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Rita Süssmuth {*}

Change of Perspective with Consequences


From: Neue Stadt, 9/2007, P. 4-6
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Immigration and integration were up to now to a large extent determined by the view on risks and dangers. The chances that result from the migration for the countries of origin and the host countries are to be seen and evaluated anew. Of that Rita Süssmuth, the former President of the German Bundestag and expert in national as well as international questions of immigration is convinced.


NEUE STADT: Mrs. President, the topic migration time and again triggers violent discussions. You speak of a test case for our society.

SÜSSMUTH: Right! For me the crucial question is whether we succeed in the 21st century in living peacefully together with members of different cultures, religions and languages - not only next to each other but with one another. That means: to try together to make out and solve the pending tasks and chances, but also problems. That is the test case!
Up to now the discussions are shaped by strongly conflicting views. There is on the one hand host society and there are militant minorities within the immigrants' society on the other hand. But this argument does not get us any further. It is necessary to learn how we can live together. And that presupposes that also the majority society learns from the migrants and changes first of all its line of sight.

In what way

In Germany we have since the late 70's talked only about the burden by migrants. We have no longer seen what they "bring" us - and that not only financially or for the social security but also regarding cultural and social interests. The awareness for it emerges only slowly.

How can it be promoted?

For me one of the most important approaches is: more common experience. We must by education and work take migrants more into our society, give them part in the social tasks to be dealt with.
We should supplement the principle recognized world-wide that no state can solve the problems of migration alone by the insight that also the majority society alone does not solve these problems; that can only be done together with the migrants.

And what does that mean?

The migrants must participate, take over tasks and responsibility, be needed, recognized and estimated in their competences. Those are the crucial conditions for integration. The learning of a language admittedly is a key qualification, but detached from everything else it will not lead to integration; more social integration and participation is needed.

Have we contented ourselves too much with living next to each other?

Unfortunately yes! Apart from initiatives as neighbourhood- and homework assistance the living next to each other dominated for decades. The entire policy was orientated towards it.
The principle read: We are not an immigration country, but a rotation country. That means the immigrants come for a certain time and then return to their homeland. The social everyday life was not determined by the fact that the stay of the immigrants could be of duration and we would live with one another. That is why we also were not at all keen on the immigrants learning German.



It was more important to us that they did not forget their mother tongue. We have also for years excluded certain religion questions and let rather Koran schools for Muslims go on than to promote the religious education for Muslims in German schools.
Besides there was illusory tolerance: Everyone was to be allowed to do what s/he thought to be right. We have asked too little for what must connect us all with each other.

How do you mean that?

Of course, people who live here must keep the laws of this country. We can and ought to expect that of them. But we cannot expect that they give up their values. We are not a state that asks about the convictions of others but about the practice.
But this view of the state founded on the rule of law alone is not enough for someone to feel well here. He must experience: I am accepted in my neighbourhood, the children on the street play also with my children. There is more at stake than to tolerate the others. It is - in the sense of Goethe - about acknowledgment and appreciation of the other person.

Which role plays the factor time with it?

A very central one! We always want to know at once whether an integration measure succeeds or not. But that does not happen from one day to the next, above all when before a quite different policy was decisive.
When there were long periods of exclusion, living next to each other, return politics and negative view it will take very long to change that. Technical innovations can be brought about much faster than social or cultural ones.

Is that an appeal for a great staying power?

Yes, but great staying power does not mean: It's coming along. It is absolutely necessary that we work on the integration, above all because we have a considerable number of unemployed migrants. And nevertheless nobody should get the idea work and education alone would be enough, and social participation could then be written with small letters. How are we to explain to migrants who have been living here for 40 years why members of the European Union are after three weeks entitled to take part in local elections and they not even after 40 years? There really a very great staying power is needed, and there has still a lot to be done.

Migration is also internationally a topic.

It is, of course, but still much too little. Migration is part of the globalization and always also expression of the global competition for human abilities. With it problems such as "brain drain" and "brain gain" are connected, the loss and increase of human potential and human capital.
Beside the old new ways of migration develop: The classical countries of immigration and emigration exist hardly any more; temporary migration increases: People live only for some time abroad and then return to their country of origin; there is a rise in the portion of people who wander through several countries - the so-called circular migration.



All these developments must be regarded in connection with the community of states, and therefore the topic came on the agenda of the United Nations. An international commission of experts was to draw up a report on the current situation.

You were a member of that commission. What was the goal?

We took as our starting-point that basic conditions must be created, so that migration brings a Win Win situation for host countries, countries of origin and migrants, i.e. advantages for all involved.
In this connection a key position is due to the migrants, for they are no longer regarded as problem but are part of the solution.

That seems to be a completely new perspective.

Yes, for it leads away from only considering one's own situation, one's own country or one's own system. The people affected by migration move into the centre of the international interest.

What led to this reorientation?

That were very tough numbers! An investigation of World Bank and OECD showed that migrants give far more development aid than the state development aid. The official retransfers of the immigrants into their countries of origin were in 2006 (at) 325 billion dollars. That is the two and a half to triple amount of the state development aid. That is why we must consider development policy anew. Up to now it had the goal to prevent migration. Of course, forced migration, i.e. emigration due to poverty, epidemic diseases, political violence and persecution must be prevented also in future. But those numbers tell that migrants substantially contribute to stabilize the conditions in their country of origin.
Beyond that the investigation established how much migrants do for the host countries: their rate of output, their contributions for social security, the taxes paid by them. And it became clear: Migrants are an important bridge between the two countries. Since they have contact with their families left behind and tell about the living conditions they contribute also to the democratization in their homeland.
Until now little attention was given to these aspects. But if we consider them in all consequences, that must also have effects for the political decisions.

For example?

Communication and traffic in the globalized world make possible that people move world-wide. But at the moment it is still very much easier to make capital move than people. Still human beings can emigrate, but they are not legally entitled to be taken up by another country. Every national state regulates its conditions of admission.
Now it is about seeing the policy of the individual nations in a larger ntegration: What are we to know about each other, where are urgent measures to be taken? What criteria are the basis of the respective admission?

What dreams of the future have you got regarding migration?

That we come to a different appreciation of the immigrants, that the living with one another succeeds, and that the impulses for it go out from both, host society and immigrants.
Then: That people do not primarily suffer from migration but that the effort is worth it.
But my greatest dream was that we do not differentiate according to ethnic aspects but first look at the human being. Of course, everyone has his/her specific, national, cultural, also religious origin. But some people need no knowledge of the language at all because we like them, others we closely examine because we think they are a threat to us.
My appeal would be: Do not primarily look at the ethnos but at the human being - and be aware of the strengths of your own culture! Who comes to us because s/he is looking for freedom, because s/he is looking for the protection of the human rights, also because s/he is looking for more prosperity tells us also: You can be proud; you Europeans have something to offer!

Many thanks for the conversation.

Gabi Ballweg


    {*} Rita Süssmuth, born in 1937, was professor at the Ruhr University Bochum and held numerous public offices. From 1988 to 1998 she was president of the German Bundestag. Intercultural questions were always the main focus of her work. From 2000 to 2001 she was chairman of the independent commission "Immigration" and from 2002 to 2004 chairmen of the committee of experts for immigration and integration.
    Süssmuth was member of the twenty-headed "Global Commission on International Migration", the world commission for international migration. The commission established by the UN submitted a report on current aspects of the world-wide migration. At present she leads a commission of the European Union: Integration of minorities in the states of the European Union.


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