A Hungarian-language article on Angela Merkel’s current political problems stemming from the refugee crisis was titled “Merkel is either stupid or she knows something.” The quotation is from a German source. I don’t think too many people view Merkel as a stupid, naive politician carried away by emotions. But then, people ask, why does she insist on an increasingly unpopular immigration policy?
One can only guess at her motives, but I believe her decision to stick with her original pro-immigration policy is motivated by moral as well as pragmatic considerations. Only a few days ago she harshly criticized the eastern European governments for not having learned anything from their history. “The eastern Europeans–and I’m counting myself as an eastern European–we have experience that isolation doesn’t help… It makes me a bit sad that precisely those who can consider themselves lucky that they have lived to see the end of the Cold War now think that one can completely stay out of certain developments of globalization…. A rejection [of taking refugees in] as a matter of principle, that is–excuse me for being that blunt–that’s a danger for Europe.” A few hours later in the European Parliament she was outspoken about the Christian Europe that must be defended when she declared: “When someone says: ‘This is not my Europe, I won’t accept Muslims…’ Then I have to say this is not negotiable.”
There is also a pragmatic side to the issue: Germany’s need for a demographic injection. A country’s fertility rate must be at least 2.2 to maintain the size of the population. In Germany ever since 1972 the fertility rate has been lower than that. It hovers around 1.2-1.3. If Germany were only for the native-born, its population would shrink precipitously. Germany already has a large immigrant population. Out of a population of approximately 80 million 16 million people are first- or second-generation immigrants. And their numbers are steadily growing. So, immigration is a fact of life in Germany. It is only the size of the present wave that comes as a shock to the Germans.
It is true that Angela Merkel was critical of what in Germany and some other European countries is called “multi-culturalism,” which in practice means parallel communities living side by side. In Germany this was especially true of the Turkish guest workers because the understanding in those days was that their stay was temporary, and therefore there was no attempt to integrate them into German society. In the last few years, however, the attitude toward immigrants in Germany has changed dramatically. The new arrivals are already hard at work learning the language, and children are enrolled in special classes. The challenge is enormous but Merkel is optimistic. A Hungarian immigrant in Germany who teaches math somewhere in Westphalia phoned György Bolgár yesterday and related her experiences. Some of the children have been in Germany for three months and know a little German, others have just arrived. One teen-aged girl in her class had only three years of schooling. But children learn fast. She enjoys the challenge.
Abcúg.hu published a fascinating piece on how Berliners are coping with the refugee crisis and how Germans are integrating the new immigrants. The refugees spend a few months in hostels until they receive asylum. One of the hostel workers is a Hungarian immigrant herself. The lodging where she works has 400 beds, and soon enough it will have accommodations for 100 more. It is like a dormitory but occupied mostly by families. Syrians receive 400 euros for housing and 400 for living expenses, and a 660 to 960-hour “integration course,” 600 hours of which is set aside for German lessons. The German course tries to prepare the refugee to pass the B1 language test. If he fails the test, he gets another 300 hours of language training. Sixty hours remain for German history and culture as well as for the study of the principles of equal rights and toleration, ideas essential for integration into European culture.
Civic organizations try to link up immigrants with employers running small companies. One organizer was afraid that it would be difficult to convince German businessmen to hire foreigners, but the experiment has worked. The employers are happy with their new employees, especially since some young Germans wouldn’t accept the kinds of jobs they can offer.
Another Hungarian immigrant who taught German in Hungary now teaches German to children and adults in Berlin. She is convinced that the Syrians will learn German and will be gainfully employed. “With that much help it will be achieved. The great dilemma is whether they will understand everyday cultural differences. For example, that if their child is slapped by a German classmate it is not because he is a Muslim but because this was the way they settled their argument. Or, that the obstetrician is not anti-Muslim when he tells a seven-month pregnant woman that she shouldn’t observe Ramadan.” The teacher continues, “the Syrians are very determined.” They don’t understand how it is possible that some Turks living in Germany still cannot speak the language. They don’t want to find themselves in a similar situation.
Many followers of Viktor Orbán’s anti-migrant policy argue that it is easy for Germany to be generous because “they are rich.” But as one of the aid-workers told the reporter of abcúg.hu, “the money by itself wouldn’t be enough, you need the volunteers and the right attitude.”
The people who are helping the refugees are optimistic, so are the refugees. As am I. Eventually the exodus will slow. As for Angela Merkel, once the initial problems are solved, there will be fewer critics.