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German media roundup: Merkel’s convoluted immigration policy

Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared “multiculturalism” dead but also wants to lure qualified immigrants to Germany. The conflicting messages left some newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Monday confused.

German media roundup: Merkel's convoluted immigration policy
Photo: DPA

The German government announced plans on Monday for a raft of measures aimed at fostering integration of immigrants, two days after Merkel said multiculturalism had “completely failed.”

Merkel’s centre-right cabinet would adopt “concrete” new regulations governing immigration policy and residency permits, with a focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

He added that the government aimed in December to sign off on a bill that would see more foreign diplomas formally recognised after Education Minister Annette Schavan announced plans for recognising more foreign credentials to allow for the recruitment of 300,000 more qualified immigrants.

At the moment, workers who have obtained qualifications abroad have to pass a series of practical and theoretical tests as well as undergo interviews and evaluations. With an ageing population, employers in Europe’s biggest economy and exporter have long complained about a lack of trained youngsters and red tape hindering the hiring of qualified foreigners.

But several newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Monday were sceptical of Merkel’s two-pronged offensive – bashing some immigrants while trying to lure others – would work.

Frankfurt an der Oder’s regional daily the Märkische Oderzeitung said the chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union appeared to lack a coherent immigration strategy.

“What exactly does the Union want in regards to the issue of integration? The chancellor is vacillating and once again trying to please everyone,” the paper wrote. “Wanting to remain the world’s leading exporter while not allowing more foreigners into country somehow doesn’t fit. But simply offering empty words won’t help this issue move forward.”

Saxony’s Leipziger Volkszeitung also pointed out Merkel’s seeming hypocrisy on the issue of immigration.

“Islam is part of Germany, but multiculturalism isn’t, says Merkel while giddily clapping for the TV cameras when Mesut Özil scores goals for the German national football team,“ wrote the paper, referring to the midfielder with Turkish roots.

“While the federal government attempts to hash out criteria for highly qualified immigrants, the flailing CSU boss Horst Seehorfer fantasises about foreign cultures and stopping immigration while enjoying Merkel’s protection. But that will simply scare away qualified experts,” the paper opined.

But the right-wing daily Die Welt wrote that multiculturalism can’t be dead, because it never lived in the first place.

“No one has anything against immigrants who live and work here and want to fit in,” the paper wrote. “But many have something against immigrants who want to bring their own laws along. To immigrate doesn’t just mean accepting the traditions of the chosen country, but respecting them too.”

Those who choose not to do so should “please stay away,” the paper said.

Leftist daily Die Tageszeitung said that the German abbreviation for multiculturalism, Multikulti, isn’t even used by the Green party as it once was, and has instead become a “puppet for conservative politicians to batter ritually when they crave applause.”

But Merkel and Seehofer are using this technique and other “empty clichés” to distract from their real dilemma – that the economy, industry and their junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats all want skilled workers from abroad, while many in the public identify with the anti-immigrant remarks of former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin.

But Merkel and her conservatives know the country won’t make it without foreign workers, thus their recent proposals to institute an immigration point system similar to Canada’s, the paper said.

“The irony: Exactly this suggestion came from the Greens. But Merkel and Seehofer would rather throw themselves into rhetorical battles that have already long been decided.”

The Local/AFP/mry/ka

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IMMIGRATION

INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.
 

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
 
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.” 

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