Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s interior minister, has attracted criticism and mockery after publishing an article saying migrants must accept a “dominant culture” that includes shaking hands and rejecting full-face veils.
The row came a week after German parliament passed a law to stop the use of face veils by civil servants, judges and armed forces personnel at work, and five months before Germany’s general election.
In a Sunday paper commentary, where he outlined a 10-point plan defining German culture and values, de Maiziere wrote: “[In Germany] we say our name and shake our hand when greeting. We are an open society. We show our face. We are not burqa”.
This statement was reversed on social media, with some Twitter users turning it into “We are not de Maiziere”.
Wir sind nicht de Maizière.#Leitkultur
— linuzifer (@Linuzifer) April 30, 2017
Others went deeper and made fun of what appears to be a German tradition to shake hands. One user was complaining that at breakfast no one shook his hand and was wondering if he could deport his family.
Niemand wollte mir heute am Frühstückstisch die Hand geben. Überlege, ob ich meine Familie nicht ausweisen lassen kann. #Leitkultur
— Christian Jakubetz (@cjakubetz) May 2, 2017
But others struck a more serious tone, arguing that the 10 principles outlined by de Maiziere for the “dominant culture” were dangerous incitements against Muslims, adding that no election campaign could justify such positions.
— Sawsan Chebli (@SawsanChebli) April 30, 2017
This is not the first time that the so called “dominant culture” debate has emerged in Germany. In 2000, Chancellor Angela Merkel had to step in and threaten some members of her party with expulsion to keep the Christian Democratic Union from falling into disarray. Both internal and external criticism led to this debate being dropped.
The subject is deeply sensitive for many Germans out of concern, given the country’s Nazi past, that “dominant culture” risks straying in the direction of nationalism and repression.
‘Whoever comes to us has to adapt’
According to de Maiziere’s article, Germany needs a “dominant culture to act as a common thread through society, especially because migration and an open society are making us more diverse”.
The minister said that education is a “value, not only an instrument” and “performance and quality generate wealth. Performance has made our country strong”.
Commenting on the role of religion, de Maiziere said that “our state is neutral, but friendly towards churches and religious communities … Church towers shape our landscape. Our country is shaped by Christianity”.
Reacting to de Maiziere’s commentary, Martin Schulz, chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats, told German media that “our dominant culture freedom, justice and good coexistence just as stated in the constitution”.
The leader of the German liberals criticised the conservative minister for not being able to formulate “a modern migration policy: and for re-igniting “an old and surpassed debate”.
“Once again, it’s about religion,” Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats leader, told local media.
De Maiziere was criticised even by some of his fellow conservatives.
Ruprecht Polenz, former general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), distanced himself from de Maiziere, saying the idea of a “dominant culture” was problematic given that German values were already set out in the constitution.
“I think it raises the question about where there is still a need for binding rules and how a ‘dominant culture’ fits in with the diverse cultures in Germany,” Polenz told Deutschlandfunk.
Other conservatives, however, seemed to be pleased by de Maiziere’s thesis.
“A debate about a dominant culture is long overdue,” said Bavarian conservative Andreas Scheuer.
The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has dipped in popularity after last year capitalising on fears about the migrant crisis, also derided the theses as electioneering.