1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Let's Talk About "Leitkultur"

DW staff (jp)October 20, 2005

Leading Christian Democrat and newly appointed parliamentary president Norbert Lammert says it's time the nation took a new look at the issue of a German "Leitkultur," or leading culture. Others in his party agree.

Raising the flag for GermanyImage: dpa

In an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Lammert said that German society needed to explore questions such as patriotism and national identity, echoing feelings already voiced by a number of Christian Democrats in recent weeks.

"Without any leading culture, there cannot be any consensus on solving complex social problems," he said.

The "Leitkultur" debate was first ignited in 2000 by Friedrich Merz, former leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, who coined the term to describe a way of life that immigrants to Germany should aspire to.

"We should expect people who want to live here for a long time to speak German and accept our constitution's norms and values," he said, citing forced marriages as an example of traditions Germany should not have to tolerate from its immigrant community.

His comments triggered widespread uproar, with an inevitable resistance to any form of German patriotism pitted against an emerging national self-confidence.

Reviving a relevant issue

Kompetenzteam CDU: Norbert Lammert, Berater für Kultur
Norbert Lammert says it's ok for Germans to be patriotsImage: dpa

"I believe the debate surrounding the term, which was prematurely cut short, was a crucial one in terms of assessing the spirit of the nation," said Lammert, adding that the term had met with a "knee-jerk rejection," even though it transpired there was "broad support for the argument."

"No political system could uphold its inner legitimacy without a shared set of beliefs, especially in difficult times like these," he pointed out.

"It's time we started talking about this issue again."

The CDU identity crisis

Others in the CDU agree. The party's disappointing showing in September's election has prompted some soul-searching among its ranks.

"The main reason (for the election result) is that the party is increasingly unable to rally together supporters and voters with one defining socio-political agenda," said the CDU's deputy leader Christoph Böhr.

Saxony's former Science Minister Matthias Rößler (CDU) thinks it's time to take action.

"The party needs to revamp its image as a patriotic people's party rather than a party of cold technocrats," he said.

Together with CDU General Secretary Michael Kretschmer, he presented a paper in Dresden Wednesday designed to kick-start a reappraisal of German patriotism. It includes 12 principles that the authors hope will usher in a "more open approach" to the matter.

Türken in der EU
Will immigrants have to learn the German national anthem?Image: AP

One of their proposals is to put the national anthem on the elementary school curriculum.

"Singing the national anthem should be a normal part of public events," says the report.

"It helps create a national identity and serves as an acknowledgment of the democratic state."