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Opinion

Opinion: Preserving a republic while the refugees come

Refugees will fundamentally change Europe. That is why it is important to reflect on policies to prepare for the arrival of even more people. The values of the republic must endure, DW's Kersten Knipp writes.

Recent elections indicate that some in Europe have a low opinion of refugees. Buoyed by state election results in mid-March,

Alternative for Germany

is gathering its members this weekend to discuss the direction the party should take. Next door in Austria, objections to immigration could help catapult the right-wing Freedom Party candidate to the presidency.

Alternative for Germany and the Freedom Party, to name just two of the

many right-wing parties in Europe,

promise to address popular reactions to the arrival of refugees. Their approach differs from that of the parties that govern their respective countries: Far-right factions intend to shutter the borders and quickly deport those refugees whose asylum applications are rejected.

Knipp Kersten Kommentarbild App

DW's Kersten Knipp

For many, it is no longer a question of morals when

large numbers of displaced people

arrive at their national borders. It does not suffice to offer refuge. New residents need food, accommodation and jobs - and many will require vocational training for those. This whole process is faltering in Germany, and the state and society cannot keep up.

And then there are cultural differences and the long-term experiences that cannot yet be predicted. In the worst case, there could be disillusionment. Multicultural societies may be many things, but they are not necessarily harmonious. It is also clear that it has become outdated to think of homogeneity - common origin and culture - as a "virtue."

The great migration?

It will become difficult to continue living the way Germans have come to expect. The next rush of refugees is waiting on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea - and who can seriously believe that they will permanently be held back? Sure, delays can be arranged. But the great migration has begun, and it will lead millions to Europe.

Nation-states must redefine themselves whether their citizens want to or not. The new right-wing parties must, too: To remain relevant, they will have to formulate rules for the multicultural societies of the future.

In the long term, nations must focus only on the political logic that can meet Europe's great challenges: the republic, which comes from the Latin term "res publica" - the public matter. That means that the state exists for the people. It is by no means a romantic state - it's a place where the going can get tough - but it is the only way of actually of meeting all the challenges.

No concessions

Residents of the ideal republic would be able to apply for jobs without worrying that the people who look at their CVs might consider their name "exotic." They must be able to count on equal treatment in the housing market. Social segregation must be avoided and the development of ethnic ghettos prevented.

The ideal republic would be culturally sensitive. The rules of society trump those of scripture. Compromises could be made when feasible. Company canteens could offer alternatives to pork, but there should be no prohibitions against drinking alcohol in public for fear that it might offend members of religions that prohibit it. The public nature of public life must be preserved. So, one can permit the headscarf,

but not the burqa.

Artistic freedom must be respected. Harsh criticism of excesses should be allowed, but not violence or threats. General religious restraint must be exercised. Church bells are neutral because they just chime, but the call of the muezzin - "Allah is the greatest" - is not.

France, Belgium and the United Kingdom - the home of Mohammed Emwazi, the "Jihadi John" of the "Islamic State" - have shown what could happen if immigration policies do not conform to the challenges of the republic. And there should be no tolerance of relgious violence: The republic must strip violent crime of its religious appearance. This can only happen with the help of an integration process that goes beyond faith and heritage. It will take decades, but anything else would be a waste of time.

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