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Was multiculturalism a failure in Germany?

Irene Bloemraad, professor of sociology | October 30, 2010

The outrage against multiculturalism continues to grow.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently made headlines when she pronounced multiculturalism in Germany a failure. A few weeks before, an editorial in the Globe and Mail, a prominent Canadian newspaper, argued that Canadians should eradicate multiculturalism from their vocabulary and refocus on citizenship. Similar sentiments have been expressed in many countries, including famously tolerant Sweden and the Netherlands, places where anti-immigrant political parties did well in recent elections.

The current wisdom suggests that multiculturalism is antithetical to building unity in increasingly diverse societies.

The current wisdom is wrong.

Social scientists can measure multiculturalism in a society by examining the number and content of public policies and government pronouncements around cultural recognition and accommodation. Such indices show that Germany is not, and has never been, a multicultural society.

Multiculturalism can’t have failed in Germany because it was never tried. Turkish guest workers and other immigrants were never welcomed as future citizens – only as temporary labour.  If Germans are now concerned about the consequences, the blame certainly doesn’t lie with multiculturalism.

These indices also group countries such as France and Norway with Germany as least multicultural, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States as moderately multicultural, and Australia and Canada as most multicultural.

Do practices and policies of multiculturalism hurt attempts to forge common citizenship out of diversity?

Absolutely not. Consider how many immigrants become citizens. The least multicultural countries count the lowest levels of citizenship; the moderate multicultural countries have somewhat more. In comparison, an overwhelming majority of immigrants proudly take up citizenship in Canada and Australia, the two countries that went furthest in the multicultural experiment.

The positive link between multiculturalism and citizenship is further supported by comparing Canadian policy with that of the United States. In 1971, the Canadian government began promoting a multiculturalism-based integration policy, which was enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and expanded in 1988, when the Multiculturalism Act became federal law. Over this same period, the U.S. enacted no formal immigrant integration program or multiculturalism policy.

In 1970, in both Canada and the U.S., about 60 per cent of foreign-born residents had acquired citizenship. By 2006, the American Community Survey estimated that, of the 37.5 million foreign-born people living in the U.S., just 42 per cent were naturalized citizens. By that same year, 73 per cent of immigrants to Canada had acquired citizenship, one of the highest rates in the world.

There are, of course, many possible explanations for this statistical gulf, but here are some factors that did not play a predominant role: different immigrant streams; the large undocumented population in the U.S.; different costs and benefits of citizenship; easier or faster processing in Canada.

My research points to multiculturalism as a key factor driving Canada’s success at citizenship integration. It legitimates diversity, provides a sense of inclusion and, through the multitude of (oft-maligned) government grants given to community-based organizations – not only for multiculturalism but also for a host of integration programs – it provides the support structures to help newcomers join the country as full citizens.

Eliminating multiculturalism from efforts to promote “common” citizenship runs the risk of transforming integration initiatives into a one-way street, as is happening in Europe.  Migrants need to take a highway towards the majority, while an unused rutted road provides a path of accommodation from the majority to minority.

Multiculturalism is about two-way integration: immigrants should become a part of the institutions where they reside, but non-immigrants should appreciate, work with, respect and learn from immigrants.  Both groups have a role in successful integration, which will lead to common, not divided, citizenship.

[An earlier and slightly different version of this post was published as a commentary on the Globe and Mail website on October 28, 2010.]

Comments to “Was multiculturalism a failure in Germany?

  1. quick note: multiculturulism refers to policies toward integration of peoples whose arrival is incidental, and not the act of forcing immigrants upon native populations.

    so immigration resulting from an expanding economy, aging population, labor market constraints can be treated with multiculturalism. or the need to adapt may be disregarded, but multiculturalism is not, itself, some plan to force immigration.

  2. I am Canadian, and I agree with most of my fellow Canadians who have posted on this site. Multiculturalism has been promoted over the past 40 years in Canada in such a way that it has become our “state religion”. To even speak against it brings accusations of intolerance, racism and bigotry. Canada’s government has done what few other governments have done, by codifing multiculturalism in legislation and adopting it as a “national ideology”.

    I am in no way, shape or form against any other culture, language or religion. I myself am francophone by birth, and my ancestors have roots in France, Korea and Greece! One could say that I am a poster-child of multiculturalism, but in fact, I strongly reject it. The Canadian government, through its constant promotion of multiculturalism, has eroded away any strong sense of what it means to be Canadian. Any deep bonds that the Canadian people have felt towards this land, its history and contributions have been clouded by this almost fanatic belief that all things “traditional” are somehow “bad” or “out-dated” so that our “culture” has been reduced to nothing but media soundbites or shallow cultural symbols. When asked about culture and Canadian identity, the vast majority of Canadians point out the following: universal healthcare, maple syrup, hockey, Tim Hortons, democracy and freedom. Most of the developed world has universal healthcare, Americans play better hockey than we do. Maple syrup does exist in other countries and democracy and freedom are by no means Canadian monopolies.

    If pressed further, to name more aspects of Canadian identity, most Canadians, not all, but most would find it quite difficult to name anything concrete. It has become common to hear the statement that “Canada never really had an identity, so… we don’t have one now! The world is our identity!” That is totally false. Two generations ago, this country had an identity, based on our French and British roots, plus our North American reality. We knew our history. We knew our literary giants. We knew our great statesmen/women. We had our own cuisine, developed over hundreds of years from French and British food culture. We felt passion for our country.

    Now, after 40 years of being told that no one culture is any more important than another — within our national context of course, we have abandonned what most countries still hold near and dear. We base our identity on shallow cultural icons, while collectively forgetting our traditions.

    I could write page after page about the specifics, but one thing that comes to mind is cuisine. My grandparents cooked Canadian food. Even the term “Canadian food” renders most Canadians uncomfortable, since they have no real idea of what Canadian cuisine is! My parents’ generation grew to almost despise it, prefering European, Asian and American foods. All that was Canadian was pushed aside, making room for fad after fad, until we arrive at my generation (I’m in my early 30’s), where eating traditional foods is considered passé or to quote a professor of mine, “re-inforcing old values that have no currency in a modern multicultural Canada”.

    What multiculturalism has done is it has devalued our national culture, making it “equal” to all other minority cultures in Canada, and current trends of globalisation have pushed that “equality” to the point of “inferiority”. It reminds me of the cultural cringe seen in Australia and New Zealand.

    Am I saying that we should get the immigrants on the run and make everything in Canada “white, christian and anglo/francophone? Not at all. I support immigration, but we do not do what most other countries do when welcoming immigrants. We do not say to them that they are welcome and that we want them to be a part of our country, but they have the responsibility to assimilate to our norms, that their decision to leave their country of birth behind gives them the responsibility to become a bit more like us. The Americans do that. The Germans do that. Most of the world does that. In Canada, we say, “come here and live here. Even if you make up 1.5% of our population, your language, your foods, your laws, your cultural norms are just as important, and… well, even more important than our own. And while you’re moving here, we’ll get rid of Christmas, we’ll stop playing the national anthem (it might offend you), we’ll hide all aspects of our own identity, just in case it upsets you.”

    Most immigrants find this attitude quite odd, and many immigrants complain that instead of being welcomed in Canada, they almost feel pressured to not assimilate, to become ghettoized immigrants, brought out in multicultural festivals to prove to the white, European-descended majority that multiculturalism is wonderful. Multiculturalism has reduced culture and identity down to ethnic restaurants, national costumes and folk songs, forgetting that true identity and culture are based in a deep connection between people, their geography and their history. Cuisine, costumes and songs are products of this deep connection, and multiculturalism has ignored this, and in doing so, it has plunged Canadian identity into a basket in which all identities, all languages, all costumes, all foods are “Canadian”, leaving the majority of the population “culturally lost”.

    Canada has become the world’s suburb, where people live, love, eat and spend without feeling a deep attachment to the land.

  3. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is of course playing to substantial sections of her electorate, who believe that “foreigners have it too easy in Germany”, the ideological counterpoint to the fading post-war dominant left wing cultural understanding that “you have to be nice to foreigners because of what the Germans did in WW2”.

    Since this blog, the government has introduced language requirements for some visas and run poster campaigns calling on foreigners already living in Germany to “get the words (German) out” with particular reference to Turks mostly living in “welfare ghettos” in larger German cities. With the OECD saying Germany needs the enormous number of 500,000 immigrants annually to break even with demographic and labor market trends, Merkel also called for a “new culture of welcome”.

    This has little hope of success. As most people who live in Germany for a while will tell you, Germans have great difficulty making casual contact with people they do not know. This is generally despised as vulgar or meaninglessly superficial. “Small talk” is a pejorative concept in Germany. This is the reason most people from English-speaking countries I know leave Germany after a few years. The baker who sells you bread for years but never acknowledges he has seen you before, the looks of confusion when attempting to chat with someone in a supermarket line, the intense wordless gazing on the street as though inspecting an object from another planet. It would not matter how fluent your German is, German culture is either decidedly private or very distant towards others.

    I don’t think Canadians, Australians, NZers etc realise what marvelously sophisticated, open and unforced friendly societies they live in and the necessary pre-condition for immigration and integration at arms’ length or otherwise.

  4. Canada is not a great example of multiculturalism. We have schools for Muslims, schools for Chinese students and schools for Sikhs, and even an “afro-centric” school for black kids only (Toronto). Muslim immigrants in particular, are arriving here in droves and loudly demand changes in to accommodate them. There is no melting pot, only growing ethnic ghettos that look more like entire nations transplanted onto Canadian soil. They have been encouraged by successive governments to hold on to their language, culture, religion, dress code and general way of life. Butr the cracks are beginning to shoe.

    In November 2010, the leading candidate for Mayor of Toronto, George Smitherman, suddenly found himself soundly defeated on polling day. The reason? Smitherman is a homosexual who made appearances on local television with his “husband” and adopted two-year old son. the sight of two men kissing one another on the lips was too much for the ethnic communities of that city, who turned out in record numbers to reject the gay candidate.

    What sort of society do you want? A liberal, tolerant society, or one that is filling up with immigrants from countries that are hostile towards “gay rights?” You can’t have it both ways.

    The future does not look rosy for Canada.

  5. As a heritage Canadian, whose Anglo-Saxon/Celtic/Gallic ancestors were here before Confederation busily building something out of nothing, no one asked me if I wanted to replace my country’s culture with the non-culture of multiculturalism. No one asked me if I wouldn’t rather live in a racial-cultural clone of India, or China, or Saudi Arabia, or the Congo, instead of a frozen version of England. My answer, btw, would have been an emphatic “NO”.

    So what about my rights? Or don’t I have any, based on my ancestry?

  6. No – CANADA IS NOT THE MODEL. (I’m Canadian and know this all too well)

    For Canada has abandoned it’s culture.






    Just a bunch of people of various partial ethnicity, religion, skin colors – all without identity, character or purpose – a communists DREAM! All holidays (in Europe they are Christian Holidays) will be purged – as the word ‘Christmas’ is verboten in may US retail companies. Even the year (it is 2011 years since the birth of the Christian prophet) will be questioned. You laugh – but nobody in America, in 1985 would have ever thought ‘Christmas’ would be verboten in retail.





    WAKE UP.

  7. Dear Professor,

    The core of your argument is completely false. Immigrants do not simply take up citizenship because they feel something in common with the pre-existing culture (your hypothesis that successful multiculturalism translates to citizenship).

    A large amount of immigration is driven by purely economic factors,and citizenship gives secure legal status and therefore more secure economic certainty.

    A more accurate way of measuring how much immigrants respect and feel unity with a pre-existing culture would be a statistical analysis on the tendency of immigrant groups to move into areas dominated by the pre-existing culture or conversely to remain with their particular immigrant groups. My guess is that, when measured this way, many immigrant groups will be shown to strongly prefer their own cultural group over the pre-existing culture regardless of citizenship rates. In the context of mutual cultural respect as an indicator of multicultural success, such a result could be considered a failure of multiculturalism.

    Also, you say that Germany did not adopt multiculturalism. It would be more accurate to say that Germany did not adopt *your* (subjective) version of it. Your analysis here was not objective at all.

    Also, if you think that Canada and Australia are shining lights for multiculturalism, you should dig a little deeper: serious problems are emerging there, too.

    There are, in fact, no shining lights of multiculturalism and all objective evidence points to that particular social experiment being a failure. And then, even worse, is how these countries get themselves out of their multicultural messes?

  8. Professor,
    You might wonder why?
    Perhaps we do not want our countries over run by cultures with which we have no common roots.
    Perhaps you feel that there is one world thus one people.
    We really are not and do not want to be no matter how good you may feel this is for us as a society.
    Just look at Africa. if this is the cradle of civilization, then why do they continue to kill one another, steal whatever they can from the populace for their own gain while millions suffer?
    Why is this so? The hatred from one tribe vice another still predominates their psyche else they would have united long ago. No and still you wnat our countries to fo what they have been unable to achieve in a millenia.

  9. I’m a Canadian, living in Germany. I’ve lived in the US as well.

    Canadian multiculturalism is a total failure. While Canada has done a GREAT job at integrating newcomers, the Canadian identity has been swallowed entirely. They have no sense of who they are.

    Canada is the suburb of the world.

    True, Germany never really tried multiculturalism, but who cares?


    Let Germany be Germany and China be China.

  10. You nailed it: multiculturalism was never attempted in Germany.

    And Canada is the right example. The principles of the ideals of preserving and enhancing multiculturalism are enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada’s national, provincial, and local governments actively promote integration and inclusiveness, as well as celebrations of cultural diversity. These are the big things, played-out on a political level. Examples of how this resonates within Canada’s popular culture are many and varied; but here’s a very recent, kind-of-fun example.


  11. I would not use Canada as a model, it has a small population and a vast land; people are not squeezed in to small living spaces where social problems become contentious. Look to ancient texts, like Socrates that noted Macedonians would kick out the Greeks, long after he died. This was a take on the multiculturalism of the leaders of Athens that put him to death for speaking the truth. Then historians writing on Greece a mere 100 years after white Greeks fled to Alexandria or Rome, the color depiction of the inhabitants of Rome scarily could find a white person. This reflected that modernity and race relations are not a novel issue, nor are human rights. The Macedonians acted like the Modern Spanish- Americans ( Middle and Southern America) They believe that North America is theirs, even know this is a lie and they will overthrow white culture in about 50 – 100 years. Where will the white people go? Perhaps back to Europe. There seems to be no historical solution to enthnoi choice. Given a choice Spanish want to be around other Spanish, and include to his scenario all ethnois! Ethnoi ( 1 st cent. B.C.E. would be transliterated into ‘nation,’ today. So the very concept of nation has its roots in ethnicity. Multiculturalism last only a few decades in history and then one sees a shift in ethnicity vying for supremacy control of all sections of the state’s institutions.

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