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Reflections on the Demand for a German Lead Culture [Leitkultur] (November 4, 2000)

Author and journalist Mark Tekessidis reflects on the notion of a lead culture [Leitkultur]. He argues that the actual supporters of a German lead culture would probably be hard pressed to identify what it actually is. The concept, he argues, lacks clearly-defined positive content, and often emerges only in opposition to the culture of immigrants. Ironically, it is those immigrants, he suggests, who might actually have the clearest understanding of this vague concept, since it is often used against them in very concrete ways. According to Tekessidis, the CDU/CSU demand for a “Christian-German lead culture” can only lead to further discrimination against immigrants.

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The Culture and Origins Game

Germans are wondering what their “lead culture” is. Pig’s knuckles and McDonald’s, Bach and Roberto Blanco, the Reeperbahn and Cardinal Ratzinger*? Muslim Hülya B. knows the answer.

Hülya B. is a trained kindergarten teacher and unemployed. The main reason for this is her non-Christian faith. An occupational counselor had already predicted this situation for her, since more than two-thirds of all kindergartens in Germany are run by church organizations. And that means that Muslim women are out of luck. Of course, Hülya B. applied at public kindergartens, but the competition there is very fierce. Furthermore, in telephone calls, school personnel often told her in a roundabout manner that most of the local German parents have a problem with Turkish Muslims caring for their children. The young woman is currently doing odd jobs. Hülya B. knows very well what a “German lead culture” [deutsche Leitkultur] means.

Commentators at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dismiss the term as “drivel,” and by now even Bild-Zeitung editorial columns speak of an “undignified discussion,” but for most immigrants “lead culture” is anything but a meaningless phrase. In Germany, much more so than in other comparable European immigrant societies, something along the lines of a dominant culture does in fact exist. In the current debate, both opponents and defenders of “lead culture” agree on at least one thing: German society has long since become culturally diverse. The only thing up for dispute is whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Liberal public opinion views this diversity as simply normal, by and large. Why should the belligerent rapper-style behavior of Turkish adolescents or the headscarves of young Muslim women be deemed any worse than all the other private nonsense that goes on, ask members of this camp.

In the CDU/CSU, on the other hand, many people fear that cultural diversity will mean the loss of values, standards, or rules of the game. Thus, public statements by everyone from [Laurenz] Meyer to [Thomas] Goppel** always make “foreigners” seem as though they incessantly abuse the “right to hospitality,” violate the Basic Law, or behave disrespectfully toward German customs. In this sense, Angela Merkel also thinks that the “leftist idea” of a multicultural society has failed. But how much diversity can Germany really handle?

Hülya B. is not all that religious. She doesn’t wear a headscarf. If she did, then her problems would be more obvious. In this society, a headscarf is viewed as much more than a private inclination, as was recently demonstrated by the case of Fereshta Ludin. She couldn’t become a teacher in Baden-Württemberg because the Ministry of Culture and Education viewed her headscarf as a “symbol of cultural segregation,” which could not be reconciled with the ideas of tolerance in this country. Although crucifixes continue to adorn classroom walls in Bavaria, even after the Federal Constitutional Court issued a ruling against them, Ludin’s symbolic profession of her own faith is not allowed in school, even though this young college graduate is a prime example of “integration.”

* The Reeperbahn is Hamburg’s red-light district. Cardinal Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI – eds.
** General secretaries of the CDU and CSU – eds.

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