Well, Mr. Koch has certainly done his homework. He gets an A+, or a 19, or a .1, or whatever grade is most appropriate. He’s given us all a lot to chew on. I can respond to all his eloquently-made points, but I’ll try to get to a few while setting out my perspective on this matter.
First, I agree that Leitkultur is probably not intended to mean something as crude as "dominant" or "superior" culture. But that raises the question, what does it mean? I’ve followed the debate somewhat, but I’ve never really heard anyone who is in support of the idea give a clear, specific definition of the term.
To me, this is a typical German debate. It goes like this:
- Some politician throws out some vague term or concept designed to appeal to his or her party’s base (think "Solidarity" or "Social Justice" or "Locusts of Capitalism" for the Social Democrats, or "Leitkultur" or "Multi-Kulti" for the Christian Democrats. The politician throws it out in public forum, in a somewhat provocative way.
- Everyone responds, because, for some reason, everyone pays a lot of attention to what politicians say in Germany. The mainstream seems to have agreed that the state, in the form of its politicians, sets the subject and tone of public debate. The very same people, of course, complain about how politicians never say what they mean and always recycle the same poll-tested nonsense. But since they apparently don’t have anything more original to contribute, they take their lead from the politicos.
- Because the phrase used to start the debate is fuzzy and capable of a hundred different interpretations (that’s exactly the point, in fact), everyone develops their own individual idea what it might mean. The politician’s opponents assign a dark, sinister meaning to the term, and then the supporters attack the opponents for assigning this dark meaning, and then the supporters explain what the real meaning was, and then the opponents take apart this new suggested meaning. And so on, and so on, until everyone gets bored and moves on.
The problem with this sort of debate is that it never really goes anywhere, or leads to a helpful definition of the term. Thus, I have no idea what Leitkultur means. Perhaps it means something like a consensus over basic governmental goods, as described in part (3) (a)-(h) of Koch’s post [Perhaps Mr./Ms. Koch is a lawyer?], that is, tolerance, freedom of expression, a secure legal order, etc.
If that is so, then the entire dispute is a tempest in a tea-pot, or a storm in a water-glass, to use the German variant. Claudia Roth and the Greens clearly supports this definition of a Leitkultur (# 1), in fact that’s exactly what the editorial says. The number of people in Germany who disagree with these basic principles of Western liberal democracy, and are prepared to act on this disagreement, is miniscule. In fact, Germany certainly has less of a problem with virulent fanatics than places such as Denmark or France. Most immigrants came to Germany precisely because Germany offers almost all these things (and, most importantly, economic opportunity), whereas their homeland doesn’t. They voted with their feet in favor of these tprinciples.
So I don’t see why Norbert Lammert thinks Leitkultur # 1 is under threat, or needs to be defended. The idea that it is in danger is a slippery, phantom ideological construct. I could be wrong about this, but I bet he didn’t actually point to a single book, idea, practice or group that actually represented a serious, immediate threat to the good-government principles that make up Leitkultur #1. In public, Lammert probably says what he means by Leitkultur is # 1 — we should all agree that Germany’s current constitutional and social order is a Good Thing. But this makes his argument redundant, since there’s no disagreement over that among anyone who counts for anything in this country.
I get the feeling that this is probably political atmospherics and kabuki. Could his real intent be to send a message about Version 2 of the Leitkultur, which is nothing more than an attempt to assuage good old-fashioned mild European xenophobia? It certainly resonates with a large chunk of CDU voters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from Germans — mostly elderly, mostly well-off, mostly slightly intoxicated — that they can’t stand the ugly new mosque in their city, are suspicious why "these Turks" make their women wear headscarves, and don’t understand why we’re supposed to be tolerant of Islam when everyone knows it preaches hatred of the infidel ("just look it up in their Koran! it’s all there for everyone to read!"), how that ugly screeching music "those people" play in their cars and doener shops is just rubbish, how they can’t understand why queers think they need all these special rights, etc. etc. etc.
Not that Germans have a monopoly on assholes, of course. "Every society has its conformism," Ralf Dahrendorf wrote in his 1965 Society and Democracy in Germany, but "…it is not mere conformism, but rather the especial clamminess and narrowness of the conformism that distinguishes the behavior of many Germans toward other people." Whether an individual living in Germany decides to eat a non-German dish, or practice a not-traditionally German religion, or wear something on their head which a German wouldn’t, is of absolutely no relevance to the public at large, but pissess off a minority of tight-assed people. I think the use of the word Leitkultur is designed to send a message to this loathsome minority of Germans, a minority that despises people simply because they are different. These folks wish those who look, smell or believe differently from them would just go away. The word Leitkultur to them is saying "we understand your discomfort and sympathize, although we can’t do so openly."
If you look at it this way, it’s just a routine episode of political code-talking, not so different from that used by various other parties. Which thus means perhaps we’re all wasting our time paying so much attention to it. On that note, I’ll stop this post, and wait for what will doubtless be further intelligent comments.