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Opinion

Opinion: The refugee crisis - the task of the century

There has never been so much migration to Germany in such a short time. This demands a lot from the new arrivals as well as the locals, says DW's editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff.

One million refugees, probably more, have been accepted by Germany this year. One million people who are looking for refuge, protection and hope for new lives. One million people - enough for a large city. One million people who need an apartment as soon as possible, but who more urgently need work - and German language classes before that: in kindergartens and schools for the children, at special courses in the case of the adults. It's a mammoth task for the Germans, and of course an even greater one for the refugees. What lies ahead now for Germans is a task that will last a century - the work of at least one, probably two generations.

Societies with totally different values

Alexander Kudascheff DW Chefredakteur Kommentar Bild

Alexander Kudascheff

Most of the refugees come from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea. They come from societies, from cultures without freedom and without liberties. They come from societies with strong religious ties, in which the family, sometimes the clan, counts more than the individual. They come from regions with patriarchal structures, places where the state is not a homeland, but the enemy. And they come to a society that is completely different: here in Germany, the individual counts more than the community; if the family comes undone the state is the insurance against all the risks of life. This also applies, without any ifs, ands or buts, to the equality between man and woman and to the individual's right to choose in matters of sexuality. Germany is an open society.

In the clash, however, both sides will have to change, to learn how to interact together, which demands more of the migrant. They have picked Germany as a new homeland; they have to adjust to conventions, norms and customs. They also will have to respect things which might feel strange to them, or even appear repulsive. They have to engage in life here - without completely giving up their cultural and linguistic identities. But Germany is not Syria or Eritrea and no one can live here as if it were. The refugees have to be curious about their new life in Germany.

But Germany will also change. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that in 25 years the country will be more open, more curious, more exciting and more tolerant.

German Bundeswehr soldiers assist with the registry of refugees

German Bundeswehr soldiers assist with the registry of refugees

This challenge is particularly great given that present-day Germany has long been all these things. In spite of this Germany will change: It must simultaneously define its modern identity in a self-confident manner and also learn to show more interest for the rest of the world. Islamic culture is not just Sharia law, not just the oppression of women, not just the burka. It is all that in everyday life. But it is also the preserver of ancient Greek culture, lost in the middle ages in Europe. It is rich in treasures, monuments, literature and philosophy. It is time that we embrace this culture in the unihibited and critical style of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his "West-Eastern Divan" collection of poems.

Farewell to grand delusions

The refugee policy is overarched by two delusions. The first, which Germans are now saying goodbye to: Germany is not a country of immigration. That was not true before and now is not true at all. As a country we are attractive, that's why people want to come to us. The second misconception: Refugee and asylum policy is immigration policy. That is political nonsense. Migrants' admissions are in part based on their numbers. Refugees just come. In spite of this, refugees have to be swiftly integrated - linguistically and occupationally. And mentally, too - for they have chosen Germany as their country of hope. They should - nay, they must - make this open society their own.

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