« Previous | Main | Next »

Is Angela Merkel right about multi-culturalism?

Ben Sutherland Ben Sutherland | 17:21 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

We're updating all the time: facebook / photos / videos / twitter

The idea of multi-culturalism has "failed, utterly failed" in Germany, according to the country's Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Over the weekend she told a gathering of younger members of her Christian Democratic Union party at Postsdam that what Germans call "multi-kulti" did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate - including learning German.

The BBC's Stephen Evans explained the context:

The words "utterly failed" are very strong, but there are also nuanced messages about the usefulness of immigrants in a country that needs skilled labour. The chancellor is basically saying that Germany needs immigrants but immigrants need to do something to get into the society.

It's at a time when there are numerous debates across Europe about the role of immigrants, multi-culturalism, and how - if at all - they fit together. If multi-culturalism cannot work, what can - or will?

The comments have triggered a huge reaction. Ros posted them on our Facebook page on Sunday and a number of arguments have been brought up there which reflect the wider debate. Here's three:

Vojtin argued that Merkel is really targeting Muslims, and that she is right:

Europe is built on Christian basis and no one except from Muslim people would like to see Europe being Eurabia. That is what she says from those who do not understand that

Shirley says multi-culturalism can work, it's just it hasn't in Europe:

Wherever there is a will there is a way, my personal opinion is that people are too materialistic and selfish to bother with other cultures and religions and too much prejudice adds to it

And Fariha said it is "hypocracy" for Europe to complain:

Europe is being swept by feelings of racism. It was alright for Europeans to go to the entire globe and colonize other countries, looting their resources, all the while they cordoned themselves off in exclusive residential areas which were off limits to the native population... integration? Did the Europeans integrate into their former colonies?

Merkel's comments follow on from those of former Bundesbank official Thilo Sarrazin, who said in August that immigrants were making the country "more stupid" and that:

A large number of Arabs and Turks have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade.

Sarrazin wrote his comments in a book called Germany Abolishes Itself. Perhaps tellingly, it soon rose to the top of the bestseller lists.

Meanwhile recent research suggests 30 percent of Germans think the country is being "overrun by foreigners".

One further reason the comments are so controversial, of course, is Germany's past. The most retweeted comment on this issue is by the UK Labour party councellor Bob Piper, of Sandwell in the English West Midlands:

Merkel says multiculturalism has failed in Germany. Surely she knows the last time they tried monoculturalism it was hardly a major success

William Prothero on Political Pundits says Merkel is merely preaching from 'the Gospel of the Blindingly Obvious':

Euro-politicians are finally beginning to twig that taking a wide variety of people with different social and religious values, who may not speak the same language, and expecting them to live in crowded cities side-by-side might just possibly lead to a bit of tension.

However Imran Ahmed on the British left-of-centre politics blog Liberal Conspiracy says Merkel is "wrong", and explains, drawing from his own experience as an immigrant in the UK, why:

A beneficent state system that let me go to university and then demanded with the Race Relations Act and now the Equalities Act that employers treat me as anyone else. The challenge for our societies isn't to destroy immigrants' culture but to tolerate it where it wouldn't hurt any other reasonable, tolerant person (as opposed to pandering to xenophobes and cultural supremacists) and to provide them with hope, inspiration and the chance to convert their potential into ability and then into achievement.

Finally, Merkel herself stressed that:

We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don't speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here. That would do great damage to our country. Companies will go elsewhere because they won't find the people to work here anymore.

So is multi-culturalism always going to fail? Is the very idea of it wrong? Should people always assimilate - or are there advantages to retaining an ethnic background for minorities?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.