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Assimilation a top migrant priority

Jefferson Chase
December 16, 2016

Detractors of immigration to Germany often claim that migrants fail to integrate into the mainstream. A study by a conservative think tank has concluded exactly the opposite is the case.

Symbolbild Migranten Menschenrechte Gesellschaft
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Resident aliens in Germany and Germans with immigrant backgrounds are, in some respects, more "German" than people whose families have been German citizens for generations. That's the main conclusion of a 104-page study by the conservative Konrad Adenauer Foundation, entitled "What Makes Us Who We Are, What Unites Us," which was unveiled in Berlin on Friday.

"Integration entails the willingness to take majority society on board and to adopt the rules of that society as one's own," said Peter Altmaier, the head of the Chancellor's Office and the government's refugee coordinator, at the presentation. "What the study tells us is that this willingness is abundantly and distinctly present."

The author of the study, sociologist Sabine Pokorny, conducted extensive interviews with three groups of roughly 1,000 people each: resident aliens, German citizens who either were not born in Germany or have one parent born elsewhere, and citizens from longer-standing German families. The surveys indicated that first- and second-generation immigrants valued integration slightly more than anyone else.

83 percent of Germans with a migrant background thought that people coming to Germany should "adapt their behavior to German culture" compared to 76 percent each for resident aliens and Germans without a migrant background. There was also little difference between groups on the question of whether everyone living in Germany should learn the German language - 96 percent in total found that desirable.

Fans of fair play and democracy

Integrationskurs Deutsch in Berlin
Most immigrants place enormous value on learning GermanImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Kalaene

Significantly more first- and second-generation immigrants (76 percent) and resident aliens (74) think that people in Germany have excellent developmental opportunities than "traditional Germans" (66).

Moreover, 38 percent of aliens and 28 percent of first- and second-generation immigrants say they are "very satisfied" with democracy in Germany compared to 22 percent among the third group. Between 88 and 90 percent of all three groups are at least "somewhat satisfied" with the German political system.

Interestingly, basically the same percentages from all three groups agreed that society lacked guiding ideals (37-40 percent), that capitalism was ruining the world (43-46) and that "those on top" could do whatever they wanted (49-52). That suggests that the acquisition of a certain political skepticism, even cynicism, is part of the assimilation process.

All in all, the study's findings refute the notions propagated by right-wing populists that migrants rarely assimilate into German society and that immigration poses a threat to core German values.

"For me, if you were to write a headline for this study it would be: 'Integration is possible,'" Altmeier said.

But migrants to Germany by no means form a heterogeneous group. So what does the study say, particularly about the political proclivities, of the two largest sub-sets, those from Turkish-Muslim and from Russian backgrounds?

Muslims in Germany not particularly religious

Türkische Jugendliche in Deutschland
The report concludes that Muslims are far more assimilated than previously believedImage: dpa

The study doesn't include people who came to Germany as refugees in the wake of the war in Syria and other recent crises. The Muslim views it does reflect are primarily those of Turkish-Germans and Turkish resident aliens who are part of the long post-war tradition of Turks coming to Germany to work. And these findings undermine the scaremongering of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Germany, the report concludes, is in little danger of being Islamified.

"Our study shows that many of the clichés about Muslims aren't true," Pokorny said. "Muslims are only about as religious as Catholics and Protestants."

In fact, the percentage of Catholics (31) surveyed who described themselves as "highly religious" was significantly higher than that of Muslims. And 74 percent of all Muslims said that they would be willing to vote for an explicitly Christian party like Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), although those of Turkish origin tend to favor the center-left Social Democrats. This is largely because of the high number of working-class people and labor union members among the Turkish-German community, Altmaier explained.

There were discrepancies between mainstream attitudes and those of Muslims in Germany. Muslims tend to be noticeably more homophobic and anti-Semitic than non-immigrant Germans. For instance, 15 percent of Muslims and 17 percent of immigrants from Turkey said that Jews could not be trusted.

In these areas, the report concluded, "there is room for improvement."

The Russians and the AfD

Deutschland Spätaussiedler (Russlanddeutsche)
People with Russian backgrounds are a major immigrant group in GermanyImage: DW/O. Evdokimova

Reunited Germany took in some 2 million ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe after 1990, and those surveyed with Russian backgrounds shared the tendencies toward homophobia, anti-Semitism, acceptance of violence and susceptibility to conspiracy theories. But their party-political orientation differs from that of the Turkish or Muslim group.

The so-called "Russian-Germans" are far more apt to support the CDU than other immigrants and have a more favorable view of the AfD, rating the right-wing populist party -0.9 on a scale of +5 to -5 compared with -2.4 for non-immigrant Germans.

Still, Altmaier cautioned against easy equations between the "Russian Germans" and hostility toward other groups of immigrants.

"That's a topic for further study," Altmaier said. "I think it would be wrong to say that the 'Russian Germans' only vote for the AfD.' It's a challenge for society as a whole that we have to take up."

The dual citizenship dilemma

Symbolbild Doppelpass
Restrictive citizenship laws tend to hinder assimilationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Regardless of their background, an overwhelming majority (95-97 percent) of those asked said that they were glad to live in Germany. But only 36 percent of resident aliens - and only 24 percent and 28 percent respectively of Turkish and Russian aliens - said that they wanted to acquire German citizenship.

Altmaier saw one reason in the fact that the benefits of citizenship over permanent residency in Germany are limited. Another is that traditionally in Germany, people have been forbidden from holding two passports and have been required to choose between nationalities.

"The current coalition (between the CDU and the Social Democrats) decided not to enforce the rule forcing people to make this choice because in many cases it didn't solve integration problems but actually made them worse," Altmaier said. "Our citizenship laws make people hesitate because they don't want to cut their ties to their former homelands."

At its party convention earlier this month, the CDU came out in support of once again enforcing the citizenship-choice rule. That came over the objections of Altmaier and Chancellor Merkel. The Adenauer Foundation study, however, suggests that that this rule does more to hinder than encourage people from joining the mainstream of German society.

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