Solidarity, freedom and justice – these are the fundamental values of social democracy. And it is on these root ideas that social democratic politics regarding migration, integration and identity are based upon. They offer a clear guideline for the handling of cultural diversity within a society and make appreciation as well as participation the main objectives to achieve.
The social democratic perception of the term integration calls for mutual acceptance between citizens of all cultural backgrounds or religious beliefs (as well as between citizens and the state) whilst uniting them as one society in which everyone has equal chances to participate in matters of social, cultural, political and economic activities. And it is not only about accepting cultural diversity that new citizens have brought with them, it is also about acknowledging their achievements and appreciating diversity as a resource that society can benefit from.
For too long these values have not played an important role in Germany. Neither did Germany appreciate the contributions of millions of guest workers that were brought in from Italy, Turkey and other countries from 1955 onwards, nor did one acknowledge the fact that Germany has been an immigration country ever since. The guest workers selected to come to Germany were of low educational background and they were expected to leave after a few years. The social democratic idea that economic success should always be used to support social advancement did not prevail at that time. As a result equal opportunities for guest workers and their offspring to participate in education or politics were not supported for decades. Today they are blamed for not having accomplished a certain educational standard fast enough.
Since that time the results of this rather passive policy have emerged and we are obliged to deal with them. Social democracy in Germany still has to face the conservative politics of restrictions, lack of appreciation and exploitation of prejudices. However, like the grand social democrat and former president of Germany Johannes Rau used to say: ‘Integration can only turn out to be successful if one does not stoke fears nor create illusions’. This is what social democracy in Germany tries to do these days – following a realistic approach that does not stigmatise or denounce certain groups within the population nor disregards existing difficulties that our society holds. An important part of that approach is to realise that most problems associated with (the lack of) integration are not conditioned by people’s origin or religion but are due to social factors. And this makes integration a genuinely social democratic topic.
No matter whether it is poverty, unemployment or lack of education – and therefore future opportunities – that undeniably many migrants (but not only) are suffering from – the root of these problems is social. But your origin must not become your destiny!
One of the essential goals in our society must be to overcome the old distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’. If the fact that too many young people leave school without necessary qualifications for a job is predominantly discussed in relation to groups of foreign decent and not our youth in general – then how can children and adolescents possibly feel fully accepted in their country? If the state does not allow dual citizenship and forces young adults to choose between being German or keeping the citizenship of their parents home country – then how do we expect them to identify with the state and society they live in? If job applications of people with foreign names have a significantly lower chance of leading to a job interview, if job qualifications achieved in a different country are not acknowledged on a regular basis – then why should people try to start a career in Germany and contribute with their work?
Social democracy possesses the right values and suitable strategies to address these deficits and obstacles that keep our society from growing together as one. The successful process of integration does not – and here I once more quote Johannes Rau – depend on the ‘origin of the individual, but on jointly winning the future!’
This post is part of the ‘Basic Values Debate’ jointly organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Social Europe Journal. Read more on social democratic integration policy: ‘Living together as Equals: Principles of Social Democratic Integration Policy’.