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Imported conflicts

Kersten Knipp / groAugust 30, 2015

German sociologist H.G. Soeffner makes the case for a quick integration of immigrants in Germany. If the opportunity is missed, serious cultural conflicts may arise. Social cohesion does not occur on a cultural level.

Bildergalerie Flüchtlingsunterbringung in Deutschland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heimken

DW: Mr. Soeffner, the German Interior Ministry is expecting 800,000 refugees this year. Does this number worry you?

Hans Georg Soeffner: Yes, on one hand, it does worry me because we did actually have a chance of handling the number. But the German states and the German federal government are lagging far behind when it comes to addressing this matter. We've known that the large influx of refugees would come and that the numbers would increase. I am exasperated over the slow pace of the German government's activities.

People should be aware of the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany was the country that had the greatest number of immigrants in 1945 - more than former colonial states like France and Great Britain. Germany was the most diverse country at the time and it had to deal with a large influx of refugees and immigrants, mass exodus, and to add to it all, the first wave of so-called guest workers. Until 2000, 23 million people came to Germany from other countries. At the same time, 17 million emigrated. We're constantly reshuffling and things had been going relatively well until now. But at the moment, I am under the impression that no one really knows how much planning is involved.

What would be a wise policy to cope with the current challenges?

It's more than a matter of accommodation: The German education system - for children and adults - must be in a position to provide migrants with the needed language skills. If that does not happen, the refugees cannot be integrated. Furthermore, the national employment agency must cooperate as well.

Deutschland Soziologe Hans-Georg Soeffner
Hans-Georg Soeffner is a German sociologistImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Franke

What is your view of the cultural aspect of migration?

If we do not purposefully impart knowledge of our language and culture, we will soon be facing cultural conflicts - ones that are shaped by other religions whose followers immigrate to Germany. We already have 4.5 million Muslims in Germany. Their numbers have grown gradually over time so that it was quiet in Germany in terms of cultural conflicts. But now, migration has taken on a completely different dimension. And we have seen that immigration brings religious conflicts with it - like the ones between different Muslims.

How do you expect such conflicts will develop in the future?

We must assume that the conflicts will grow. The refugees bring political and religious conflicts from their countries of origin to Germany - like the conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites, or liberal Muslims and Salafists. We are already familiar with the conflicts between Turks, Kurds, Alevites and the rest of Muslims, so we've seen these conflicts. But in view of the expected number of new immigrants, the conflicts will grow. And that is why we quickly have to begin promoting German values, meaning the constitution. Only then will the immigrants know what the rules are here.

At the moment we are witnessing isolated breakdowns of state order - like Calais, Lampedusa, Macedonia. There, we have observed virtually anarchic conditions. Do the European states have enough creative power to control the situation, i.e., to prevent the nascence of such situations?

The problems are difficult to handle because the Europeans have let the problems slide over years. Even Britain and France have allowed unregulated immigration. Registration systems in Britain are extraordinarily weak - people don't even have to carry an I.D. card with them. The British have to learn their lessons and they will. But they let the problems drag on for years. This is how Europe has allowed the chaos to grow. In that respect, Germany - and I will try not to boast - has worked in a more structured manner. We realized relatively quickly that our police force cannot solve such problems, but that focused social work and government agencies are needed to assign jobs if need be. Until now, we have been in a very different situation so we do have potential. But we must not procrastinate, as we have thus far.

Once again, in light of the refugee issue, what keeps Germany's society together? What is your answer?

It is certainly not a national culture - we haven't had one in a long time. Germany's strength is based on one of the best constitutions in the world. It must be taught and put into action.

In other words, constitutional patriotism, to quote German philosopher Dolf Sternberger?

Yes, that's the goal. It also includes the problem of religious freedom, as Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, a German legal philosopher and a former judge on the Constitutional Court, stated in the 1970s: the measure of what really constitutes a secular state is the extent to which it allows religious freedom. That means that societies consisting of religious and ideological diversity are always fragile. We have to live with that. But they also have the advantage of being open societies, at least if the state works relentlessly to ensure that the constitution remains valid and is enforced.

Hans-Georg Soeffner is a sociologist. Until his retirement, he taught at the University of Konstanz in southern Germany. Between 2007 and 2011, he was chairman of the German Sociological Association (DGS). He recently published the work "Fragiler Pluralismus (Wissen, Kommunikation, Gesellschaft)" - Fragile Pluralism (knowledge, communication, society)."

This interview was conducted by Kerstin Knipp.