul and suffers injuries from teargas employed by Turkish police.

A study by the Council of Experts of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration) shows that migrants who decide against enrolling their children in public daycare would make use of their – as of this year – legal right to obtain childcare the year prior to elementary school if the German system were of better quality, if intercultural approaches were utilized more, and if the costs were lower. The child care subsidy for stay-at-home parents (“Betreuungsgeld”) is another reason young children are kept at home.

The plight of asylum seekers in Germany draws the public’s attention repeatedly this year. In June, approximately 50 asylum seekers go on hunger strike in Munich to avoid deportation and to receive permanent residence status. The camp of protesters, located at the downtown Rindermarkt, is forcefully shut down by police a month later. At the same time, protests against a new housing facility for refugees in Berlin Hellersdorf causes further controversy and ignites a public debate about the increasing number of asylum seekers in Germany. The Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) reports that the number of attacks on housing facilities of asylum seekers is twice as high as last year. Both European policies on refugees and the measures undertaken against asylum seekers by individual EU member states are increasingly criticized. The relationship between Germany and Italy becomes slightly strained in view of Italian authorities’ questionable treatment of refugees and Germany’s unwillingness to change its own approach. The situation becomes an explosive political issue when Hamburg’s mayor, Olaf Scholz, criticizes Italy’s practice of giving refugees money to travel further north to Germany and questions Germany’s failure to provide long-term prospects to asylum seekers.

At the end of July, the European Union institutes proceedings against Germany for its language laws, which allegedly break European laws.

At the beginning of August, the British National Archive publishes documents revealing that, in 1982, former chancellor Helmut Kohl privately admitted his hope to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that at least half the Turks living in Germany would eventually leave the country. He believed Turkish culture to be vastly different from German culture and Turks to be unwilling to integrate. Kohl defends his statements by pointing to the larger debate at the time.

On September 18, literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, nicknamed Germany’s “Pope of Literature” (“Literaturpapst”) for his often controversial, yet largely popular reviews of German literature, died in Frankfurt.

At the beginning of October, a boat with over 500 migrants from Africa sinks near Lampedusa, Italy, once again. The tragedy, which has occurred on a smaller scale numerous times in the last few years and which repeats itself mere days after, ignites debate over European refugee policy and Europe’s handling of migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Minister of the Interior, rejects increasing calls for fundamentally changing European and German approaches, arguing that “the reproach that Europe is sealing off its borders [against immigrants] is plainly wrong.”