Germany's Angela Merkel: Multiculturalism has 'utterly failed'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's comments come just days after a study by a German think tank found that more than 30 percent of people believed Germany was 'overrun by foreigners.'

Clemens Bilan/AP
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a meeting of the youth organization of her Christian Democratic Party in Potsdam, Eastern Germany. A declaration by Angela Merkel that Germany's attempts to build a multicultural society has failed is feeding a growing debate over how to deal with the millions of foreigners who call Germany home.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party this weekend that the "multikulti" concept – where people of different backgrounds would live together happily – does not work in Germany.

At "the beginning of the 1960s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country," said Ms. Merkel at the event in Potsdam, near Berlin. "We kidded ourselves a while. We said: 'They won't stay, [after some time] they will be gone,' but this isn't reality. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side by side and to enjoy each other ... has failed, utterly failed."

The crowd gathered in Potsdam greeted the above remark, delivered from the podium with fervor by Ms. Merkel, with a standing ovation. And her comments come just days after a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think tank (which is affiliated with the center-left Social Democratic Party) found that more than 30 percent of people believed Germany was "overrun by foreigners" who had come to Germany chiefly for its social benefits.

STORY: Why 13 percent of Germans would welcome a 'Führer'

The study also found that 13 percent of Germans would welcome a “Führer – a German word for leader that is explicitly associated with Adolf Hitler – to run the country “with a firm hand.” Some 60 percent of Germans would “restrict the practice of Islam,” and 17 percent think Jews have “too much influence,” according to the study.

"The findings signal that Europe’s largest nation, freed from cold-war strictures, is not immune from the extreme and often right-wing politics on the rise around the Continent," writes the Monitor's Europe Bureau chief, Robert Marquand. "The year 2010 is marking a clear shift toward extremist politics across Europe, analysts say. An uncertain economy, a gap between elites and ordinary Europeans, and fraying of a traditional sense of national identity has just in the past month brought more hard-line politics and speech, often aimed at Islam or immigrants – into a political mainstream where it had been absent or considered taboo."

'Multkulti is dead'

Multiculturalism has taken a beating in recent months in Germany.

Last week, Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, said it was "obvious that immigrants from different cultures like Turkey and Arab countries, all in all, find it harder" to integrate.

" 'Multikulti' is dead," he said.

In August, Thilo Sarrazin, a senior official at Germany's central bank, who has since resigned, said that "no immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime."

Not just Germany

The populist, anti-immigrant trend has spread throughout Europe this past year after Swiss voters shocked the world in November with a vote to ban minarets in a move the Monitor flagged at the time as a boost to right-wing parties across the Continent.

In the past month alone, Mr. Marquand points out that Sweden, "long a Scandinavian redoubt of social tolerance and openness, put the far-right Sweden Democrats into parliament for the first time," and that the cosmopolitan Austrian city of Vienna voted the far-right Freedom Party into a ruling coalition.

In the United States, too, concerns about immigration are increasing as a brutal drug war in Mexico increasingly threatens to cross the border.

"Coming after a record 79 Americans were killed in Mexico in 2009, the [Sept. 30] Falcon Lake shooting [in which Mexican 'pirates' are suspected of having killed a US tourist on the Mexican side of the lake] and the murder of the Mexican investigator have become talking points in the Texas gubernatorial race, and have sparked calls for the White House to get directly involved by further militarizing the border," writes Monitor staff correspondent Patrik Jonsson.

COVER STORY: Global doors slam shut on immigrants

But it's not just wealthy countries. Even developing countries are feeling besieged by influxes of immigrants in search of a better life. And in the wake of the global economic crisis, countries around the world are slamming their doors shut on would-be immigrants, as last week's cover story by Latin America Bureau Chief Sara Miller Llana points out.

Around the world, the welcome mat for outsiders is being rolled up on a scale rarely seen in history as economies continue to struggle and worries about cultural identities rise.

In Europe, some countries have attempted to pay Africans and others to head back home, while Israelis are legislating against immigration in the name of demographic survival. Across continents, countries have closed doors on vulnerable refugees, and, in some places, nativism has reached such heights that urban residents even want their own rural migrants banished outside city limits.

Merkel: Immigrants still welcome

As for Germany, lest anyone get the wrong idea about Merkel's comments to the CDU this weekend, she sought to make clear that immigrants were, in fact, welcome: "We should not be a country which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don't speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here."

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