September 1, 2010
September 1, 2010
The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew how to fight the plague. He knew catchy, seductive tunes and was successful against the scourge with his unconventional methods. But because society paid him no tribute and refused to pay him the wages he had been promised for his service, he decided to take a radical step and lure away the children of Hamelin. In doing so, he destroyed the very community he had once set out to save.
It is unclear when and why Dr. Thilo Sarrazin, 65, the child of a doctor and a Prussian landowner’s daughter, who supposedly did a decent job during his time as finance minister for the city-state of Berlin and who had unusual ideas, became a seducer. Did he see himself as a future chancellor, and was he bitterly waiting in the wings to be nominated by his Social Democratic Party (SPD)? Would he have preferred to become the CEO of Deutsche Bank instead of “merely” a member of the executive board of Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank? Does he relish the role of agent provocateur and popular guest on German talk shows? And is he truly worried about the absurd concern that Germany is “doing away with itself” — as the title of his new book claims — by tolerating too many foreign influences in its society?
Opinions may differ among those who seek to interpret Sarrazin’s behavior. The important thing is that he is someone who has gone from being a tough-talking, audacious politician and anarchic prankster (see quote gallery) to a racist anti-Muslim who makes up nonsense about the genetic basis of intelligence and the “German-Jewish origins of intelligence research.” Those ideas have prompted him to voice his concerns over Germany’s “cultural identity” and “national character,” and to blame Muslim immigrants and their supposed non-culture for all the problems of integration — ignoring the fact that both the immigrants and the host country have a responsibility.
“We,” he says, referring to German society as a whole, are unavoidably becoming less intelligent because Muslims, who Sarrazin characterizes as being unwilling to integrate, alien and cognitively challenged, are producing the most children in Germany. Sarrazin magnanimously allows that there are, of course, exceptions in the Islamic world, perhaps a few intelligent Turks here and there. But his views essentially eliminate the need to even address the issue of a controlled immigration policy, of which Sarrazin himself has been such a vehement proponent in the past. Sarrazin, in one of his typical turns of phrase, said that Muslims ought to “disappear.” From that point of view, integration is unimaginable, possible only through death — which is naturally also one way to solve the problem.
The respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper called Sarrazin’s book an “anti-Muslim dossier based on genetics.” Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with irritation. Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, suggested that the author consider joining the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
The interior minister of the city-state of Berlin, Ehrhart Körting, a member of the SPD, expects the book to trigger legal action over hate speech. “Thilo is currently drifting away,” he says. “He always had a fondness for statistics. But in the integration debate he uses only those statistics that fit in with his image of the enemy.”
Christian Gaebler, who is head of the SPD in the Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, where Sarrazin is registered, said: “Enough is enough. Should Mr. Sarrazin not go willingly, we are initiating proceedings to throw him out of the party. We will carefully analyze his book and discuss the issue at our next state executive board meeting on Sept. 6.”
Sarrazin’s rhetoric has even triggered outrage abroad. In France, the daily newspaper Le Monde called him a “racist provocateur.” But the widespread rebuke among politicians and in the media (his fellow bankers have remained eloquently silent on the controversy) is only one side of the coin. Sarrazin’s theories, in the form of excerpts from his book and quotes published in SPIEGEL, the tabloid newspaper Bild and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, have also found willing listeners within a highly anxious population. In fact, they almost have majority appeal.
The Turkish-German writer and sociologist Necla Kelek made a speech at the presentation of Sarrazin’s book on Monday in which she defended his ideas. Kelek is a fan of Sarrazin and has won several awards in Germany, bestowed by people who — like her — see all the problems of the world as being caused by Islam.
The book was already at the top of the German Amazon’s list of bestsellers when it was published. Every threat to eject Sarrazin from his party or his position at the Bundesbank only enhances his notoriety. But if nothing happens, he can feel all the more validated.
If Sarrazin were a lone wolf, an agitator in a desert with no supporters, he could be dismissed as a freakish phenomenon. But with his seductive flute-playing, the man now has a host of acolytes, including women of Muslim descent who ostentatiously refuse to wear a headscarf and other copycats. Shrill rhetoric is in vogue, and hysterical Islam-bashing is in full swing. Sarrazin and his fellow cynics became socially acceptable long ago.
Their efforts are having an effect, and are bringing about changes in Germany. The changes aren’t sufficiently dramatic to jeopardize democracy right away, but are gradual, like a slow-acting poison. From a cosmopolitan country characterized by religious freedom, Germany is slowly becoming a state that is dominated by exaggerated fears and that exhibits the beginnings of an Islamophobic society.
Of course, these fears are not completely unfounded. Conditions in areas like Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood give rise to very real, justified concerns. There are schoolrooms where three-quarters of the students are from immigrant families, students whose German is barely good enough to get by. There are Arab and Albanian family clans that control crime syndicates and receive welfare benefits. There are phenomena like forced marriages and honor killings. In some mosques, imams are encouraging the faithful to engage in Islamist terror. All of this exists, and yet it has nothing to do with ordinary Islam and the day-to-day lives of well over 90 percent of Germany’s Muslims. And yet these are precisely the kinds of things that fuel cheap attempts to create stereotypes of Muslims as the enemy…
Merisor de la Barbulesti is home again, and he’s in a foul mood. He is 42, has 15 grandchildren and his only source of income is his battered accordion.
The accordion player is a member of the Ursari caste of the Roma people. His ancestors went from village to village with their dancing bears. His German accordion, Hohner’s “Verdi” model, was made before the war. It has been played so much that some of the keys are worn down to the bare wood.
For six weeks, Merisor tried to earn a living in France, but then French President Nicolas Sarkozy suddenly decided to rid himself of the Roma.
About 15,000 Roma live in France, most of them from Eastern Europe. Hundreds of them are often seen camped out on the outskirts of villages and cities, and most of them manage to scrape by as harvest hands.
After clashes between Roma and police in Grenoble and Saint-Aignan, Sarkozy decided that it was time to deport them. The decision, though widely criticized, even by the pope, is not one he is likely to regret. Opinion polls show that a large majority of the French population favors sending the “traveling people” back home.
The authorities also showed Merisor the door, even though, as a Romanian, he is a citizen of the European Union and cannot simply be deported like an asylum seeker whose application has been rejected.
The police sent 60 officers to the camp in Grenoble and initially told the Roma that they had to move. The city had set up a site on the outskirts, between the highway and the railroad tracks, says Merisor. But the police showed up in the new camp only a few days later. “I have orders,” one officer said. “It’s better if you go, or else you’ll be thrown in jail,” he reportedly threatened.
Merisor, like the others, heeded the officer’s recommendation and packed up his accordion. Those who had been in France for more than two months received €300 ($380), which is about the average net monthly income in Romania.
Struggling to Get By
Merisor has been home in Barbulesti, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Bucharest, for a week now. Hordes of black-haired children play with dogs on the potholed, unpaved village streets. There is no sewage system and garbage is strewn all over.
Merisor’s grandfather built the house, a long, single-story building. His mother still lives there, as does Merisor with his wife Nuta, two sons, their wives and Merisor’s grandchildren. The house has electricity and a satellite dish, but the women have to walk two kilometers to fetch water.
From the courtyard gate, the crumbling towers of an old sugar factory are visible on the horizon. Many Roma used to work there. But since the factory was shut down in 1990, practically everyone in Barbulesti has been unemployed.
Merisor is waiting for the next opportunity to play his accordion, perhaps at a wedding. He is well known in the surrounding villages, and people like to hire him to play Gypsy tunes. He earns 800 leu, or about €190, per event. “No one gives decent parties anymore since our country has been in crisis,” he says. “We often don’t have enough to eat.”
Never Truly Accepted
Since the Romanian economic boom came to an abrupt end and turned into a financial crisis two years ago, unemployment has climbed to more than 7 percent in the country. There are hardly any new jobs, and Romanian employers generally prefer to hire pretty much anyone else other than Roma. Entire clans live off government subsidies for children and the meager pensions of the old people. They survive by working temporary jobs, trading scrap metal or begging. Many move to the West, to France, for example, to earn money.
The overwhelming majority lives in Eastern Europe today, often in shantytowns and garbage dumps. Very few attend school for more than a few years. They are widely viewed as thieves and beggars, and often they are, living from the money their children earn begging on the streets of Western Europe. The few that have managed to accumulate wealth build gaudy houses, usually next to the slums where the other Roma live.
Most Slovaks, Romanians, Poles, Czechs and Bulgarians despise them. In Hungary, right-wing extremists have murdered nine Roma in the last three years.
The children romp around him when he gets his instrument from the living room in the evening. He sits down in the courtyard in front of his bright-red house and plays a passage from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Merisor can’t read music. He simply plays by ear, a skill that his father taught him. Some 8-10 million Roma and Sinti live in the European Union. Their ancestors left India 1,000 years ago, but they were never truly accepted in Europe. For centuries, they took on the work that the local population was unwilling to do. They were not allowed to buy land and they were practically without rights. The Nazis murdered half a million Roma and Sinti…