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15 September 2010

Thilo Sarrazin’s departure from the Bundesbank last week provided a rare moment of consensus between Germany’s political parties. Sarrazin, who had been one of the German central bank’s six chairmen, resigned after publishing a provocative book about integration. But while the country’s leading politicians may have been happy to see him go, the debate Sarrazin’s book has stirred up may just be starting.

In Deutschland schafft sich ab, Sarrazin argues that Germany will “eliminate itself” because the intelligent upper-class have fewer children than uneducated Muslim immigrants. He particularly picks on the Turkish, citing statistics that compared to other ethnic groups they are less willing to learn German, often don’t allow their children proper education and simply resist integration. He even makes some unsavoury insinuations toward the correlation of race and genetics with intelligence. 

The book caused an uproar in the political elite; had he not resigned the Bundesbank would have fired him. Sarrazin may appear to be a classic provocateur taking a complicated topic, simplifying and exaggerating it, and then making himself out to be a martyr who tells uncomfortable truths, but huge parts of the population say he’s right. In recent polls 56 per cent of all Germans agree with him – and these are sympathisers of all major parties. (Sarrazin is a member of the Social Democrats but they are trying to get rid of him).

Mainstream politicians have failed to make a convincing argument that Germany needs immigrants, or that new ways need to be found to improve immigrants’ language skills, education and integration. Sarrazin’s spin is more effective.

Few members of the political elite expected voters to feel as strongly about this issue, which exposes a deep rift going through Germany. It has caused problems for all the major parties, which are now struggling to explain to their supporters why Sarrazin is wrong.

There are suggestions that the ex-banker might even launch a new party on the political right of the conservative CDU – just like the Die Linke Party found a substantial voter-base left of the Social Democrats some years ago. 

“We have to prevent more and more conservative voters not feeling at home in the party anymore,” said leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach. Sarrazin says he has no plans to do so but if he did polls say 10 per cent of all votes are already his.


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