"Multikulti" isn't working, she asserts. Time for the foreigners to assimilate, she says--learn German, adopt Christian values. Needless to say, the "yellow peril" types like Margaret Wente would like us to follow Germany's lead--regardless of where such thinking once took that country.
I'm no apologist for official multiculturalism. It's a bureaucratic approach that essentializes "culture" and builds as many walls as bridges. But the word has become right-wing code for "letting them furriners in." If integration is demanded, in any case, it might have been nice if Merkel's predecessors had thought of making it a little easier.
In the 1960s and 1970s, West Germany imported vast numbers of Gastarbeiter ("guest workers") to fill a labour shortage: by 1982 there were 4.7 million in the country, with Turkey providing the lion's share. Today there are seven million non-citizens living in the now-unified Germany. These workers assisted in creating the boom times for West Germany during those years.
Although they were supposed to be "temporary," German employers lobbied hard to extend their stays: they didn't want to have to bear the costs of re-training new Gastarbeiter. And so the numbers increased, and children were born to these long-term workers. But neither they nor their German-born children could acquire citizenship: until 2000, Germans were citizens by virtue of blood (jus sanguinis) rather than place of birth (jus soli), and for a non-German, becoming a citizen was and still is an arduous process.
John Berger, in A Seventh Man (1975), paints a dismal picture of life for Germany's "guests." (If you have time, read the extract at the link. Better still, read the whole thing.)
Migrant workers do the most menial jobs. Their chances of promotion are exceedingly poor. When they work in gangs, it is arranged that they work together as foreigners. Equal working relationships to indigenous workers are kept to a minimum. The migrant workers have a different language, a different culture and different shortterm interests. They are immediately identifiable - not as individuals - but as a group (or as series of national groups). As a group they are at the bottom of every scale: wages, type of work, job security, housing, education, purchasing power. Thus indigenous workers see another group, less privileged than they are, who differ from them.
The presence of migrant workers, seen as intrinsically inferior and therefore occupying an inferior position in society, confirms the principle that a social hierarchy - of some kind or another - is justified and inevitable. The working class comes to accept the basic bourgeois claim that social inequality is finally an expression of natural inequality.
In other words, millions of workers were invited into West Germany and encouraged to stay. But they were not permitted to become citizens until very recently; they were segregated and ghettoized; they were looked down upon as "inferiors"; in short, they were deliberately cut out of the mainstream of German life. But they were useful, as noted--during boom times.
More recently, however, the tide has turned. The boom cycle has been replaced by austerity measures and cutbacks. German workers are now the new Gastarbeiter, seeking work outside their country. The "guest workers," once tolerated because of the work that they did, are no longer welcome. They remain at the margins of German society, but there is less work for them to do, and many are on social assistance. So now they are seen as a burden, and a problem. Although many have lived in the country for years, they are still colloquially known as Auslnder, or "foreigners."
The call for assimilation by Merkel is, in this context, an act of gross political opportunism and hypocrisy. She is, apparently, trying to woo her party's right wing, and would like to remain Bundeskanzlerin. Playing to the ever-present xenophobes, she has chosen a target created by Germany over a period of more than fifty years: "foreigners," unintegrated because they were not permitted to integrate, are now being blamed for their lack of integration.
When in trouble, however, it's always helpful to look for a handy scapegoat. And it's not like certain German politicians haven't done it before.