The public debate during the first few months continues to be dominated by Thilo Sarrazin and his controversial statements about the damaging effects Muslim immigrants supposedly have on Germany. While Sarrazin insists on the correctness of his claims, his use of data and conclusions encounter more and more resistance. Maria Böhmer, Federal Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, emphasizes that Germany is a country of immigration, admits to major mistakes being made in the past when dealing with immigrants, and criticizes the Sarrazin debate. Political scientist Naika Foroutan refutes Sarrazin’s claims in her study “Sarrazin’s Assumptions Put to the Test” (“Sarrazins Thesen auf dem Prüfstand”). The Maxim-Gorki-Theater in Berlin stages the book launch of Manifesto of Many. Germany Reinvents Itself (Manifest der Vielen. Deutschland erfindet sich neu), in which authors such as Hilal Sezgin and Feridun Zaimoğlu and artists such as DJ Imran Ayata use humor to counter Sarrazin and his supporters. Other book publications contribute further to the debate (e.g., Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit’s Courage for Integration. For a New Together (Mut zur Integration. Für ein neues Miteinander), Patrick Banners’ The Scaremongers (Die Panikmacher)). Later on in the year, a study by the Council of Experts of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration) finds that the Sarrazin debate has eroded migrants’ trust and worsened Germany’s image abroad. In April, Sarrazin averts being excluded from the SPD.
In Berlin, another mosque is attacked: this is the seventh attack on an Islamic institution in the last six months. Although it remains unclear who is behind these incidents and if they are linked, they raise fears about the prevalence of Islamophobia. This issue plays into the greater debate on the ways in which Islamophobia can be compared to anti-Semitism.
In February, the Bavarian Brewers’ Federation claims that the decline in beer sales is due to the increased number of people with an immigrant background living in Bavaria who supposedly drink less beer than the locals. According to the federation, people with an immigrant background include anyone who was not born in Bavaria. The incident demonstrates the problematic ambiguity inherent in the phrase “immigrant background.”
In February and March, the ongoing protest movements and revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya bring the issues of illegal migration and European border controls into the spotlight once again. Germany grants extra funds and sends three frigates to the Mediterranean Sea. In April, a boat with 300 refugees capsizes near Lampedusa. This incident is another case in point for the increasing numbers of refugees attempting to make it to Europe and Europe’s, as well as Germany’s, continuing inability to respond humanely.
At the beginning of March, Germany’s new interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU), objects to Federal President Christian Wulff’s 2010 statement that Islam is part of Germany. Friedrich argues that there is no historical proof supporting Wulff’s claim. His comments, made shortly before the meeting of the Islam Conference (Deutsche Islam Konferenz), foreshadow the often strained relationship between the interior minister and Germany’s immigrant community.
A study mandated by the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung) finds that Europeans are united in their xenophobic defensive attitude toward immigrants, particularly Muslims. Over half believe that there are too many immigrants in their respective countries, and that migrants are a threat to the national social systems. The study also concludes that xenophobia declines with a higher level of education and financial status.
To fight the lack of high-skilled workers, the German federal cabinet passes a bill that facilitates the immigration of these migrants by entitling them legally to have their qualifications assessed within three months.
In April, a heated debate about the restoration of border controls within the EU erupts. In light of the increased number of refugees from Africa and Denmark’s announcement that it will control its borders again, the EU amends the Schengen Agreement.
At the end of April, politician Axel Schäfer (SPD) argues for prohibiting the burka in Germany. Schäfer suggests that Germany should follow the example of France and Belgium, which recently passed such legislation.
May begins with the news that American troops killed Osama Bin Laden. In Frankfurt, salafi Pierre Vogel announces that he will hold a ceremony in honor of Al-Qaeda’s late leader. Many Muslim organizations criticize Vogel’s plans, and the city of Frankfurt tries to prevent the event. Vogel is allowed to speak on the condition that he will not pray for the deceased.
The immigration of large numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians to German cities increasingly attracts the media’s attention.
At the end of May, a new advisory panel for integration meets for the first time. The council, like its partner organisations Integration Summit (Integrationsgipfel) and Islam Conference (Islam Konferenz), is supposed to advise the German government on issues of integration and migration.
In June, the annual meeting of the German fraternities attracts public attention when one of its members asks to exclude a fraternity from Mannheim because the group accepted a Chinese German as a member.
A report by the UN demonstrates that most refugees live in developing countries. The study challenges industrial nations’ claims that they take in most of the refugees. While the number of climate refugees is actually lower than years ago expected, the overall number of refugees continues to increase, as do the applications for asylum in Germany.
In July, the debate about the feared influx of workers from Poland starts again when it becomes clear that no such thing is happening after Poland has become a full member of the Schengen area. Other studies also show that people migrate because they want to work, and not because they want to abuse the social welfare system, as many Germans still seem to believe. Germany continues to struggle to attract skilled workers and must ask itself why people should even come: the discussion often focuses on the way Germany welcomes – or rather, fails to welcome – its immigrants (“Willkommenskultur”). OECD-studies show that the financial crisis has hit migrants more than other population groups; immigrants living in Germany fared a bit better. Nonetheless, Germany has trouble keeping highly educated people, a trend that is substantiated by a growing number of Turkish Germans leaving for Turkey. The lack of perspectives is arguably also one of the reasons why migrants often found their own companies.
In August, a long-time study by the German Institute for Economic Research (Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) shows that Germans’ attitudes toward immigrants are slowly changing: Germans are gradually more inclined to judge immigrants based on behavior and beliefs, not simply on their origins. This trend is echoed by Germans’ wish to see more balanced news coverage on integration and migration, including the inclusion of visible minorities.
During his visit to Germany in September, Pope Benedict XVI says that Muslim families have been part of Germany’s landscape since the 1970s. When meeting with Muslim leaders, the Pope points out that Muslims and the Catholic Church have a similar understanding of the importance of religion in daily life. The Pope echoes this sentiment when criticizing German society’s growing indifference toward religion.
The Federal Statistical Office (Statistische Bundesamt) reports that every fifth person living in Germany has a so-called immigrant background. The majority of this almost twenty percent has German citizenship. Only a month later, the Federal Statistical Office finds that migrants are often at a higher risk of becoming impoverished than the rest of the German population.
On October 30, Germany celebrates the 50th anniversary of the recruitment agreement with Turkey. Among other institutions, the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum), for example, organizes a film festival and collaborates with the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration (Dokumentationszentrum und Museum über die Migration in Deutschland e.V. (DOMiD) on the exhibition “Shared Home – 50 Years Migration from Turkey” (“Geteilte Heimat- 50 Jahre Migration aus der Türkei”). A train also travels along the route guest workers took from Turkey to Germany. Yet some voice concerns about the limited extent of these celebrations. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uses the occasion to criticize the progress made in integrating Turks into German society and Germany’s reluctance to fully support Turkey’s EU-membership.
In November, the awarding of the Bambi Integration Award to Tunisian German rapper Bushido causes a fierce controversy: most people seem to disagree with the choice because of Bushido’s often homophobic and misogynistic lyrics.
In November, Germany faces one of its greatest post-war scandals: authorities finally acknowledge that several murders of foreigners between 2000 and 2007 were committed by a single group of neo-Nazis. For years, German authorities, who were often sloppy and simply ignorant in their work, failed to connect the right-wing terrorist group, the Zwickau terror cell or National Socialist Underground (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund, NSU), to these so-called “Doner Killings” (“Döner-Morde”). The term “Doner Killings” eventually becomes the German “Faux-Pas” Word of the Year 2011 (“Unwort des Jahres”): the jury of the independent campaign “Faux-Pas” Word of the Year selects the phrase from 923 words, arguing that its racist and stereotypical connotation concealed the “political dimension” of these murders and actively discriminated against victims and fellow citizens belonging to ethnic minorities. One early consequence of the mishandling of these murders is the building of a central database to record right-wing extremist crimes on a federal level.
The beginning of December is characterized by another anniversary: ten years ago, the first PISA study resulted in heated debate and a restructuring of the German educational system. The study was viewed as a major catalyst toward recognizing Germany’s status as an immigration country since it made visible how the German system was failing immigrants. While improvements have been made, it is still a work in progress: for example, a recent survey showed that the majority of parents with Turkish immigrant background believe that their children do not have the same opportunities as other students.