Who Is German?

June 02, 1993

Having closed the door to a flood of asylum-seekers, Germany appears to have opened the door to more neo-Nazi outrages against foreigners. The weekend arson-murders of five Turkish residents, including two small children, should put world pressure on Chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition government to change Germany's reprehensible immigration laws -- laws that effectively deny citizenship except to those who can prove they are ethnically German.

Had the five victims of arson-murder in Solingen migrated to the United States, all would probably have had U.S. citizenship. Anyone born here automatically inherits citizenship as a matter of constitutional right. Others admitted under U.S. immigration quotas can adhere to a regularized system for attaining citizenship.

Not so in Germany. Citizenship is regarded as something conferred by blood. If one can prove German ancestry, he is awarded citizenship no matter where he comes from, or how "un-German" in language or custom he may be. But if one is a "guest worker" or the German-born child of a guest worker who has lived in Germany for 23 years, as was the case in Solingen, forget it. No citizenship.

"Germany needs to make concrete offers: naturalization, dual citizenship, decisive steps toward integration. We are a country of immigrants. . . Playing hide-and-seek with reality is senseless." So wrote Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, Germany's commissioner for foreigners, last November.

She was ignored. The Kohl-led coalition of the Christian and Free Democratic parties voted to deal with the external problem of new asylum-seekers without dealing with the internal problem of the 6.5 million disenfranchised foreigners who have been key to the German "economic miracle" since the 1950s. Contrary to its professed idealism, the opposition Social Democratic Party went along, thus forfeiting any concurrent leverage to change immigration and naturalization laws.

Since the Solingen killings and the subsequent Turkish protests, progressive voices are demanding changes in immigration laws. Germany, after all, is a country with negative population growth and an aging citizenry. A parliamentary researcher in Bonn has estimated that over the long run the country will need 300,000 young foreigners yearly to augment its work force, current recession-caused unemployment problems notwithstanding. Unto how many generations before one is German?

Yet Chancellor Kohl is holding back to protect his re-election prospects next year. He even has balked from attending rites for the victims of neo-Nazi terrorism. His attitude and his failure so far to crack down full force on right-wing extremists impede Germany's admirable postwar efforts to build a free and tolerant democracy.

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