Imagined Identity: Immigration, Ueberfremdung, and Cultural Chauvinism in German Far-Right Partisan Discourse

By Harris, Paul A. | German Policy Studies, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Imagined Identity: Immigration, Ueberfremdung, and Cultural Chauvinism in German Far-Right Partisan Discourse


Harris, Paul A., German Policy Studies


Abstract

In recent years, issues of an imagined ethno-cultural identity and revived nationalism have received renewed attention in German partisan public discourse. Initially, this came as a shock to both Germans and non-Germans. Both inside and outside of Germany the rise of right-wing partisan rhetoric has evoked fearful memories of the Nazi past. Yet, given the political parties responsible for bringing this nationalist, xenophobic and anti-semitic discourse to the forefront, most notably the Die Republikaner (REP), Deutsche Volksunion (D VU), and Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD)such reactions should hardly be surprising. The radical right's adherence to racist ideology is both openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic and centers around the threat of elimination of the German kulturnation.

This article addresses this right-extremist rhetoric in light of Germany's liberal post-War immigration policies. I first undertake a historical examination of German immigration policy which has contributed to Germany's multi-cultural milieu. I then examine German far right partisan discourse and its attack on Germany's expansive immigration policies. My ultimate goal is to expose the illusory and fallacious character of the far fight's racist arguments in light of Germany's post-War status as a true immigration country.

Since the end of World War II Germany has witnessed changes in the demographic makeup of immigrants entering its borders. Whereas in the immediate post-War years co-ethnics from throughout Central and Eastern Europe dominated the immigrant landscape, since the 1960s a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural mix of peoples from throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia stand out as the dominate form of immigration. The growth and sustained immigration to Germany is a result of economic factors coupled with the rise of liberal immigration policies which were adopted in the past fifty years. These liberal policies have sustained wide scale international immigration and have transformed Germany into a truly heterogeneous society. Yet, rather than accept a national identity based upon universal values of democracy, human rights and equality, right extremist parties such as the REP, DVU, and NPD adopt an ascriptive national identity with roots in nationalist and racist ideas of identity and belonging. In addition, all three parties defend, in varying degrees, xenophobia, the rejection of free democratic order, the relativization of the crimes committed under National Socialism, the repatriation of all foreigners, and open anti-semitism.

Debunking the Racist Myth: Immigration, Jus Sanguinis, and Ascriptive National Identity.

The Federal Republic of Germany does not officially recognize itself as a country of immigration yet, it is the destination for Europe's largest population of foreign residents: guest-workers and their families, asylum seekers, war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethnic German immigrants. The total immigrant population within Germany is 7.5 million people or 9% of the population. Although many enjoy full social citizenship rights most are non-citizens.

Despite a long history of absorbing migrants from East Central Europe, Germany lacks a "national model" around which to organize its immigration debate (Faist, 1994; Kurthen, 1995). The only previous experience the country could draw upon was the incorporation of the Ruhr-Poles. The industrialization of Germany in the late nineteenth century in fact transformed the Second Reich into a country of immigration. The migration from East Central Europe came primarily in the form of seasonal workers and labor migrants from Russia, Poland, the Eastern parts of Prussia and Italy (Herbert, 1990; Bade, 1993; Kurthen, 1995) who were recruited to perform manual labor in the growing industries on the Rhine, in Silesia and around Berlin, and to meet the agricultural demand for cheap labor. …

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