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German Reunification

Opinion: Wulff makes integration centerpiece of Unity Day speech

German President Christian Wulff has vowed to focus on the hot button issue of integration of immigrants. And the president made good on that pledge in his speech marking German Unity Day, DW's Volker Wagener says.

Opinion graphic

Wulff stressed Islam now has a role in modern Germany

By using his Unity day speech to focus on integration, Christian Wulff has kept his word. In the 30 minutes of his speech, more was said about integration and migration than about the topic of German reunification today. Nobody expected Wulff to talk about the subject today but it was an important focus.

For weeks, the topic has been raging in Germany, with a polemical war of words over the issue of those who do not integrate into German life. It's claimed that these people live here but do not learn the language or recognize the constitution, and depend on state handouts.

Wulff adressed the problems but didn't go into detail about the extreme positions in the failed integration policies in Germany. Learning German is compulsory for all immigrants and German law applies to everyone.

'Islam also belongs in Germany'

Wulff's arguments about Islam were much more far-reaching. Christianity and Judaism have been part of Germany's past and present said Wulff. "But now Islam also belongs in Germany," he added. No German politician has ever said that so clearly and openly.

But the president basically criticized romantic "multicultural" notions of society, saying they had created illusions rather than solving problems. It's a slap in the face, especially for those on the political left. Germany, Wulff said, has long been a country of immigration. It's a message however that still hasn't reached everyone in Germany's middle-class, conservative circles.

It will be interesting to see whether and how quickly the excerpts of the president's speech containing practical suggestions will become political reality. For instance, offering German classes for the entire family. After all, what's the use if Ali speaks German at school in the mornings and Turkish at home in the afternoons because his mother only speaks that one language. Or another suggestion involves Islam lessons in German schools. Wulff wants those classes to be held in German by German teachers.

Wulff managed to skillfully link the day's issue - German unity - with that of integration, the topic he's focusing on during his term in office. He used the motto of the East Germans from 1989: "We are one people" and expanded the slogan. The meaning must include all people who live in Germany today, he said.

The Basic Law, the German constitution, leaves the president with little room for political power. But he can harness the power of words, though not frequently. The president's role includes being a moral authority and influencing the intellectual climate of the country. That's why the first big speech by Christian Wulff was all the more important.

The day of German Unity - above all the 20th anniversary - was a guarantee for him and his message to attract the highest possible attention and probably have the deepest impact. In view of the fierce debate on integration, Wulff used the opportunity to help determine the future political direction.

Author: Volker Wagener (cb)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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