The fate of Willkommenskultur
April 1, 2016 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Looking back, the events of September 2015 seem strangely unreal. Hundreds of Germans gathered at Munich’s central station to applaud incoming refugees. A smiling Merkel posed for selfies with Syrians at asylum-seeker homes, and ordinary Germans opened their doors for “welcome dinners”. I remember feeling both excited and a little nervous. Something extraordinary was happening and we were there to witness it first-hand ... Germany is [now] bitterly divided on the refugee question. Neighbours and families are divided. The poisonous atmosphere has been fuelled by rightwing hatemongers. But the adherents of the Willkommenskultur, in my view, are also to blame. Where did it all go wrong?
Konstantin Richter writes in the Guardian on the fate of Germany's Willkommenskultur towards Syrian refugees.

Elsewhere, at Politico, Richter attempts to analyse Angela Merkel's response to the refugee crisis.

Previously: 1, 2, 3.
posted by Sonny Jim (22 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Richter’s piece on the Guardian is a very honest commentary on the situation and that change of mood, sadly. Very sadly.

Quite possibly, it was also the best option on the table.

Or even, possibly, it may have been the only option on the table? but in a way that has not been properly fully and honestly examined in media and public debate, not even after that wretched EU-Turkey deal, another "only option on the table" kind of situation, and far from the best. No need for unlikely and elaborate (or insulting) Merkology theories when you have the nature of these "options" so openly displayed under everyone’s nose.
posted by bitteschoen at 6:26 AM on April 1, 2016


What I wonder is, when the decision was taken to allow in as many Syrian refugees as could make it to Germany, why didn't they just airlift them from known choke points, like Turkey? Why force refugees to make the additional overland journey, putting them to additional risk and antagonizing eastern EU member states?
posted by orrnyereg at 7:26 AM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Because it's one thing to say "we'll help if you get here" and it's entirely another to say "we'll help you get here." Non-official barriers to entry to Germany, like an overland trek, are absolutely a way to reduce the number of refugees arriving.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:41 AM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Scale. It's about scale. One refugee family? Sure! A hundred? OK. A million? No!

When we didn't have many refugees - for example, when the Iron Curtain was up, so very few people could make it over - then we welcomed them. When there were/are lots, like in 1945 or 2015, we don't.

Exceptions for your own race can sometimes apply. White Canadians coming to the UK? Sure! My mother was Canadian! You'll fit right in!

Other comparisons: US immigration. Northern Europe? Sure! Southern Europeans and Jews? Not so sure, restricted in 1924. Chinese? Restricted in 1882. Mexicans? Nope. Let's build a wall!

The only countries that take in lots of refugees are the immediate neighbours of places where the refugees are "generated" because, I suspect, they don't have any choice.

Is this right or wrong? One for the historians. Most immigrants end up like their host countries, sure. Countries for the last two centuries have changed more because of changes in technology than immigration, but then we've just had the Industrial Revolution. But countries do change from mass immigration. How can they not? Is that good or bad? Depends on the country. And the immigrants.
posted by alasdair at 7:48 AM on April 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


Doing the rounds in German FB today, a new video from Jan Böhmermann/NEO MAGAZIN (last prominent with "V for Varoufakis") which from the number of shares has tapped into the zeitgeist.

I admire the finely-tuned sarcasm and self-deprecation, but from the number of thumbs-down and hateful comments on the video, there could be an element of mindless lefty optimism at work here.
posted by illongruci at 8:17 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Jan Böhmermann is the Laugengebäck guy!
posted by lagomorphius at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


People forget that a big part of the cheering crowds at train stations was in no small part a response to the attacks on refugees and torched refugee centers that were already going strong back then.
Some it morphed from "we are not all like *that*" to "hey, aren't we all much more like this?".
posted by ts;dr at 8:51 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is that good or bad? Depends on the country. And the immigrants.

And the numbers. And the disparity of culture. Assimilation is interbreeding, and it takes several generations, assuming it takes place at all. The larger and more alien the immigrant group, the slower the interbreeding. The less incentive to adapt to the host culture. The result is balkanization.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2016


balkanization

Which resulted from migrations over several centuries in the absence of a strong nation-state or even a clear concept of national identity.
posted by praemunire at 9:21 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


*somehow*
posted by ts;dr at 10:38 AM on April 1, 2016


Were we naive? Perhaps. Most of the refugees who stayed at our home were men in their 20s. They didn’t talk much. Some never even said “thank you”. One seemed to feel genuinely sorry for us because we have three daughters and no sons. Another asked, apropos of nothing, whether my wife was “a Jewish girl”. We tried not to read too much into these experiences, limited as they were. But they did suggest that the relationship between Germans and refugees would not be as easy and straightforward as the enthusiasts had suggested.

What was the expectation here? Richter doesn't say. Is the disappointment that refugees and stable volunteers don't have much in common that can be expressed in an overnight stay? Do others in the same system feel the way Richter does? I seem to remember hearing a radio program interviewing another group of people sharing their home with refugees, and that family seemed much more prepared to offer the refugees privacy and quiet. They didn't seem to be looking for cultural exchange at that exact moment.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:38 AM on April 1, 2016


They didn't seem to be looking for cultural exchange at that exact moment.

Yeah, from trauma survivors displaced into an alien culture? Probably one should have limited expectations of reciprocity.
posted by praemunire at 12:35 PM on April 1, 2016


Gratitude doesn't require cultural exchange.
posted by Behemoth at 1:10 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think that hosting an asylum seeker should be seen more like taking in a foster child and less like having a kid on a foreign exchange stay with you. They're both getting the same thing, but one of them is a lot less likely to respond with gratitude and friendliness and that's not their fault.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:17 PM on April 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


Jan Böhmermann is the Laugengebäck guy!

No! No, you are mistaken there!

Few times he's been around that track
So it's not just gonna happen like that
'Cause he ain't no Laugengebäck guy
He ain't no Laugengebäck guy
posted by Naberius at 1:20 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think that hosting an asylum seeker should be seen more like taking in a foster child and less like having a kid on a foreign exchange stay with you. They're both getting the same thing, but one of them is a lot less likely to respond with gratitude and friendliness and that's not their fault.
The adult men Richter took in all seem to have been at least in their 20s, if not considerably older. Why should we compare them to exchange student or foster children, of all things? Isn't that oddly infantilising?
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:55 PM on April 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why should we compare them to exchange student or foster children, of all things? Isn't that oddly infantilising?

Sorry, it could be and I didn't think of that. The analogy I was going for was the difference between the two situations: the refugee and the foster kid are both in your house because of horrible situations outside their control that may have caused them significant trauma, and the fact that you are doing something for their benefit is unlikely to be the top of their mind. People complaining about a lack of gratitude or chattiness from refugees they host seem to be imagining the experience more as a fun voluntary visit where the refugee gets to meet new people and learn a new culture and get to know their host family and if they didn't want to be friendly and fit in then they could go home.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:15 PM on April 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


The adult men Richter took in all seem to have been at least in their 20s, if not considerably older. Why should we compare them to exchange student or foster children, of all things?

OK, seriously, if you cannot get your mind around why someone who may have lost everything he has in the world, seen horrible things happen to people he loved, and now finds himself in a culture he doesn't understand at all and may well have been brought up to think is oppressive and/or corrupt may not immediately be able to function at a normal social level, you need to not be taking in refugees. In fact, I'd recommend staying away from any kind of charitable work that involves direct interaction with the clients. If you're doing it with the expectation of gratitude, you're going to be very very disappointed.

These are not people doing a gap year, and why so many people seem to be under the impression that young men in their 20s are somehow immune to trauma is a complete mystery to me.
posted by praemunire at 7:48 PM on April 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think people are overanalyzing that observation in the article about how "some never even said thank you", and it’s not fair to extrapolate that single bit from the other observations he made (One seemed to feel genuinely sorry for us because we have three daughters and no sons. Another asked, apropos of nothing, whether my wife was “a Jewish girl”) and the point he was making about all that:

We tried not to read too much into these experiences, limited as they were. But they did suggest that the relationship between Germans and refugees would not be as easy and straightforward as the enthusiasts had suggested.

And that has to be read in the context of the rest of the article and the general point he is making...

Look, this is a short article and those are only his own observations, but he’s writing from a perspective of months of media coverage and debate on this! Leaving aside the infamous Cologne events and similar, because they shouldn’t colour every single aspect of the way people view and talk about the issue, many people have their own direct interactions with migrants and refugees coming to Germany.

And there are also very positive experiences, including those of private citizens hosting refugees, and they have also been given prominence in German media. It’s easier with families for obvious reasons. Families with young kids have more motivation to "integrate" (much as I hate that word, it’s a usefuls shorthand) right from the start.

But families are a minority, there are so many young men and many do carry with them old-fashioned mentalities that are very much at odds with German society, and the very fact that a lot of these young guys end up isolated in groups with other males (in refugee centres, or in hostels, or hotels) creates more problems for them in the first place. Many have nothing to do all day in those places, no job no language classes yet, they get bored and frustrated, it really isn’t the best premise for starting a new life, and it’s a problem amplified by the numbers.

The scale of this in itself is a huge problem, it’s so painfully obvious, but this painfully obvious fact was taboo, it was not being openly discussed last year. It was all ja wir schaffen das, and now it’s hmm wait, how exactly are we going to schaffen das, in detail, in practice?

That is the German government’s own responsibility, but it’s being passed on to local administrations and local organisations and in the end, to local inhabitants, and it is a mess, because administrations cannot keep up, housing space is lacking, job opportunities are not an instant possibility, vocational training and language courses take time, etc. etc. etc. Volunteer organisations are still stepping in and doing wonderful work to fill the gaps, the Wilkommenskultur is still there, in practice, but they can only do so much and cannot make up for the lack of a coherent plan from the government.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:10 AM on April 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


One last note, about trauma - not all asylum seekers are from war zones, there are many people from countries other than Syria, or even Afghanistan or Iraq, so they’re not all war refugees for a start. Secondly, it is perfectly possible to come from a war-torn country and be well disposed both towards the opportunities available in Germany and towards overcoming the difficulties. My own experiences and interactions there have been more with this kind of attitude, but it is a sample as limited as the author’s and the practical and cultural problems are wider, and German media and society is only coming to terms with them openly now, for better or worse.

So, while of course it is only fair to consider the experiences people have been through (even if you’re not from a war zone, the journey into Europe alone can be awful), it would be patronizing and unfair to think of those experiences as some kind of license to, you know, behave like jerks. There are jerks in every population, including refugees, this was another sort of taboo last year in Germany - because of course if you only point out the jerks and think everyone from that population is a jerk you’re a racist, but countering racism with some kind of idealisation of refugees is hypocrite and naive and patronizing at best, and doesn’t really help anyone. That naive patronizing attitude was not rare to find within the ’refugees welcome’ camp (I have seen that in action and have been guilty of it myself at times, I admit), and it’s not been useful at all, it was a factor that contributed in part to problems being silenced and shoved under the carpet, and to the resulting backlash.

In that sense, I think the author did a fair job of summing up very concisely that change not so much in attitude but in the realization that goodwill alone is not enough, and naivete can be counterproductive.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:13 AM on April 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sorry I forgot one thing that’s very relevant here - I remember very well Konstantin Richter’s article in German on his family’s first experiences hosting refugees. It was more about the initial decision with his wife to do this, and their motivation and hesitation and all that, and written with more than a touch of self-deprecating irony about their privilege as a typical well-off highly educated couple with a fancy apartment in a fancy area of Berlin and all.

It’s not really what some people are assuming from those observations in the Guardian article, so it sounds really unfair to me to imagine he was doing that with the expectation of gratefulness and cultural exchanges and whatnot. He also did that through an organization that helps refugees, so, it’s also unfair to assume ignorance.

It was in fact one of the first reports of this kind about people hosting refugees privately, and it was meant to inspire others to do the same and there have been many who have done the same.

So, you may not like his points or arguments or opinions but fair is fair.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:30 AM on April 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


We live in Munich and don't feel very welcoming to be honest. We don't see a infrastructure that can support this and there is no going back. I don't see new hospitals, a well functioning police force etc. When I think about the cost of supporting one economic migrant in Europe, and how many people that money would help rise out of true poverty (the disabled and mentally ill in Indonesia, the Africans who have no solid floor and have to spend a large part of their day maintaining a roof) it makes me want to weep. There are over 100 million people living in some states in India, you could fit 7 Europes inside of Africa. This is a big problem and it's exhausting being tut tutted by people who are morally judging but who are completely unaffected by these issues right now.
posted by flink at 11:16 AM on April 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


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