Whilst Norway appointed a young Muslim woman to the post of Culture Minister, Germany’s attitude towards immigration is becoming more positive too.
This change in attitude is rooted in the difference in perception of immigration from two different generations. The older generation’s view is informed by the past, whereas the young generation is more receptive to the demographic changes that have been taking place for decades.
Although Germany is not traditionally a country of immigration, it has experienced immigration influxes since the 1950’s, mainly from Turkey, as a response to the distractions of the WWII and labour shortages.
The then government introduced a guest worker policy, assuming that the immigrant workers would come on temporary basis and once the jobs they were contracted for were completed they would return to their home countries and a new wave of workers would arrive based on demand. However, the policy makers did not envisage that the workers would settle down, stay permanently and would spin off a different type of immigration determined by family reunification.
For decades to come, Germany’s response to immigration was influenced by the institutional idea that Germany is a non-immigration country. The evidence of this was Germany’s reluctance to legalize the status of the temporary yet permanent workers which resulted in the creation of parallel societies, reinforcing the public’s growing dissatisfaction with the increase in Turkish immigrants.
This attitude started to change after German reunification, when members of German minority groups living abroad sought repatriation. Many highly skilled and qualified migrant workers entered Germany and the perception of migrants started to change.
In the words of Klaus Bade, who led the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration; “Since increasing numbers of highly-qualified people are coming to Germany, the image of the educated immigrant is beginning to overshadow the picture of the unskilled labourer”.
Some of the old sentiment and distorted perception still persist and are reflected through the public resentment toward the Roma and Muslims. Anti-Islamic propaganda, media’s input and immigration terminology focussing too much on foreignness, add to the problem.
However, Elif Senel, German journalist of a Turkish heritage, signals a shift in how Germans view people with non-German roots in German television. She points out that “In TV series and soap operas, there’s often an Iranian doctor, say, or a Turkish real estate broker – without these people’s background coming up as an issue at all.” She also says that attitudes are changing because immigrants have changed their perception of themselves, from ‘simply grateful to be allowed to live here at all’ to being confident to contribute and help shape the society.
She says that “Those who present themselves in a confident way will often earn more respect”.