work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

continuities of xenophobia

08.02.2013 · Posted in Uncategorized

I am not surprised by this revelation in today’s BBC News.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted to halve the number of Turks living in West Germany in the early 1980s, British official papers cited by a German magazine reveal. He discussed the idea with then UK PM Margaret Thatcher at a meeting in Bonn in 1982, Spiegel Online reported. Mr Kohl said that Turks “did not integrate well”, minutes of the meeting said. He told Mrs Thatcher he wanted their numbers cut by half within four years.

That Kohl harboured anti-Turkish sentiments (to put it mildly) may not have been something he admitted to in public – but those who shared them and viewed themselves as the “silent majority” intuitively knew that their Bundeskanzler is part of that silent majority. One of the first measures after Kohl, leader of the Christian Democrats, came to form a government when, in 1982, the Liberals left the coalition with the Social Democrats and joined in with Kohl, was a scheme to encourage the “return” of “foreign workers” (Gastarbeiter – “guest workers”) – the “return premium” (Rückkehrprämie) consisting of the amount employers had paid into the state retirement fund. While this was for all “foreign workers”, it was pretty clear that who was meant was “the Turks” – the notions of Gastarbeiter and Türke having become nearly synonymous at the time. Who, after Kohl’s “spiritual-moral turn” (geistig-moralische Wende), was no longer wanted in the context of “occidental culture” (“abendländische Kultur”), was an open secret. Kohl had streed cred – “Türken raus!” (“Turks out”) graffiti was quite widespread, but the political class left it at coded messages. The code, however, was commonly understood and the sentiment widely shared – also among significant segments of the Social Democrat Party. Spiegel Online, the source of the BBC report, relate

“Back then, the societal consensus in Germany was that Turks were guest workers and would have to go home,” Freiburg-based historian and author Ulrich Herbert told SPIEGEL ONLINE. And this wasn’t confined to right-leaning political parties like Kohl’s CDU, but rather “penetrated deep into the SPD,” he added, referring to the center-left Social Democratic Party. SPD member Holger Börner, at the time the governor of the central state of Hesse, said the influx of foreigners had to be “strictly stopped.” Kohl’s Social Democrat predecessor, Helmut Schmidt, was quoted in the summer of 1982 as saying, “Not one more Turk will come over the border.” His chief of staff, Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, sneered at Muslims who “butcher their sheep in the bathtub.”

The huge success of the 2009 racist pamphlet (posing as academic research) Deutschland schafft sich ab (“Germany is abolishing itself”) by the former Berlin Senator of Finance Thilo Sarrazin (still a ember of the Social Democrat Party), in which he implies that Turks are of lower intelligence… and about to take over the country, demonstrates that hostility vis-à-vis Germans with ancestors from Turkey is not a thing of the past. Ironically, Spiegel Online (who revealed the Kohl remarks) has commented on Sarrazin in way suggesting that this racism is somehow new.

Thilo Sarrazin’s comments about Muslims have triggered outrage in Germany and abroad, but have met with willing listeners among the general public. His rhetoric is slowly bringing about change in Germany, transforming it from a tolerant society into one dominated by fear and Islamophobia.

It was always clear that this is not in any way new that the prevailing attitude towards “foreigners” could not be called “tolerant” – and both the fact that the “new” racism comes from and appeals to middle class and the way we now know the political establishment of the 1970s and 80s talked about “the Turks” when among themselves indicates that this is not a prerogative of a racist plebeian mob. So while one could think that a conclusion like this

In 2000, Kohl travelled to Istanbul to attend the wedding of his son Peter to a Turkish banker.

is to be taken as a sign of change, I remain sceptical. I don’t know about Kohl’s attitudes today, but having a Turkish daughter-in-law does not necessarily constitute evidence for an absence of racist attitudes…

update 8pm

as I suspected – no change of hear – according to the Tagesschau, Kohl “stands by his comments” …

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