The World From Berlin: Will Sarrazin Become a 'Free Speech Martyr'?

Following his disparaging comments in the media and a new book that is highly critical of Muslim immigrants, it is expected that Thilo Sarrazin will lose his seat on the board of Germany's central bank. Commentators at the country's leading newspapers examine the integration issues he has raised and wonder if the pressure to fire Sarrazin will harm the Bundesbank's independence.

A demonstrator in Berlin on Monday holds a sign with a caricature of Thilo Sarrazin and a caption that reads: "Shut up." Zoom
AP

A demonstrator in Berlin on Monday holds a sign with a caricature of Thilo Sarrazin and a caption that reads: "Shut up."

If officials at the German central bank have their way, and their request is approved by Germany's president, politician Thilo Sarrazin will soon be removed from his post on the Bundesbank's board. The cause of Sarrazin's woes is his new book, "Germany Does Itself In," published on Monday, in which he claims that Muslim immigrants to Germany have harmed the country's prosperity more than they have helped it. He also wrote that Muslim immigrants would prefer to be on welfare than to work and that, due to what he claims to be higher fertility rates among Muslim immigrants, their rising share of the population is resulting in a reduction of Germany's collective IQ. In a separate interview, Sarrazin also said that Jews share a specific gene.

Sarrazin, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), was named to the Bundesbank board in May 2009 following a seven-year stint as the man in charge of finances for the city-state of Berlin. But now, with his own political party looking at ways to expel him and the Bundesbank's board having made the decision to try to remove him from his position there, Sarrazin has nowhere left to go.

Two-Thirds of Germans Disagree with Sarrazin

On Friday, a spokesman for the German government rejected claims that the administration had put pressure on the Bundesbank to remove Sarrazin. "For our part we emphasized the independent nature of the decision made by the Bundesbank board yesterday," the spokesperson said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her disapproval of Sarrazin's comments again -- in an interview with Turkish daily Hürriyet, she described them as "absurd". And German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), rejected suggestions the Sarrazin case endangered the principle of freedom of opinion in Germany. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that Sarrazin could "say what he wanted," but that the question was whether what he said was in keeping with his role at the Bundesbank.

Meanwhile, a survey by pollster TNS Emnid if the German newsweekly Focus, found that two-thirds of Germany questioned rejected Sarrazin's theory that Germany's collective IQ is being reduced because of immigration. Nevertheless, 31 percent still said they agreed.

On Friday, commentators at Germany's leading newspapers focus on the technical aspects and problems associated with firing someone from the Bundesbank rather than the debate over whether or not Sarrazin is a racist. Some express fears about the Bundesbank's independence, while others make the point that, whether he is racist or not, many of the details in Sarrazin's book about insufficient integration ring true.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The chancellor and the president have both made it clear, in public, that they no longer consider executive board member Sarrazin acceptable -- because he has damaged the reputation of the Bundesbank, as well as the entire country. In doing so, they have commandeered a bastion of independence and turned one book into a state scandal. There is no worse deed than besmirching the immigration and integration fairytale, which says that everything is, or will, be well."

"And because Sarrazin -- borne on a wave of support from the general populace -- won't do his highly placed judges a favor and remove himself, those judges have another more problem. As a martyr for freedom of opinion and a principal witness for accusations already made by broad swaths of the populace, Sarrazin will outlast them all."

"That burning smell that some are attributing to Sarrazin has another source: It comes from more than just a touch of rebellion -- a rebellion against the whitewashing and the dumbing down that is going on. If the political parties don't soon start taking the worries and the fears that Sarrazin has brought up more seriously, then those issues will find other spokespeople. And they might not allow their big mouths to be gagged by the German president."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The Bundesbank has a mythical standing. It is supposed to be independent and incorruptible, its sole duty to serve the goal of price stability. During this torturously long week, however, its president has appeared to be anything but independent. This was mainly due to the politicians, who called for Sarrazin's dismissal at the tops of their voices, and then simultaneously acted as though they had nothing to do with it."

"As independent as the Bundesbank is when it comes to making decisions on monetary policy, it is equally dependent when it comes to matters of personnel. It starts with how the seats on the board are allocated. The federal government and the German states decide who gets which post. And many factors come into consideration: proportional representation of the political parties, regional representation or a nice post-retirement job as a reward for an old politician. It is almost never about professional skills or personal qualities. And it was obvious that a dedicated provocateur like Sarrazin was going to have a hard time in a discrete institute like the Bundesbank."

"If the politicians are to take any lesson from this case, it is this: Establish clear responsibilities (for the Bundesbank). Those who want an independent central bank, should also allow the institute control of its own personnel policies."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Sarrazin must go. This is not a good solution -- but there was no better one available. In reality Sarrazin is only a problem of disciplinary (employment) law for the Bundesbank. He has become a political issue not because of his personality but because of the resonance (of his words). Around half of the German people agree with his theses. The lesson in this is that a charismatic, right-wing populist would also have no trouble attracting many voters in Germany, too. Sarrazin himself is not going to found any right wing populist party. He is too old for that and too much of a technocrat. But he has made it clear how much room there is for someone to stand to the right of (Merkel's) Christian Democrats."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"As vulgar and Darwinian as Sarrazin's theory of society is, and as scientifically unproven and argumentatively vague they may be, the details are undeniable: There is a growing level of misery in Turkish and Arab families in Germany, who require a disproportionate amount of social support, which fail educationally and refuse any attempts to integrate. Sarrazin's crooked book deserves credit for bringing the attention of the masses to these irregularities. And for that he must reckon with physical threats from the so-called Antifa (anti-fascists) and the supposed left wing."

"The fact that this book was written by a dedicated (center) Social Democrat should give the Union (the alliance between Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, pause for thought. Because of the spirit of the times, they have sacrificed a lot of meaningful political territory in this area."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Could it be that the lack of cogent dialogue, the aggressive discourse and the rush to sideline Sarrazin is an expression of something else entirely? Could it be that there is a lack of national self awareness stemming from years of indifference toward immigrants that nobody wants to discuss?"

"There are actually some sympathetic reasons for such a lack (of self awareness). In other countries the influx of immigrants has a lot to do with colonial history. In Germany, it had a lot to do with the requirements of the economy. At the same time, in the decades following the war, Germans still had to prove their openness to the rest of the world. But this openness was misunderstood by a lot of Germans themselves. For too long they thought they could leave it up to the immigrants to determine when, and the degree to which, they integrated -- or whether they even did at all. It is from this the problems that Sarrazin describes, as other authors have before him, have arisen."

"Of course, Sarrazin himself is to blame for the fact that everybody is talking about him, rather than the issues. The language he uses makes it clear that he is more concerned about stigmatizing a social group than aiding its integration. ... But soon everything there is to be said will have been said and Sarrazin will be forgotten again. But which politician will take over the job of ensuring that all the four year olds in (Berlin's working class and heavily immigrant district of) Neukölln go to kindergarten?"

Cathrin Schaer

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