Dear Members and Friends of the GSA,
The "Letter from the President," written by Professor Irene Kacandes and published in the Winter 2015-16 issue of the GSA Newsletter, has generated a response from a number of colleagues. In the interest of encouraging democratic, open, and timely dialogue among our members, we are publishing the members' response to Professor Kacandes's letter, and Professor Kacandes's reply to it.
David E. Barclay
Executive Director, GSA
President's Letter (written November 7, 2015)
GSA Newsletter Winter 2015-16
The President's semi-annual letter is usually a forum for updating members on developments in the GSA. I'll mostly leave that to the Executive Director this time, as I have the privilege of writing to you today from Berlin. You see, my home German Studies Department at Dartmouth College sends me here often to teach in and supervise our study program abroad. Though my primary residence is in New Hampshire, these approximately biannual three-month stays in Berlin (with study trips to Dresden and Vienna), along with my visits to family (by marriage) in Switzerland, and a few trips to the S'dtirol have provided me with a fairly regular 'check-in' with the German-speaking world over the last two decades. Each of you will have your own paths to checking-in with German-speaking cultures and surely some of you enjoy broader or more profound ones than mine. Still, I hope that my 'report from the field' might spur exchange of information and opinions among us.
While self-examination is hardly new to the public spheres of German-speaking Central Europe in the postwar period, events of 2015 like the Eurocrisis, the flood of refugees, the VW-exhaust scandals, and the Sterbehilfe debates'even the FIFA and DFB revelations--have forced these societies to reconsider who they really are, what values they truly hold, and what their relationships to countries near and far are and should be. Are we afraid to lead? Do we care what our (grand)fathers perpetrated in Greece seventy plus years ago? How did we treat German-speaking refugees from northeastern Europe in 1945? Ist das Boot voll? Was it 'voll' for the Swiss during the war? Should sport halls be turned into dormitories? Can we trust our politicians? Our industry leaders? Are German products truly excellent? What measures foster quality at end of life? Should doctors be allowed to adminster life-ending doses of drugs? Are Germans (Austrian, Swiss) more dis/honest than other people afterall? While I've boiled them down to their scary essentials, these are some of the questions that are ubiquitous here this fall.
Perhaps I'm choosing to see the proverbial glass half full, but here are a few positive things I've actually seen or heard myself since I arrived in Europe in June.
A large number of my acquaintances spent their vacations in Greece this year. They did so mainly intentionally to support the Greek economy and for some of them to try to explicitly counter the ugly rhetoric that has dominated the verbal traffic between Germany and Greece recently. My friends reported to me how welcoming the locals were even when they learned they were Germans.
Perhaps because they know intimately what it means to be a minority, a large number of the German-speaking inhabitants of northern Italy I encountered in July were actively engaged in helping refugees there: their aid ranged from taking refugees aside and giving them legal advice at the Brenner Pass to watching how officials were behaving there and then writing reports about it to offering information on where refugees could receive food in Bozen to interviewing them and writing plays about their plights. Maxi Obexer, our GSA luncheon speaker in 2014, has written one such play, Illegale Helfer--she read out of an early draft to us--which has since been performed several times and will be again shortly in Berlin in a reading that includes some of the refugees and Swiss helpers she originally interviewed for the project. This past summer Obexer organized and ran in her hometown in the S'dtirol an entire summer workshop for young playwrights on the topic of 'flight and refuge'; some of the participants had themselves fled to Europe from elsewhere. By the way, our 2015 luncheon speaker Kathrin R'ggla did a reading and mentored a group at that workshop.
When large numbers of refugees started to arrive in Berlin earlier this fall, retired and active doctors got busy. A longtime host-father for our Dartmouth students is one such person. He reported to me how spontaneously doctors volunteered to help and how fully they cooperated with one another to assure coordination of care on-site in Spandau. The sister of one of our host-mothers reported similarly on efforts at the M'nchner Hauptbahnhof. She herself had spent a significant amount of time in Syria, speaks Arabic and helped orient the stunned arrivals in Munich.
By way of participating in an 'Aktionstag f'r ein sch'nes Berlin,' my students and I decided to clean up a small local park that hosts quite a steady stream of (German) homeless and alcoholics. One regular was already on a park bench when we arrived at 2 pm. He asked us what we were up to, expressed his approval, showed us the special jars the regulars use for their cigarette butts, and urged us to also do something to help the refugees. I was quite taken with this unsolicited statement of concern for the newest newcomers. While the newspapers were reporting fears of outbursts of violence against foreigners by the local homeless, especially over competition for housing, this gentleman anyways, obviously looked at the plight of the refugees with compassion. One of the Berlin local papers sold by the homeless reported extensively on the annual conference to help homeless youth; from the articles, it seemed that the sponsoring organization was reaching out to refugee youth in numerous ways.
Dresden is getting a very bad rap these days. That's not justified by what I saw. We were not only in Dresden on a Monday night, we were even scheduled to go to the Semperoper. This was exactly one week after the outrageous comments of Akif Pirinc'i lamenting the absence of KZ in today's Germany. While I hoped that he had crossed a line that would make most semi-reasonable individuals stay home the night we'd be there, I worriedly ordered the students to stick together and get into the opera house as early as possible. What I saw over the course of the day calmed me: on dozens of public and private buildings hung gigantic signs welcoming refugees or proclaiming the friendliness and openness of Dresdeners or confirming the integrity of the rights of all individuals or explicitly denouncing Pegida. Probably many of you know that the Semperoper itself hangs alternating huge signs with various messages against xenophobia. The day we were there it read: Wir sind kein B'hnenbild f'r Fremdenhass. When I arrived at the Theaterplatz at 6pm (for a 7pm show) there were several hundred individuals merely standing around with several score policefolk at the edges of the square. My students reported that as they crossed the Platz a half-hour later there were several thousand demonstrators, many carrying signs or waving flags (can someone explain to me the relevance of the Hapsburger standard in that context?). The students just happened to catch a reference by the speaker to the Semperoper sign at which lots of demonstrators then booed. This shook them up a bit. Still, the atmosphere remained peaceful, as did the Pegida and the anti-Pegida marches through the city center. A waitress at the Schinkelwache (also on the Theaterplatz) expressed regret to me about the protests; not a single individual I spoke with over those two days condoned what Pegida was doing.
The Wiener have been dealing with large numbers of refugees from numerous countries for many years now; I can't think of many cities that are currently 'bunter' than Vienna. While I heard a few scattered remarks about the subways being too full, what I observed in those subways was the Viennese exercising the same benign neglect they show toward each other toward what appeared to be new arrivals. On the streets I observed something I'd never seen before: locals stopping to ask individuals who looked clueless if they could be of help. (There's an epidemic of such helpfulness in Berlin, too.) Near the back entrance to the West Bahnhof I often use when I'm in Vienna, I saw a distribution center for clothing and food, staffed by quite ordinary looking locals, cheerfully going about their work by Viennese standards.
Of course, what I'm reporting to you here is not comprehensive scientific data. By the time this column appears, something dreadful might have taken place, disproving what I'm claiming to be the good will of the mainly silent and yet not so inactive supportive majority. If relative peace is maintained in the next months and years in Europe, the Europeans--and it looks like above all the Germans--will have to face the huge question of integration: will these newcomers be offered not only shorter or longer term asylum but also paths to becoming new Europeans? That remains to be seen'or rather to be worked toward.
I and many of you are informed witnesses of how the Germans (East and West and now together), Austrians, and Swiss have worked through the horrible legacies of the NS period. Each national group has had different tasks to attend to, of course, and for each country, it's been an uneven and incomplete working through. Still, from what I've studied and what I have myself observed, I believe the national reflection in German-speaking Europe has been more profound and honest than many other nations' confrontations with the dark sides of their pasts. To make my point here as clearly as I can: I'm suggesting that if we look to the recent past and to small but profound gestures of solidarity in the present, we have reason to be optimistic about the future. As intermediaries between the past and present, I believe we scholars of German history, culture and politics have a special role to play in the public sphere.
There's almost a separate class of 'public intellectuals' in Europe; and from what I've read and heard this year, many of them, along with ordinary citizens, are not as sanguine about their future as I am. An important question we've posed implicitly and explicitly in the GSA is what is different about German Studies in North America from the study of German-speaking cultures in Europe? We have some distance and perspective that helps our judgment of what's going on there; at the least, our location inflects it. I'd like to see more of us step up to the microphone to speak about Europe and its current challenges'to Americans and also to Europeans.
What have you seen lately in your visits or in your daily lives in German-speaking Europe? Perhaps we can figure out a way to stage some open debates on the topics I've raised in this column at our upcoming 40th anniversary conference in San Diego.
Speaking of which--and to continue an important recent trend in presidential columns--please make sure you contribute to the '$40 for 40 years' campaign. We want to be able to tell our funders and future funders that the entire membership believes in the GSA enough to voluntarily contribute to its future stability.
Signing off from Berlin
The Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature
GSA President 2015-2016
[Sent to Irene Kacandes on December 10, 2015]
To the GSA:
In the spirit of Professor Irene Kacandes's invitation to debate the nature of the current state of affairs in Germany, we, the undersigned, wish to reflect on Professor Kacandes's comments and offer a response to greater institutional trends that we have encountered in discussions of racism and anti-racism in Central Europe in general. We appreciate her open tone and willingness to create a dialogue around these issues, and we wish to add to and deepen her perspective. We envision this letter as the beginning of a larger discussion that can take place at the upcoming German Studies Association 40th Annual conference in San Diego, California.
Kacandes's comments about racism and anti-racism in Central Europe appeared in our inboxes only a day after the latest PEGIDA demonstration, less than a week since a Black resident was violently attacked on a tram in the city of Halle, and less than two months since the racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant far-right party the FP' won 31% of the vote in the city of Vienna, breaking their previous record (the only party to secure more votes was the SP' at 39%).
What Kacandes saw in Dresden was indeed heartening (anti-xenophobia signs at the Semperoper; a waitress expressing regret about the PEGIDA protests). Yet we, as German studies scholars, should be able to recognize and support anti-racist movements while acknowledging the ongoing experiences of racist violence in German-speaking countries today. People of color, Muslim men and women, and refugees continue to be subjected to a range of forms of violence, including physical violence. Scholars of color within the GSA continue to experience racist incidents within Germany and within German studies institutions. Students of color should be able to make choices about study abroad programs with full knowledge of the ongoing existence of racism in German-speaking countries.
We thus fully support Professor Kacandes's call for more public intellectual engagement with the current situation in Germany. We also recognize that scholars and students of color likely have very different experiences than those of white scholars and students moving through German-speaking countries and through academic spaces.
Moreover, we wish to point out that even positive slogans such as 'Wir sind kein B'hnenbild f'r Fremdenhass' often reinforce racial and ethnic difference. Who in the Semperoper's poster is fremd and who is German? Far too often, well-meaning Central Europeans use expressions such as Ausl'nderfeindlichkeit or Fremdenhass to describe the nature of discrimination against Turkish-Germans, Afro-Germans, and other German citizens. But their words reinforce the long-held bias that Germans of different heritages and backgrounds are not truly German, even as they claim to be working on these minorities' behalf. Such slogans imply that these 'Other Germans' (to use Tina Campt's phrase) will always be Ausl'nder or fremd. As scholars of Jewish-German history have already taught us, similar language also existed (and still does) to disassociate German Jews from Germany, creating a binary in which one could be Jewish or German but not both.
We encounter comments in both German media and in academia that suggest that the very real and admirable anti-racist sentiment and organizing somehow undoes the continuing existence of widespread everyday racism that ethnic and racial minorities in Central Europe experience, or that the success of German democracy renders the existence of racism both marginal and irrelevant. The undersigned believe that this is not the case.
Certainly much has been accomplished by a decades-long struggle to work through, in various ways, Germany's history of racism and anti-Semitism. However, the impacts and causes of racist violence are complex. Anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, Antiziganism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia exist beyond national borders and cannot be contained by them. These overlapping racisms rely partially on forms of power and constructions of whiteness that circulate throughout Europe and the rest of the world in continually shifting ways. Different countries and regions have dealt with different aspects of these racist histories, but we cannot construct a hierarchy of racisms in which Germany has progressed the most, or the most honestly. Nor can we choose to ignore existing racisms in Central Europe because they have shifted in content or in form, or because some believe that racism is 'worse' in other locations.
We are thankful for the work that many members of the GSA have undertaken in Turkish-German Studies, Jewish-German Studies, Black German Studies, and other fields that tackle the problems of racism and xenophobia in Central Europe because they remind us that one person's experience cannot speak for all. We must always seek out counter-narratives that contextualize how many different people have lived and are living their lives in Central Europe today. And we must employ a wide array of methodologies and approaches to these topics to fight against racism in Central Europe.
We support the efforts of citizens in cities such as Dresden and Vienna to eradicate racism and xenophobia in their hometowns. But that doesn't change the fact that these problems exist. As scholars and activists, it should be possible for us to see both the degrees and levels to which German society has progressed and also how much more work Central Europe still needs to do.
Jeremy Best, Iowa State University
Jeff Bowersox, University College London
Rita Chin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Kristin Dickinson, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Geoff Eley, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Robin Ellis, University of California, Berkeley
Tiffany Florvil, University of New Mexico
Maureen Gallagher, Lafayette College
Marina Jones, Oberlin College
Sara Lennox, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Jennifer Lynn, Montana State University, Billings
Andrea Orzoff, New Mexico State University
Damani Partridge, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Vanessa Plumly, SUNY New Paltz
Kristin Poling, University of Michigan, Dearborn
Tanja Nusser, University of Cincinnati
Anna Schrade, Amherst College
Maria Stehle, University of Tennessee
Richard Steigmann-Gall, Kent State University
Sarah Summers, University of Guelph
Kira Thurman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Evan Torner, University of Cincinnati
Beverly Weber, University of Colorado, Boulder
Albert Wu, American University of Paris
Jonathan Wiesen, Southern Illinois University
Andrew Zimmerman, George Washington University
[December 14, 2015]
To the GSA Membership:
I am grateful to the GSA members who took the time to read my column in the Winter 2015-16 newsletter and to respond to it in writing. My hope is that by making their letter and this response to it public, we will spark greater examination of contemporary issues in Central Europe at the GSA, something that I and others have perceived as inadequately addressed in recent conferences. For this reason I proposed already last year that the relatively underutilized category of 'political science' be replaced by 'Contemporary Politics, Economics, and Society' for one of our vetting slots of the conference program committee. Shepherded this year by Robert (Mark) Spaulding (University of North Carolina, Wilmington) and Jeffrey Anderson (Georgetown), I hope many of you will submit panels or individual papers under this rubric. I would also like to draw the general membership's attention to the new Black Diaspora Studies Network, convened by Sara Lennox (Professor Emerita of German Studies, University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Andrew Zimmerman (Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University), and Tiffany N. Florvil (Assistant Professor of History, University of New Mexico). While topics related to the study of Central Europeans of African descent have by no means been absent at the GSA, I anticipate exploration of many additional subjects and broad participation through/in the new network.
In considering topics that are very contemporary, like those I took up in my original newsletter column and those the group-letter writers took up (not exactly the same), I wonder about things like how breaking news reframes one's argument. (My presidential column was submitted on November 7.) I wonder too about the use of personal anecdotes and observations, close reading, framing of questions, genre, comparison, metaphoric language, metrics in general. In other words: are the tools we use to understand what is happening around us different from the tools we use to understand the past? If so, how? Do some people's interpretations of the present count more than others'? If so, why? What forms does such privileging take? To put it yet a third way: as we'I hope'devote more attention to contemporary events, we will also need to debate and in any case be quite self-conscious about methodology, about how we go about our analyses.
Perhaps the subject that spans my column and the group's letter'assessing xenophobia in the context of the arrival of more than a million refugees to countries with histories of and continuing problems with race-based violence'will require new research protocols as well as new presentation and discussion strategies. I and the Executive Council welcome suggestions for innovative formats, especially in the wake of the successful institution of the GSA seminars and especially to address at our 2016 conference issues related to refugees, xenophobia, and violence against peoples of color in Central Europe.
We can certainly continue to discuss the many topics raised in this addendum to the newsletter in this space on our website.
Tuesday January 19, 2016
Dear Members of the German Studies Association,
Below you will find another response to the letter I originally drafted for the Winter 2015-16 Newsletter, this time from a single member, political scientist Joyce Mushaben. I once again thank her and all those who are taking the time to respond with their thoughts about the compli-cated current events in the Federal Republic. I don't know if at some point this will no longer be possible, but for now, we are committed to publishing all responses.
I want to point out that the letter below was drafted before the events of New Year's 2016. And I also want to observe that the situation in Germany is certainly about as dynamic as it could be; I find myself wondering how each new report changes what I think about what is happening.
I remain very open to suggestions for other ways we can handle dialog on this critical set of top-ics. And I sincerely hope that many panels for Conference 2016 are being formed as I write this to you.
With best wishes to all, especially to those who are just starting up new semesters,
Response from Dr. Joyce Mushaben
Dear GSA Colleagues:
At the risk of unleashing a flurry of emails directed against my reflections. I would like to offer my thanks (and support) to Irene Kacandes for summarizing her first-hand observations of the positive paradigm shift in German attitudes toward migrants, asylum-seekers and Europe's ongoing refugee crisis. Irene's 'anecdotal' accounts confirm what I personally witnessed during my four months of political science field research (April through July) in 2015. They are moreover confirmed by countless e-mails I have received from friends and colleagues spread all across Germany: people I have not heard from in years are suddenly offering personal stories on volunteer activities in their towns. I have moreover been able to document many dimensions of the Germany's new 'Welcoming Culture,' empirical evidence I was able to collect as a guest scholar at the Bundestag Bibliothek through late July.
For the record: Like many academics, I have managed to build a successful career by analyzing various forms of social injustice and minority oppression, although my field requires me to make my case based on 'data' of drawn from many official sources. I wrote my first article on the social and legal exclusion of Turkish guestworkers and their offspring in 1981, followed by studies of neo-Nazi youth movements, comparative treatments of gender and the Holocaust, exploring poverty under neo-liberal welfare state reforms, championing women's 'right to choose' (e.g., Muslim headscarves), supporting Islamic instruction and mosque construction in Germany. As a founding mother of the Women's & Gender Studies program at a public university in a very regressive state, I regularly associate with a wide assortment of social movement activists combating sexism and racism, especially. The University of Missouri-St. Louis is less than three miles away from 'Ferguson,' a subject on which I also guest-lectured in Germany over the summer. I teach and mentor students from Ferguson.
As guilty as I sometime feel regarding my ability to 'make a living' by investigating the trials, tribulations, inequalities and patterns of discrimination facing countless others born into a less privileged position, I nonetheless become very nervous when a self-appointed collective suddenly sees fit to remind everyone else about how much 'oppression' is still out there. Based on my 30+ years of comparative public policy research, I am absolutely sure that no law has ever been changed in Germany or in the United States based on an exegesis of Judith Butler, bel hooks, Michael Foucault, Edward Said, or by citing a host of other social theorists to lawmakers. Anyone who wants to change the world must lead by example, not by way of exhortations to others.
Angela Merkel deserves a great deal of praise for leading the charge, and giving Germans the RIGHT TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES for finally living up to the human rights standards that groups ranging from the SDS to the Greens began preaching of the late 1960s/early 1970s (I identify with those groups as well). As I stressed in various essays I was invited to contribute to international websites over the summer, Merkel's response did not come out of the blue. Rather, it represents a fundamental shift in the mindset of millions of Germans dating back to the dramatic changes in citizenship and migration law (Staatsangeh'rigkeitsgesetz, 1999; Zuwanderungsgesetz, 2005) initiated by the Red-Green government. It is moreover rooted in processes of generational change, the dynamics of two Grand Coalitions, and physicist-Merkel's ability to read the demographic handwriting on the wall.
It was the 'Unity Chancellor,' Helmut Kohl, who deserves blame for Germany's institutionalized, hardline approach to millions fleeing oppression from non-European countries through the 1990s. Although the generous asylum guarantee embedded in the Basic Law made no distinctions with respect to countries of origin, asylum-practices were long biased in favor of persons fleeing 'communism.' Prior to 1980, breadwinners with pending applications (some of which took over 15 years to decide) received temporary work permits. By 1987, only East Europeans were exempt from a new five-year work ban, although two-thirds of all applicants were of prime working age (18-50). As of the mid-1980s, applicants had to live at designated sites in hostels, tents or containers, even if relatives offered to sponsor them elsewhere; all but 'breadwinners' were denied language instruction. Thousands who were ultimately 'rejected' could not be deported, due to international conventions prohibiting their return to homelands that were little more than combat zones. Forced to renew their 'tolerated' status every six months, they could not engage in paid labor, fueling taxpayer resentment over their 'shameless exploitation' of the national welfare system through 2005.
Conditions worsened over time: buildings already inadequate for families had their kitchens removed to prevent them from cooking. Reduced cash allocations were replaced with benefits in kind, health care access declined. Applicants allowed to work under very exceptional circumstances could not earn more than the equivalent of '1.05 per hour. Unification was followed by the arrival of 450,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia, as well as by an unprecedented wave of xenophobic violence (1991-1993). Three fourths of the arson attacks took place on western soil, including the two Turkish homes set ablaze by neo-Nazis in M'lln and Solingen, killing two grandmothers and six children. Kohl refused to attend the victims' funerals and disparaged anti- neo-Nazi demonstrations as 'shameful for Germany.'
Joking that she herself is a person of migration background, Angela Merkel has consistently stressed Germany's need to become a 'welcoming culture,' in order to survive a looming demographic deficit. Its aging population may decline by 17 million over the next 35 years, causing a major skilled labor shortage. One of her first acts as Chancellor was to personally distribute new passports to twelve naturalized citizens. Merkel pursues the 'politics of small steps' but recognizes the need for holistic solutions, e.g., expanding educational and vocational opportunities for youth of migrant descent. She is the only chancellor to have convened a series of National Integration Summits since 2006, as well as a Youth Integration Summit. In 2007 she introduced the National Integration Plan (400 initiatives, 129 stakeholder organizations) and a National Integration Action Plan in 2012, replete with concrete indicators, time-tables and 'implementation monitoring.'
Other legislative reforms enacted during Merkel's watch add up to a bona fide paradigm shift. Asylum applicants can now seek jobs after six months in residence. Applicants who were rejected but nonetheless 'tolerated' in Germany for at least eight years (six for children) now have a 'right to remain.' Migrant dependents (15-20) who attended German schools or who have been in the country for 15 months can receive educational stipends (BaF'g) and work permits after training. Refugees and asylum seekers now enjoy some freedom of movement after four months, allowing children to accompany their peers on class trips. Some states now allow families to move into apartments after two years. A 2012 law established procedures for recognizing occupational qualifications attained abroad; of the 13,344 cases decided in 2013, 9,969 (74.7%) were fully accredited. The Federal Agency for Migrants and Refugees established a Round Table on the 'Accepting Society,' with task forces establishing 'best welcoming practices and intercultural opening and training ' to re-socialize civil servants into friendlier, inclusionary behaviors vis-'-vis newcomers. The BAMF is helping to professionalize ethnic associations as communication channels as well.
The December 10th response to the Kacandes letter began with a few isolated incidents, anecdotal evidence that falls very short of discrediting her glass-half-full conclusions. As a qualitative social-science researcher, I always have a warm spot in my heart for concrete, every-day examples that bring 'a human face' to intellectual exchanges. But single incidents also need to be countered with representative data. While Pegida attracted an estimated 15,000 demonstrators to its largest demonstration -- in a city curiously devoid of Muslims -- there are now over 14,000 VOLUNTEER CENTERS spread across Germany. It also noteworthy that most Pegida, Magida and Legida protests have been matched by counter-demonstrations. While one Black resident was attacked in Halle, over 100 black citizens in the United States have been killed by police since the Michael Brown shooting.
Am I engaging in code-switching? No more than the December 10th signatories who quickly jump to the electoral gains of the FP? in Austria, and then to the misinformed if 'well-meaning Central Europeans.' How do academics specializing in German Studies -- which I deduce from their response to a 'GSA' presidential letter -- suddenly become experts capable of judging what 'Central Europeans' (Poles? Hungarians? Czechs? Slovenians?) must be thinking when they read a banner posted in front of the Semperoper? For the record: The Kacandes letter does not mention a large crowd of Central Europeans visiting Dresden, much less gazing up at the banner at the time she was there with her students. I could not get away with this kind of generalization in my field of comparative political science; at a minimum, I would be expected to cite a few statistically representative public opinion surveys.
As someone who has also published extensively on the serious, widespread Ausl'nderfeindlichkeit of the 1980s, the xenophobic violence of the early 1990s, on the changing perceptions of German citizenship and identity, as well as on migration and integration policy reforms over the last two decades, I would also like to stress that 'learning to live with difference' has been a really good thing for the nation united. Integration is a two-way process requiring mutual accommodation, to be sure, but it begins with an awareness that we do not all have to eat, drink, look, worship, sing or dance alike in order to be valued as members of a national community. That is the nature of pluralist democracy. Recognizing difference is a necessary if not a sufficient condition for building mutual respect.
The December 10th references to 'othering' are sooner ground in an 'either-or' conceptualization that is no longer the dominant societal paradigm in Germany. The sources of potential injustice and inequality noted in the response letter reads too much like a victimization checklist, more likely to stifle dialogue than to foster it: Anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, Antiziganism (never heard of that one before!), xenophobia, Islamophobia, constructions of whiteness. I cannot combat isms; I can only try to make the world a better place by focusing on human behaviors. 'Counter-narratives' are never as productive in breaking down prejudices as actually inviting a refugee family to dinner, sharing extra household goods and/or volunteering to tutor them in the local language. One cannot 'contextualize' other people's lives by sitting in university offices and theorizing about them.
There was absolutely nothing in the President's letter that suggested 'we' should 'choose to ignore racisms in Central Europe,' much less 'to construct a hierarchy of racisms.' No one has denied that pockets of prejudice, discrimination and racism exist: that is why we have laws against such things. The idea is to build on positive sources of change.
I have no idea who 'Tina Campt' may be, but I am pretty sure that Angela Merkel has done significantly more than any scholar of her ilk to open the hearts and minds of millions of Germans to persons seeking refuge, freedom and a new life in Europe. I note this, despite the fact that I would never vote for the CDU/CSU. I do not feel the need to gather the signatures of 26 people who might share my views. I need only the courage afforded by my own conviction, which have served me well for nearly four decades. My many years of researching and living in Germany have nonetheless granted me the ability to recognize when a country with a terribly tragic history has really changed for the better ' and that is great news worth sharing. That is the message I take away from the Presidential letter.
Wishing us all a lot more
'Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Wo/Men' for the New Year ahead.
Joyce Marie Mushaben, Ph.D.
Curators' Professor of Comparative Politics
& Gender Studies
University of Missouri-St. Louis