Merkel Speaks Out against Sarrazin 'When Turks Have Problems, I Am Their Chancellor, Too'

In an interview with a leading Turkish newspaper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday described anti-immigrant statements made by central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin as "absurd" and said that "groups in our society feel injured." A chorus of politicians in Germany are calling for a national debate on integration.

"We are Germany": Turkish-German protesters in Solingen attend a demonstration against German politician Thilo Sarrazin, whose new book has been blasted as racist.

"We are Germany": Turkish-German protesters in Solingen attend a demonstration against German politician Thilo Sarrazin, whose new book has been blasted as racist.

Seeking to ease a debate about integration in her country that has bordered on the toxic in recent days, German Chancellor Angela Merkel granted an interview to the Turkish daily Hürriyet in which she said that many Turks had done a very good job of integrating into German society.

"Many Turks live in Germany, and I think most of them have adapted really well," the chancellor said. "Problems should be openly expressed, but improvements should not be neglected. There are many examples in Germany that show successful adaptation is taking place." Positive developments, the chancellor said, should not be ignored.

'An Ostracizing Effect'

Merkel described allegations made against Muslim immigrants by Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the board of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, as "absurd," and said that she could not accept such statements. "They have an ostracizing effect," she said. "Groups in our society feel injured by them." In Turkish newspapers, the former finance minister for the city-state of Berlin has often been described as "racist."

Thilo Sarrazin's Urge to Provoke

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On Friday, the Bundesbank began procedures to remove Sarrazin from its board as a result of the publication of his new book "Germany Does Itself In." In his interviews and writings, Sarrazin has stated that Muslim immigrants are making the country "dumber" and that Jews share a unique gene. The book has sparked mass outrage in Germany, where political leaders fear that Sarrazin's xenophobic tone will launch the kind of ugly immigration debate seen in the Netherlands, where Islamophobe Geert Wilders is a major figure in parliament.

In her interview, Merkel called for a redoubling of integration efforts. She said that existing problems should be openly discussed and that integration requires efforts by the state and society, but also by the immigrants themselves. "Co-existence is a give and take," she said, and immigrants must be prepared "to engage in life in our society and to unconditionally accept our entire legal system."

"It is the paramount duty of the German state to actively incorporate immigrants into our society," Merkel said. "We would like to present all the possibilities of an open country to our immigrant citizens. These people should receive their share from social, economic and cultural life. But we also expect them to actively ask for this and show effort."

What Germans mean by integration, Merkel said, "is not forced assimilation and denying of one's cultural roots. When Turks have worries and problems, I am their chancellor, too."

During a visit to Germany two years ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angered many with statements made in a speech given to the Turkish community in Cologne in which he warned against assimilation in Germany. He called assimilation a "crime against humanity."

'We Need To Improve Neglected Efforts'

German President Christian Wulff, whose position as head of state makes him a senior moral authority in the country, made similar comments. Wulff, who must now make a decision on whether to remove Sarrazin from his Bundesbank post, said it was untrue that the majority of immigrants in Germany were too unwilling to integrate. "The majority of people arriving here are now successfully taking integration courses," he told the Mainzer Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. He also conceded that there were problems with Germany's immigration policies. "We need to improve neglected efforts when it comes to integration," the president said. He also added that "clear demands for immigrants must be formulated."

A number of German politicians with the country's two leading political parties -- the conservative Christian Democrats under Merkel and the center-left Social Democrats -- called for a comprehensive debate in the country about the integration of immigrants. Wolfbang Bosbach, the chairman of the German parliament's domestic affairs committee, said a serious discussion was needed that "named progress and problems in integration without any taboos. I urgently advise people to take the clear public concern seriously and to find answers." He added that millions of people have successfully integrated into German society, "but there are also many cases of refusal to integrate."

As an example, Bosbach pointed to obligatory German language courses for foreigners who collect social welfare. "Close to one-third of those who were required to take the language courses to improve their opportunities on the labor market, either don't attend classes or quit them early." Here, he said, foreigners have an obligation.

Meanwhile, Dieter Wiefelspütz, the domestic policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, told the Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper that integration would be the "mega issue of the coming years." He said the issue needs to be addressed more urgently. Even though Germany is in a better position when it comes to integration of its foreigners than many other European Union member states, he said, it is nowhere close to achieving what is possible. "Our federal interior minister, especially, is overly passive on this issue," Wiefelspütz said. "He needs to finally put integration at the top of his agenda."

dsl -- with wire reports


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