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Germany

What does 'leitkultur' mean to young German leaders?

The Greens' youth organization rejects Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's concept of a "German dominant culture," but young conservatives support the idea. Does a German leitkultur even exist in a mobile world?

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere definitely rocked the boat with his 10 theses on "German leitkultur," or a German dominant culture.

The broadsheet Bild published a guest piece by de Maiziere on Sunday in which the member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) wrote that "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."

While conservative CDU members have publicly supported de Maiziere in this sentiment, politicians from other parties have harshly criticized the interior minister. Leaders of the Greens' youth organization published a rebuttal in the daily newspaper Die Welt on Monday.

Jamila Schäfer, Bundessprecherin der Grünen Jugend (Erik Marquardt)

Schäfer said the line between patriotism and nationalism is thin

Playing on the "We Are Not Burqa" headline from de Maiziere's commentary, Jamila Schäfer and Moritz Heuberger called their reply "We Are Not Lederhosen."

They wrote that different cultures should treat each other with respect in Germany and that an open society is not based on "everyone being as 'German' as possible together."

"As soon as your identity is based most strongly on which country you belong to, you can easily adopt an attitude of superiority," Schäfer, 24, told DW. "And that's dangerous and anti-democratic - because it is excluding others."

'True German patriot'

Paul Ziemiak, the 31-year-old head of the Young Union, the CDU's youth organization, said there was a clear difference between patriotism and nationalism.

"A nationalist says his people are better than other nations' people," Ziemiak told DW. "That's what happened in Germany during the National Socialist regime. A patriot loves his country but understands other people's love for their country, too."

"A true German patriot has the greatest respect for patriots from Poland or France, for example," Ziemiak said. "That's not excluding anyone. We are all proud of [our countries] together."

Paul Ziemiak Bundesvorsitzender der Jungen Union (Junge Union Deutschland/L. Chaperon)

Ziemiak says Germany can accept multiple cultures but called for assimilation, too

He added: "It's enriching when people from other countries study in Germany, but they are bringing their own customs and traditions that they adhere to. Of course that's interesting. We want our young generation to be open to the world."

Ziemiak does not believe that international influences have a bearing on German leitkultur. He also called for people who have longer-term residencies in Germany in mind to "assimilate."

"When people live here, we don't want them to form parallel societies separate from our own," Ziemiak said. "We don't want them to say: 'We don't care that we live in Germany now - we'll just continue living the way we know from our home country.'"

Artificial cultural borders

The Greens' Schäfer thinks that defining people by their countries of origin is the wrong approach.

"A society is always changing - and one of the reasons for that is migration," Schäfer said. "I don't think finding a way to live together peacefully is about preserving one culture." 

She added: "Young people share many interests that aren't delineated by national borders - that's why I think it's wrong to pretend that there are always national interests at odds with each other. That prevents us from growing closer together globally and from overcoming national borders, which is the basis for a peaceful world."

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