German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is worried about social cohesion in Germany, and has stirred up fresh debate around an old, inflammatory term. Not such a bad idea, says Marcel Fürstenau.
Many people get very touchy when they hear the word "Leitkultur," which approximately translates as "defining (or guiding) culture." Especially if it is conservatives who introduce the word into a debate. Skeptics immediately scent jingoism and cultural uniformity at the expense of colorful variety. Reflexes like these are understandable, because populists like to, and often do, misuse the term. When the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) talks about a Leitkultur, it does so with the intention of excluding people. Its basic program advocates a "German Leitkultur instead of multiculturalism."
Such dualism is alien to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. His ten points for a German defining culture, published in "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper, aim to encourage cultural dialog. We should be able to take for granted that we are defined by our own history. So it's also by no means banal when de Maizière describes German citizens as "heirs to our history, with all its highs and lows."
Germany's Christian character is a historical fact
By no means all - both those born here and those who have immigrated - want to accept this inheritance. When de Maiziere emphasizes the "special relationship with Israel's right to exist," he is not trying to talk anyone into a guilty conscience. It is a question of dealing responsibly with this darkest chapter of Germany's past.
The 63-year-old government minister does not even avoid reference to the highly ambivalent role of Christianity. The name of Martin Luther stands for division in the Christian Church, however neutrally one regards this. It is, nonetheless, no contradiction to praise religion as the "cement, not the wedge" in society - although de Maizière's religious model is a triptych of church, synagogue and mosque.
Of course, even 500 years after the Reformation, Germany is "characterized by Christianity." Emphasizing that does not indicate that one holds other religions in lower esteem. It is a historical fact.
Nothing didactic; nothing that excludes
The interior minister has written about many things that are worthy of consideration: the value of education, upbringing, and manners. There is nothing didactic here, nothing that excludes anyone. It is a confidently formulated expectation. One key sentence says: "Strength and inner security in one's own culture results in tolerance towards others." De Maizière expressly addresses immigrants who have the prospect of staying. What if they "neither know, perhaps do not want to know, or actually reject" such a Leitkultur? If that is the case, he fears, their integration will not be successful.
Because this fear is justified, de Maiziere's Leitkultur initiative is justified, too. In fact, in times of increasing social polarization it is urgently needed. Some will describe this contribution to the debate as an election maneuver - and they'll be right. But what is to say the politician responsible for Germany's domestic security should not speak out like this in the year of a landmark general election? Nothing. Quite the reverse: He is fulfilling his responsibility by trying to do something about social cohesion. All are invited to participate constructively in the debate.