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Germany

German interior minister's call for 'leitkultur' draws fierce criticism

Politicians from most German parties are criticizing Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's call for a "German dominant culture." De Maiziere says setting "German" values would create tolerance.

Lawmakers across the German political spectrum have criticized Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for calling for a "German dominant culture," or "leitkultur."  

With this latest iteration of the "leitkultur" debate de Maiziere "has overlooked something," said Jan Korte, the Left party's second-ranking Bundestag deputy. "And that something is the constitution. Everything's in there."

Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU aims to win a fourth consecutive national election on September 24, but has lost supporters to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) as some voters have taken an increasingly aggressive stance on national borders.

'We shake hands'

De Maiziere proposed 10 principles as a "guideline of coexistence" at a time when the country has become in many ways markedly less welcoming to people from other cultures.

"In language, constitution and observance of basic rights, there is something that at heart holds us together, that makes us up and that differentiates us from others," the interior minister wrote, and indeed his ideas read more like a list of differences than affirmations of German identity.

"We say our names," de Maiziere wrote. "We shake hands. We are an open society. We show our face. We are not the burqa."

"Once again, it's about religion," Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democrats,  told the public broadcaster ARD in response.

Critics have argued that de Maiziere's ideas would hinder social participation by excluding people who do not meet a nearly unachievable German standard of assimilation.

Opponents of de Maiziere's logic say imposing values could create conflicts between residents, favoring a single dominant culture over the many identities of groups who reside in Germany. They say the interior minister's policies would hinder cultural understanding and acceptance.

'A cheap attempt'

"Our guiding principle is the constitution - no ifs, no buts, and indeed for everyone," Thomas Oppermann, the top SPD deputy in the Bundestag, told the daily Ruhr Nachrichten on Monday.

Oppermann, whose SPD is the junior partner to de Maiziere's CDU in Germany's grand coalition government, added that the interior minister's idea was a "a cheap attempt from the conservatives in the [CDU-CSU bloc] to chase the right-wing populists."

De Maiziere did draw support from within his own right-wing bloc. Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of Bavaria's Christian Social Union, said a dominant identity would give Germany a "clear compass" for integration.

The further-right AfD didn't criticize the interior minister's idea, but questioned whether he would act on it. "De Maiziere's model: Torpedo German leitkultur in the legislature, play the big defender of culture two weeks before the election," leader Frauke Petry tweeted.

mkg/tj (epd, dpa, AP)

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