Am I the Mother of All Problems?
I have lost count, in the last seven years of living in Germany, how many times I have been told that I am “The right kind of immigrant”. It is a phrase that is often uttered when I take offence at a comment about Germany’s refugee arrivals or when I remind someone that the immigrants they are so disparaging of is a group to which I belong. I am told that I am “not like them” or that “I am different from the others”. In the past I avoided thinking too hard about what was meant, I even tricked myself into thinking that it was a reference to the fact I have a job and pay my taxes. It has become clear, though, that what they really mean is that I am white and for all intents and purposes could be described as a Christian. It was a simplistic code, one that could avoid the tough questions of migration. It was, in some cases, considered to be a compliment. I am more like people here than the other immigrants, I am the same, part of the group, accepted.
It is a phrase I can imagine the German Minster of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, uttering. I am sure when, after days of delay, he finally commented on the events unfolding in Chemnitz and beyond, he didn’t mean that I should be included in his comment that “Migration is the mother of all problems”. “No, Nic” I imagine him saying, “I don’t mean you, you’re one of the good migrants”.
Yet, surely the irony of all of this is that I am exactly the kind of migrant that those who disparage migrants should hate the most. First and foremost, I am an economic migrant. If I was unskilled, had no degree, I would be competing with other Germans for unskilled labour, pushing out German workers from jobs in their own country. Would I still be one of the good ones? Would I be a small part of the “mother of all problems”? Probably not. After all, I look like everyone else and if I keep my mouth shut and my German unspoken I could pass through a PEGIDA march or an AfD rally with little worry of being singled out.
If I had been in Chemnitz a few weeks ago, it would have been unlikely that I would have been chased through the streets or had bottles hurled at my head. I would not have had to seek refuge behind closed doors, I would not have had to fear for the lives of friends and family. Yet, what would I have experienced had I not been white? What if I had a different skin tone? What if my shade of skin had been slightly darker? Would I still have been viewed with benign disinterest? Would I still be a “good migrant”? The answer is probably clear, I would have been a target.
Not just a target in Chemnitz, I would have been a target anywhere. The great fallacy here in Germany is that the East German states are somehow peculiar and different. They are more prone to extremism, because of economics, because of history. What’s more, the greater global delusion is that somehow Germany is predisposed to these problems. If anything, Germany is better equipped than many countries to deal with the far right, given that it has spent so long attempting to get to grips with the past. Through public remembrance, through education and through the arts, Germany has spent much of its history since 1945 trying to understand and avoid the pitfalls of the past. It is for this reason we should fear the mobilisation of the extreme right in Germany, not because it is a German problem, but because it shows how quickly good work can be undone and how accepting and welcoming the arms of extremists can be to those who are scared and feel unheard.
The arguments emanating from Chemnitz, that people feel that the government has forgotten them, that they feel unsafe in their own city are ones that should be listened too. It is too easy to just dismiss these personal experiences. Speaking with people who live and lived in the East, they have much in common with the places I grew up, the post-industrial cities where good jobs are few and the skilled leave for brighter pastures in other parts of the country. They are the domestic economic migrants.
Yet, these real life pressures have been co-opted and hijacked by the extreme right, by the AfD and by fascists. It is all well and good to declare that not all people that protested in Chemnitz were Nazis, as Seehofer and others have done. This perspective tends to ring hollow, however, when we remember that even when National Socialism was at its strongest, not everyone was a Nazi. At the height of power, the Nazi party maxed out at eight million members from a population of eighty million. Even when the Nazi party was in power, not everyone was a Nazi.
You don’t need to be a Nazi to find common cause with them. They are a virus, one that infects the body politic one piece at a time. Through disinformation, by decrying the “Lügenpresse” they can claim that any negative report is a lie and that they are the only ones to speak the truth. This narrowing of the channels of information is part of the radicalisation process. The result is that we have “good people on both sides”, when we actually don’t.
Do I think all those who marched in Chemnitz are Nazis? No. Even so, when you have common cause with skinheads, with those who openly perform the Hitler salute and attack Jewish businesses, it is beholden for you to speak out louder than others. That is not the case here and when the majority fall silent and allow the extremes to speak louder then them, that is when the worst can happen. Should this be allowed to continue, how long will I be considered “the good migrant”?