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Minister promotes German 'Leitkultur'

April 30, 2017

Germany's interior minister has presented a 10-point plan on the divisive issue of "Leitkultur" - the idea of establishing dominant German values. Thomas de Maiziere believes this will help integrate immigrants.

Italien Treffen Innenminister zum Thema Migration | Thomas de Maizière
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Fabi

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere shared his plan about the controversial issue of fostering a dominant culture in Germany in the Sunday edition of Germany's daily "Bild" newspaper, saying he wanted to start a public debate about the subject.

In his guest contribution to the paper, de Maiziere defended the idea of advocating a dominant culture in Germany, stating that strengthening set values under such a "Leitkultur" would ultimately create greater tolerance and that feeling secure in one's culture would in turn create strength.

Critics of the idea of "Leitkultur" argue, however, that among other things it would serve the purpose of limiting immigration by rejecting those who do not succeed in assimilating. Opponents also say that such a set core of values would automatically lead to cultural clashes, with a "Leitkultur" being treated as inherently superior to immigrants' native cultures, and that they would therefore be designed to inadvertently limit the spreading of multiculturalism.

A political issue

The issue of "Leitkultur" has been part of much social and political debate in Germany for some 15 years now. The idea, mainly perpetuated by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party and especially its Bavarian CSU sister-party, supports the view that immigrants to Germany have to assimilate to a set of shared cultural values. Other parties, such as the Green Party and the SPD, Merkel's partner in her governing grand coalition, reject the idea.

De Maiziere's comments came as political parties across Germany started to prepare for the general election, which will be held in September.

Germany's unique position

The minister's list comprises his personal view of what the cornerstones of German culture are. Mainly focusing on social aspects of everyday life, de Maiziere's plan touches upon issues that affect all generations, such as the importance of ensuring general education and embracing performance-based rewards in a meritocratic society. "We regard good performance as something that each individual can be proud of," de Maiziere explained in his guest commentary.

Burka Verbot in Frankreich
In his commentary, de Maiziere wrote that the burqa was not acceptable in GermanyImage: DW

However, divisive issues like wearing the burqa are also addressed, with de Maiziere commenting that in Germany, "we shake hands, show our faces, and tell people what our names are. We don't do [the] burqa."

He also listed that in German culture decisions are made by majority vote while protecting minority rights.

In addition, he stressed the importance of people in Germany respecting its unique place in history, which he says demands its special relationship with Israel and the taking of neutral positions in its overall world-view. De Maiziere added, however, that Germany's overall western outlook and its defense of European unity were also part of the cultural make-up of the kind of "Leitkultur" he defends.

"Germany is part of the West. Culturally speaking, spiritually speaking, and politically speaking. And as Germans, we're Europeans as well. Our freedom is protected by NATO," the minister wrote.

De Maiziere went on to explain that Germany appreciated cultural diversity, adding that as a country characterized primarily by Christian values, other religions were still always welcome, addressing one of the main points of criticism often cited against "Leitkultur."

ss/jlw (dpa, KNA, Reuters)