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Racism or Sociology? A Bundesbank Official Stirs Controversy

Earlier this month, German central banker Thilo Sarrazin was relieved of part of his duties at the German Bundesbank after disparaging comments he made about Turkish and Arab immigrants in Berlin sparked controversy and charges of racism. Numerous commentators, including the Social Democratic MP Sebastian Edathy and trade union leader Uwe Foullong, have accused Sarrazin of employing the same style of discourse as Germany’s “extreme right” — i.e., neo-Nazi — parties. Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of Germany’s semi-official Central Council of Jews in Germany, went still further, accusing Sarrazin of forming part of the intellectual tradition of “Göring, Goebbels, und Hitler.” In light of the obvious centrality of anti-Semitism to Nazi ideology and Sarrazin’s pronounced philo-Semitism, the comment is more than a little strange. (Kramer has since retracted the remark.) The Berlin district attorney’s office is reportedly considering bringing charges against Sarrazin for incitement to racial hatred or “Volksverhetzung.”


Sarrazin’s defenders — who are few and far between in the established media and far more numerous on the Web — accuse his critics of taking his remarks out of context. Only a handful of his remarks have been widely cited in the traditional media. These include, for instance, a comment about immigrant families that “are constantly producing more and more little girls in headscarves.” The remarks are contained in a far more wide-ranging interview on the economic problems and prospects of Berlin. From 2002 until April of this year, Sarrazin was the city official in charge of Berlin’s finances or “Finanzsenator.” The full interview, which appeared in the quarterly Lettre International, tops out at over 6,000 words: the equivalent of roughly an 8,000 word text in English.

Even on closer inspection, however, some of Sarrazin’s remarks clearly at least flirt with racial prejudice and even eugenics.

When one considers, moreover, the contributions of Turkish “guest workers” to Germany’s post-war “economic miracle” and the discrimination and even violence of which they have been the object, the vehemence of Sarrazin’s remarks about Turks seems particularly unjust. Sarrazin accuses Turks in Germany of being on the whole both “unwilling” and “incapable” of integrating into German society. But the policies of the German state have clearly contributed to the marginalization of Turkish immigrants.  For decades, to take only the most obvious example, children born in Germany of Turkish immigrant parents were not even accorded citizenship. Still today, they are in fact only accorded a kind of “pre-citizenship,” which can be withdrawn when they reach adulthood.

On the other hand, when Sarrazin’s remarks are restored to their context, it is equally clear that they form part of an overall analysis of the interaction between immigration and the generous German social welfare system that is heavily sociological in character. Moreover, far from being an all-purpose xenophobe in the spirit of the classic German neo-Nazi slogan “Foreigners Out!”, Sarrazin makes a point of singing the praises of certain immigrant groups … as opposed to others.


Even what could appear to outsiders as the most radical of Sarrazin’s opinions is in fact not so radical in the German context. Thus, Sarrazin calls for a full stop to present immigration other than of “highly qualified” workers. In principle, however, it is already German policy only to accept “highly qualified” workers as new immigrants. An exception is made for the children or spouses of immigrants who are already settled in Germany. It should be noted, moreover, that supposed “ethnic Germans” from the former Soviet Union and other former Eastern bloc countries have an unrestricted right to settle in Germany. They are treated as a category entirely apart from the “non-Germanic” immigrants.

Sarrazin’s use of the expression “underclass” (Unterschicht) has been a cause of particular unease. It has even been suggested that he fully identifies Berlin’s Turks and Arabs with this “underclass.” But Sarrazin is in fact explicit that “native” Germans also belong to Berlin’s “underclass.” On closer inspection, it is clear that he is using the term as a structural category to refer to a segment of the population that is chronically unemployed or underemployed — unquestionably, a major problem in Berlin. The Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson has long used the term in much the same sense in his studies of the so-called “black underclass” in American cities. When, however, Sarrazin identifies “underclass births” as a problem, it is clear that he has crossed the line from sociology into the far murkier territory of “socio-biology” or even eugenics.

Here is a selection of translated quotes from Thilo Sarrazin’s interview with Lettre International — so to say, a “Best — and Worst — of Thilo Sarrazin.” The full interview appears in German in the current issue of Lettre International:


[In 1989, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall] West Berlin was largely devoid of industrial activity. … The top managers had disappeared, the top entrepreneurs were gone. Mostly, there were just subcontracting firms, which survived thanks to ample state subsidies. This had consequences for the population structure. The immense loss of the Jewish population could also never be made up. In 1933, thirty percent of all doctors and lawyers and eighty percent of all theater directors in Berlin were of Jewish origin. Retail outlets and banks were also largely Jewish-owned. All of that was gone [after the War] and this amounted to an enormous intellectual blood-letting. In the German-speaking parts of Europe as a whole, sixty to seventy percent of the destruction and expulsion of the Jews concerned Berlin and Vienna.

The number of Turks and Arabs in this city has increased due to bad policy. But a large number have no productive function other than as fruit and vegetable merchants. This is also the case for a part of the (native) German underclass, who once upon a time wound coils or operated cigarette machines in subsidized firms. These jobs do not exist anymore. In economic terms, Berlin has a problem with the current size of its population.

We have to stop speaking of “the” immigrants. We have to consider for once the different immigrant groups. The Vietnamese: The parents can barely speak German and sell cigarettes or have a kiosk. But then the second-generation have consistently better grades and a better rate of success on university entrance exams than [native] Germans. The East Europeans: Ukrainians, Belarussians, Polish, and Russians tend to show the same result. They are willing to integrate, adapt quickly, and have better-than-average academic success. The German-Russians [i.e., Russian immigrants of ostensibly Germanic origin] have big problems in the first and to some extent also in the second generation. Thereafter, everything goes smashingly, since they still have the old-Germanic conception of work. As soon as the linguistic obstacles have been cleared away, they have higher rates of success on university entrance exams than others. The same goes for East Asians, Chinese, and Indians.

Among the core groups from the former Yugoslavia, one sees something like “Turkish” problems. The absolute worst results are found among the Turkish group and the Arabs. Even in the third generation, a great many still have no decent knowledge of German, many have no high school diploma, and only a small part manage to qualify for university. Everyone who wants to integrate has to pass through our system. In the first place, he must learn German.

The children have to pass the university exams. Then integration will take place all on its own. And there is an additional problem: The lower the social stratum, the higher the birth rate. The percentage of Arab and Turkish births is two to three times higher than the percentage represented by Arabs and Turks in the population as a whole. A large part are neither willing to integrate nor capable of integrating. The solution can only be a stop to immigration [kein Zuzug mehr] and whoever wants to marry should do so elsewhere. Brides are constantly being shipped [to Germany]. Girls here get married to someone in Anatolia and the young Turkish man here gets a bride from an Anatolian village. It is even worse with the Arabs.

My idea would be: As a rule no more immigration except of highly qualified workers and in the future no transfer payments [i.e., welfare benefits] for immigrants. In the U.S.A., immigrants have to work if they want to have money and as consequence they are far better integrated. Studies have been carried out concerning Arab immigrant groups from the same clan. One part goes to Sweden, which has our sort of social system, and the other part goes to Chicago. After twenty years, the members of one and the same kin group are still frustrated and unemployed in Sweden, but well integrated in Chicago. The pressure of the labor market, the need to earn one’s bread, makes sure of that. These are things that can only be changed by changing federal law.

I do not have to respect someone who does nothing. I do not have to respect anyone who lives off the state and at the same time rejects the state, who does not decently provide for the education of their children and who is constantly producing more and more little girls in headscarves. This goes for seventy percent of the Turkish population and ninety percent of the Arab population in Berlin. Many do not want to integrate. …

The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way that the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: By virtue of a higher birthrate. I would be glad about this if it was a matter of Eastern European Jews who have an IQ 15 percent higher than the [native] German population. But I am not enthused when it is a matter of population groups who do not accept their own responsibility to integrate — also, because it costs an enormous amount of money.

If Turks would integrate in such a way that they had comparable success in the school system as other groups, then the subject would disappear. The Vietnamese kiosk-owner will always speak broken German, because he immigrated when he was thirty and he had no education. But when his children pass university entrance exams or learn a trade, the problem is solved. Turkish lawyers, Turkish doctors, Turkish engineers will also speak German, and then the importance of the other problems would diminish. But that is not what is happening.

Berliners always say that Berlin has a particularly large percentage of foreigners. But that is not true. The percentage of foreigners in Munich, Stuttgart, Cologne, or Hamburg is much higher. But there is a smaller percentage of Turks and Arabs among the foreigners in those cities. … Moreover, the immigrants are integrated into the production process; whereas here [in Berlin] there is a large underclass that is not integrated into the work process. But the problem of the Berlin underclass goes far beyond that. That is why I am pessimistic. In Berlin, forty percent of births take place among the underclass and they are filling up the schools and classes, including many children of single parents. We have to completely reorient our family policy: We have to move away from welfare payments, above all for the underclass.

The mayor of [the Berlin district of] Neukölln tells a story about an Arab woman who had a sixth child, because her welfare benefits would allow her then to have a larger apartment. We have to leave behind these sorts of structures. One has to assume that human talent is in part socially conditioned, but in part also inherited. For demographic reasons, the path that we are going down is leading to a continuous decline in the number of intelligent overachievers. This is no way to construct a sustainable society. … That sounds very demagogic [stammtischnah], but it can be very precisely empirically demonstrated.


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