“Supporting Diversity – Strengthening Cohesion” - Multiculturalism in Germany

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2009 17 Pages

Politics - Political Systems - Germany


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What is Multiculturalism?

3. Multiculturalism in Germany
3.1 Introduction of the Term into Public German Discourse
3.2 Implementation on a Local Level
3.3 Implementation on a National Level
3.4 Criticism to German Multiculturalism

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Germany’s discourse about multiculturalism is marked by its contrariness. On the one hand, there are many attempts to implement the theory of multiculturalism in political practice. The slogan of Berlin’s integration concept in 2007 ‘Vielfalt Fördern – Zusammenhalt Stärken’ (Supporting Diversity – Strengthening Cohesion) aimed at the advertisement of the positive potential of the city’s pluralist landscape. On the other hand, the media often issues headlines and statements of politicians who declare multiculturalism in Germany as unsuccessful. The mayor Heinz Buschkowksy of Neukölln, a district in Berlin inhabited by about 30 percent migrants, with his rigorous conclusion “Multiculturalism has failed.” in 2005 caught the attention of the media. In these contradicting positions - the constant efforts to politically apply multicultural theory and then again the questioning whether multiculturalism is generally applicable in Germany - originates the interest to gain an extensive insight into multiculturalism practiced in Germany.

This paper aims to combine the political theory and practice of multiculturalism. Therefore, it inquires how the theoretical concept of multiculturalism is put into practice in a German context as an efficient means to manage immigration. After the definition of the term multiculturalism, this essay will further concentrate on German examples. Due to my own interest and the reason that in my opinion case studies better illustrate the theory I chose to concentrate on the German cities Frankfurt (Main) and Berlin to demonstrate how multiculturalism was implemented there. Within this framework the paper inquires to answer the questions of how German multiculturalism developed and what its characteristics are. Due to the earlier pointed out inconsistencies in the debate about multiculturalism the last part of the paper elaborates and names the main criticisms against the term especially manifest in the case studies.

2. What is Multiculturalism?

Historically multiculturalism has to be understood against the background of assimilationist approaches and policies that surrounded the national incorporation of immigrants in different countries especially the United States (see Grillo 1998, 189). To clarify his definition of multiculturalism Glazer contrasted the metaphors of the ‘salad bowl or the glorious mosaic in which each ethnic and racial element in the population maintained its distinctiveness’ (Glazer 1997, 10) with the widely acknowledged notion of the ‘melting pot’ in America and underlined that multiculturalism is opposed to assimilationist Americanization that had failed to integrate African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Bhikhu Parekh defined multiculturalism as the state of diverse cultures living together but at the same time establishing and ensuring spaces where every cultural group can develop according to its own determination. Next to the granting of independency, public spaces should be created where the different communities can cooperate. Thus, the society’s existing culture can be influenced and supplemented but also a new culture can be established in the process of the groups’ intermingling (see Parekh 1989. Cited in Kaya 2001, 105). The spaces Parekh depicted also play an important role in Grillo’s distinction between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ multiculturalism. These types describe the differences between cultural diversity exercised in the private and public sphere. In ‘weak’ multiculturalism cultural practice is acknowledged in the private sphere while a high degree of assimilation is required from migrants in public (law, government, market, education, employment) (see Grillo 2000, 2). Rex’ egalitarian multiculturalism can be accounted for as this form of multiculturalism which at the same time recognizes a shared political culture in the public and several distinct cultures in the private domain, such as language, religion, customs and family practices (see Rex 1994, 10). On the other hand, ‘strong’ multiculturalism institutionally recognizes the diversity in the public sphere by granting political representation (see Grillo 2000, 2).

3. Multiculturalism in Germany

3.1 Introduction of the Term into Public German Discourse

That multiculturalism is a frequently used and attractive term has to be seen against the background of German history and the ability to integrate migrants into the society over the last 50 years which is closely connected to the immigration politics of the German government in the past and in the present.

First, it is important to consider that Germany, although it had been subject to immigration especially since the 1960s, only recently recognized that it is a country of immigration. A negation of the status as an immigration country was first made in 1979 by the Kühn Memorandum, the first report of the 1978 founded Amt des Ausländerbeauftragten (Office of Foreign Affairs) (see Schwarz 2007, 74). Nevertheless the social reality in Germany drew another picture: In 1989 out of West Germany’s 61 million population foreigners constituted 18 million people. These migrants had mainly reached the country through recruitment agreements in the 1960s which were settled with Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Spain and Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia. Although most of the foreigners had entered the country on short term contracts and some returned after the recession of 1966-67, unexpectedly most of the migrants decided to stay permanently (see Panayi 2004, 467ff.).

The term multiculturalism was first introduced into German debate during the 1980s when the rise of social problems made it inevitable to recognize and talk about plurality and diversity in the society. Therefore, multiculturalism was first employed by social workers, pedagogues, social policy makers, teachers and health care workers. Jürgen Mieksch, a representative of the church, articulated the term first in the theses he proposed on the occasion of the Protestant’s and Catholic’s church celebration of the ‘Tag des Ausländischen Mitbürgers’ (Day of Foreign Citizen) (see Schwarz 2007, 75).

After that all political parties, church organisations and academic institutions picked up the expression and brought it into the public debate given that the presence and the increased arrival of foreigners could not be denied anymore. Since the thesis of Germany as an immigration country for many Germans was provocative the then controversial term experienced an unexpected boom. In a German context the expression was still undefined and therefore left space for the enrichment with different contents and became the basis for a discussion on different levels. For instance the left wing intellectuals published a book with a volume ‘Vielvölkerstaat Deutschland’ (Multinational Germany) and called for the admittance to the political reality at that time and a solution in the future (see Schwarz 2007, 76).

With Hartmut Esser’s essay ‘Multikulturelle Gesellschaft als Alternative zu Isolation und Assimilation’ (Multicultural Society: An Alternative to Isolation and Assimilation) in 1983 multiculturalism had also reached academic circles. Although he related multiculturalism with integration, his definition was close to the ones used in other countries at that time. He suggested that all ethnic groups, on the one hand, stayed independent but also remained open to the other and adapted themselves. Esser did not manage to establish a normative definition of multiculturalism because other public discourses were more dominant. Heiner Geißler, member of the conservative party Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) for instance was more successful in spreading his idea of multiculturalism. In 1988 he used the term in an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, regarding the multicultural society as a program against racism (see Schwarz 2007, 76f).



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Bilgi University İstanbul – Bilgi University İstanbul, Institute for European Studies
Diversity Strengthening Cohesion” Multiculturalism Germany Politics Ethnocultural




Title: “Supporting Diversity – Strengthening Cohesion” - Multiculturalism in Germany