What do most people misunderstand about fear

'Berlin Speech'

by Federal President Johannes Rau

on May 12, 2000

in the House of World Cultures


"Without fear and without daydreams:
Live together in Germany "



Ladies and gentlemen,

  • 30 percent of all children in German schools come from immigrant or recently naturalized families. In some schools it is even 60 percent and more.
  • In 1997 and 1998 more people from other countries left Germany than new people came to us.
  • From 1990 to 1998 50% of all asylum seekers within the European Union applied for asylum in Germany. In 1999 it was a good quarter.
  • Of all those who seek asylum with us, around 4% are recognized by the responsible federal office.
  • Turks alone have founded around 50,000 companies in Germany and created 200,000 jobs.
  • The German economy will lack qualified workers in the future.

These are six very different statements about the reality in Germany
- and yet they are closely related.
Immigration, immigration, refugee contingents, immigration restrictions, integration, green cards, asylum, deportation, repatriation - these key words have been determining the political discussion again and again for many years, in spurts.
Many individual problems and many individual questions are also the subject of private discussions
- they often lead to speechless confrontation.

More than seven million foreigners live in Germany. They have changed our society in the past few years. But we think too little about what this means for coexistence in our country as a whole.
And we act too little on it.

How we live together is one of the most important issues of all when we think about the future of our society.
We have to deal with this issue

  • because it affects everyone in our country, even if some have not noticed it yet,
  • because in some points it reaches the core of our constitutional order and our constitutional reality,
  • because waiting doesn't solve the problems that exist, but makes them bigger.
  • because ultimately it is about whether we can work together on a good future for everyone.

Everyone knows that immigration triggers strong emotions in many people - good and bad. That is precisely why we have to talk about it as openly as possible, as calmly and realistically as possible.
Often too much is left unsaid. We often conduct mock debates instead of devoting ourselves to the topic of living together as a whole.
We have to deal with the right questions:

  • How do we want to live together with people who live legally and permanently in Germany and want to stay with us?
  • How do we deal with those who we only want to or are able to take in temporarily?
  • How do we deal with the worries that affect many people in our country?
  • What can and must we ask of those who want to live and work permanently in Germany?
  • What demands do we have to make of ourselves?

We need a broad public discussion on these issues, far beyond the parties. We have to talk about immigration and coexistence in Germany everywhere in society - about the opportunities and the problems.
And we have to act - without fear and without daydreams.

We can only act successfully if we overcome two attitudes that are too widespread:
We need to overcome insecurity and fear that sometimes lead to xenophobia, hatred and violence.
We have to overcome a misunderstood friendliness towards foreigners, which pretends that there are no problems and conflicts at all when people of different origins live together.



First of all, a simple fact must be recognized: the fact that people of different origins and cultures live together in our country will no longer change. Integration is therefore the task that we have to tackle together if we want to make coexistence successful and peaceful.

For too long we have lived with the idea that it is all a temporary state.
This becomes particularly clear with the word "guest workers". It should be said that these are guests who leave after a certain period of time.
But we have known for a long time that most of those who came stay - and we have closed our eyes for too long to the fact that this has many practical consequences.
They stayed - and most of them for the benefit of all of us:

Without workers from other countries, many branches of the economy would find themselves in great difficulty. Men and women with a different passport have now set up tens of thousands of small and large businesses. They offer jobs and apprenticeships.
The vast majority of the foreign population fulfills their duties and helps us to generate prosperity and finance social security.
They pay income tax and sales tax like all of us.
They pay contributions to the pension insurance and they co-finance the Federal Labor Office as well as the statutory health insurance.

We do not need any artificial debates about whether Germany is a country of immigration or immigration. We must not always single out only partial aspects in the discussion: today Islamic religious education, tomorrow green card, then again work permits for seasonal workers or the treatment of civil war refugees.
We have to gain an overview of the whole.

We have to overcome reality blindness and illusions, tackle necessary decisions and break new ground.
We need a new effort for all people in Germany to live together - without fear and without daydreams.

At the beginning of all discussions it must be clear: "The" foreigners do not exist. It's always about individual people:
About people with their individual roots

  • whether as a job seeker from Anatolia,
  • whether as a repatriate from a small village in the heart of Kazakhstan,
  • whether on the run from persecution and torture in Sudan,
  • whether as displaced persons from the destroyed cities and villages of Kosovo.

Everyone has their biography, everyone has their dreams, everyone has their cultural and religious background, everyone has their own special way of dealing with others.
As different as they are, they all have one thing in common: Each of them seeks refuge or home in Germany - voluntarily or by necessity, some for a period of transition, but many for the long term.



Leaving home and settling into another culture: These are not new phenomena in history - not even in the history of our country. That is why we know that immigration and integration are not conflict-free and do not happen automatically.

Immigration to Germany in the past centuries cannot, of course, be easily compared with the current situation. Many things take longer and some are more difficult when it comes to the coexistence of people from very different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Much is also more difficult today because the immigrants remain closely connected to their homeland by means of telephone and satellite television.
Nevertheless, a look back can show that we have succeeded in integration in the past and can succeed again.

We in Germany took in hundreds of thousands in the second half of the nineteenth century and afterwards who were looking for work and bread. They came from the eastern provinces of the empire, from Austria-Hungary, from Russia, and among them were a particularly large number of Poles.

They came to what was then the industrial center of Berlin and to the "golden west", to the mines and smelters of the Ruhr area. In the span of a generation, villages and small towns became big cities.

The first generation of immigrants still lived entirely in the traditions they had brought with them, such as Polish Catholic piety. The second generation, who drove into the same mines and played in the same football clubs, began to pronounce the Polish names in Westphalian. Just as they were shaped by their new environment, so too have they shaped their new home.
How many of us, not only here in Berlin or in the Ruhr area, are descendants of immigrants! From fathers and mothers who have been looking for a better life abroad! What reception, what welcome would we have wished for our grandfathers and great-grandfathers?

And how were our compatriots who went abroad received?
In its history, Germany was not just a country of immigration. Poverty and need, but also a thirst for adventure and enterprise, brought many of our ancestors to Canada and America in the second half of the nineteenth century - year after year the number of inhabitants of a large town.
Germans were also once economic refugees.
Germans also fled political persecution.
Germans have also contributed to the development of other countries.

As a result of the Second World War, we took in millions of refugees and displaced persons in Germany. This ultimately successful integration was anything but easy at the beginning, even though Germans came to Germany.

Many will not forget how much rejection they met not only in villages and small towns - although they had suffered the worst, although they spoke the same German language, although they belonged to the same culture, often even to the same denomination as their new fellow citizens.

Integration needs staying power and patience. It needs the openness of the traditional population. But it needs even more - and this is especially true today - the willingness and the effort of the newcomers - the willingness not only to come to it, but also to want to belong to it.



The encounter with strangers, with people and things that we do not know is full of tension. It is determined by mixed feelings: by curiosity and resistance, by welcome and demarcation, by incomprehension and slowly becoming familiar.

Immigration is always both: a burden and an enrichment. One cannot talk about one without seeing and naming the other.
We no longer perceive many of the advantages that immigration and contact with other cultures have brought us, because we have taken them for granted by now.

Without the so-called guest workers at the time, the Federal Republic would not have had the economic upturn that it actually experienced. We called in urgently needed workers and they came. They have made a significant contribution to the efficiency of the German economy. By the way, you have also contributed a lot to the economic upturn in your home countries by making transfers home.
We have become culturally richer: Music from other countries has opened up new worlds for many of us. Today we hear with pleasure many things that were alien to us two or three decades ago. The exhibition "Heimat Kunst" here in the house and the related projects show that musicians, singers, painters and writers come from the encounter of different cultures to new forms of artistic expression.

By the way: We also eat differently today. The immigrants brought their recipes, their specialties, their spices and their drinks. Pizza and kebab have become an indispensable part of our penalties. For many people, olive oil and flatbread have become part of their daily diet.
Today Germany is one of the most colorful and open countries in the world. We have gained in looseness, experience and a tolerant attitude.

But it is also true that some people do not see - or cannot see - this gain. They often experience and experience more strongly the problems that such a large number of immigrants actually mean.



Coexistence is also difficult and it is exhausting. Anyone who denies this or does not want to admit it is unbelievable with all appeals for more tolerance, friendliness and receptiveness.
It doesn't help to turn a blind eye to problems or even to portray their description as xenophobia.

It is not difficult to show a foreigner-friendly attitude in well-to-do neighborhoods. It is more difficult where more and more changes are made, where as a local you can no longer read the signs on and in the shops, where families from all over the world live together in one house, where very different food smells mix in the hallway, where strange music is loud where we experience completely different lifestyles and religious customs.
Living together becomes difficult where some long-established Germans no longer feel at home, but like strangers in their own country.

Enjoying multicultural radio programs in an air-conditioned car is one thing. To be surrounded in the subway or on the bus by people whose language you don't understand is completely different.

I can understand parents who fear for their children's educational opportunities when the proportion of foreigners in the school is very high. I know that from my own experience.

I can also understand when a high level of crime among young foreigners and resettlers scares many people.

I can understand if it's not just girls and young women who are afraid of being hit or intimidated by cliques of young foreigners.

Anyone who does not take worries and fears seriously speaks over the heads of people and contributes to an attitude that is: Yes, they are good at talking.

Wherever worries and fears are justified, attempts must be made to remedy them. We have to explain and be able to explain why there is no other way, at least not better.
Where worries and fears are not justified, information and clarification must be provided.

In life it is often like in school: Unfortunately, it is best to keep what is misunderstood. Mistakes are the most persistent.

So that prejudices do not get stuck and spread further, one has to contradict them again and again.

I see a special task and a special responsibility for the media here. Education and information are needed.
An example: People are annoyed by asylum seekers who sit in the city centers and give the impression that they can be put up with by taxpayers for doing nothing. Far too few people know that asylum seekers are legally prohibited from working for the first three months and that afterwards they will be rejected as job seekers by the employment offices. Anyone who knows this may doubt the meaning of this provision. But he will no longer accuse asylum seekers of a lack of willingness to work.

I am wholeheartedly committed to a dialogue between cultures and religions worldwide. That is an important task. However, I never saw it as a substitute for the fact that we deal with the practical problems of everyday life that result from the coexistence of different cultures in our own country.
We have to talk about living together where life is concrete.



There is xenophobia, yes xenophobia, in our society. There is violence up to and including murder. Even more dangerous than individual acts of violence is a social climate that accompanies xenophobia with clandestine or even open sympathy.

There is an aggressive intolerance towards foreigners. It is encouraged when a majority is silent. Those who remain silent are complicit.

We are all challenged. Politicians, the police and the judiciary, teachers have a special responsibility to oppose misanthropic tendencies. That takes civil courage and support.

No politically responsible person should give in to the temptation to capitalize on xenophobic sentiments. The careful use of the word belongs to the first place. I expect self-discipline and a sure instinct from everyone.
Anyone who is indignant about the crimes of xenophobia must not overhear or even use the bad words that circulate far too often. Unwords prepare the ground for misdeeds.

Of course, we must not leave anyone alone with their prejudices and resentments. How often are xenophobia and xenophobia the result of ignorance and lack of experience! This is the only way to explain that there are areas in Germany where very few foreigners live, but where xenophobia is widespread.
When right-wing extremists proudly speak of "nationally liberated zones", it is an alarm signal for the rule of law and democracy and a cause for shame for all real patriots.

There are reasons and explanations for racism and racist violence, but nothing can justify them. Anyone who uses violence should be punished - the faster the better.

I don't want to bring up the old argument about Germany's reputation in the world. It is certainly important how we are seen from outside. But we owe it to ourselves first and foremost that xenophobia is ostracized.



When we talk about immigration and integration, it is not only legitimate but important that we also think about our own interests.

Anyone who comes to us in Germany must accept the democratically established rules. They are the basis of our coexistence. These rules are designed for integration, not exclusion. They offer enough space for cultural diversity. They secure the freedom of belief and the rights of minorities.
However, these rules also set limits that no one may set unreasonably with reference to his or her origin or religious beliefs.
An important example of this are the rights and role of women in society. Everyone has to know that we will not tolerate women having fewer rights for traditional or cultural reasons.
Everyone has to adhere to the rules our society has given itself: immigrants and locals.

Integration doesn't just happen. You have to do something for it. That is often exhausting.
We must not misunderstand this new effort as a benevolent act by which we foreigners are doing a favor. If we do something for better integration, then we do it not only out of fellow humanity or Christian charity, but in our enlightened self-interest.

Much has been said about whether we are or should be a "multicultural society". All I can say about this is that we are a culturally diverse society. However, the different cultures often live more next to each other than together. That works well if diversity is not confused with arbitrariness and if we agree that a society is not an addition of minorities.

We need a common idea of ​​how we want to live together in Germany. We need clear basic values ​​that bind our actions together.
A society that is falling apart cannot be a truly democratic society. Democracy also means that minorities accept majority decisions, yes, inwardly, affirm them. This presupposes that the majority and minority, beyond all political conflicts and controversies, share common basic ideas. Then they can develop a sense of togetherness that binds and connects both.
We need this, even if for many reasons we cannot fall back on the pathos with which other nations justify their common ground.
Constitutional patriotism is important. But we need a certain emotional togetherness beyond that. A democratic society cannot stand the contrast between "we here" and "they there" in the long term.

When we speak of the danger of our society falling apart, we must not just point our fingers at others.
We also have to ask ourselves whether we have always been sufficiently aware of our own identity over the years and whether we have been sufficiently self-confident to accept newcomers for ourselves in a deeper sense.

Don't we have good reasons - after 50 years of successful peace and democracy history - to advertise our society, its culture and ways of life, perhaps also its symbols?
Shouldn't we make it much clearer that it is not just prosperity and economic performance that make our country attractive?
If we can do that, we can expect immigrants to become citizens who not only feel at home here, but also feel at home here.

Integration: This does not mean uprooting and faceless assimilation.
Integration is also the alternative to the unrelated coexistence of incompatible cultures.
Integration: That is the commitment to common values ​​that has to be renewed again and again. If you want to live in Germany permanently, you don't have to deny your origins. But he must be ready to help shape an open society based on the model of the Basic Law. This is what we offer to everyone. We can only be and remain an open society if no islands form outside of the basic social consensus.

That is why we have to actively and systematically promote integration. Everyone who has the right to reside permanently in Germany should be obliged to familiarize themselves with our society: with our values, our traditions and especially with our language. We should seriously consider whether we should not follow the example of other countries and come to an agreement on a law to actively promote integration.



Hardly any of those who seriously deal with these questions deny that we will also need immigration in the future - and in our own interest. This applies not only to Germany, but also to other western countries.

Many of our entrepreneurs like to look to America and point to the overwhelming dynamism of the American economy over the past decade. This dynamic is largely due to the immigrants that America has taken in in large numbers over the past decade.

A few years ago, President Clinton launched a major program for the integration of the various population groups: The program is called "One America" ​​and opposes the breakdown of society into different ethnic groups.

We don't point this out that often.

Why will we and other countries still need immigration in the future? A number of reasons are given for this over and over again.
For example: Our social and pension system can only continue to be financed through immigration.
It's true: all western societies have a demographic problem. We must neither play down nor dramatize that. Immigration alone cannot solve the problem. There is never only one correct answer to questions with causes and consequences as complex as the reversal of the age pyramid.
We would certainly do well if our country became more child-friendly. It is not the job of politics to increase the number of births. But politics should help ensure that the desire to have children is encouraged and not inhibited. Having children should not be financially penalized.

A second reason for calling for immigration should also be taken seriously. Today, and even more so in the future, there is a shortage of highly qualified workers in important areas. This is where deficits in previous education and training policies are painfully noticeable.

The Federal Chancellor has responded to this with his "Green Card" initiative. As much as I agree with this approach, we all know that immigration alone cannot make up for the shortage of skilled workers. We will not be able to do without top foreign talent. But we urgently need to step up our own qualification efforts. This will only succeed in cooperation between the educational institutions and the economy, which in their own interests must invest more in training and qualifications. The Chancellor also pointed this out.



We cannot leave coexistence in our country to chance. The demands that we place on ourselves and those who come to us must be well thought out, carefully discussed and intelligently determined.
We have to be clear about the conditions of immigration and we have to make them binding. Everyone needs to know what to expect and what is expected of them.

It will certainly not be easy to come to an understanding on these basic questions of our social coexistence. But we cannot avoid these issues. We have to have the discussion now.

The rules for integration and immigration must be shaped by the social and economic interests that our society has. It is all the more important to keep two things apart: immigration and the right to asylum. An immigration regime is self-serving, the right to asylum is disinterested.

Anyone who says: Not all of the world's problems can be solved on German soil is right. But I would add: Germany must be and remain a good and safe address for people who fear for freedom, for life and limb.



However we regulate immigration in the future: We have to be well prepared - spiritually, politically and institutionally. We have to be prepared for people to come from whom we expect something and who expect something from us.
We have to be prepared in many areas.

The most important are kindergartens, schools and universities.
These are the places where it is decided whether integration will succeed in our country. They are the places of learning for living together and at the same time they provide the basis for it.
In everyday life you can isolate yourself, stay in your own quarters and among yourself. In school, you inevitably get together. Here you have to get along with others, whether you want to or not.
The school of the nation is the school. This is where all the difficulties that living together can bring are often most evident.

I would therefore like to thank all the teachers from the bottom of my heart who have to grapple with the fact that our society has become so diverse and therefore so difficult every day. In primary and secondary schools in particular, they can feel firsthand what is going on in and what is going on in our society.
In my thanks I fall asleep all those who do everyday integration work for us all in day-care centers, in the youth departments of the clubs and in open youth work.

I would also like to thank the employees in the police and judiciary, also the employees of registration offices and immigration offices, of employment and social welfare offices for their often difficult and sometimes frustrating work, for which they need a lot of patience and sensitivity.

I pointed this out right from the start: 30 percent of all school children in Germany now have a "migration background". This often means: poor language skills, poor integration in the learning group, lack of commitment on the part of parents who do not work with kindergarten and school, or only do so little.
How many problems are - from kindergarten onwards - passed on to the next higher educational institution!

In reality, we need a pedagogy from kindergarten and elementary school that does not misunderstand integration promotion as an accessory.
Has this task already found sufficient expression in teacher training? Are teachers already sufficiently prepared to teach in classes with half or more non-German children? Teachers in particular are often confronted with unacceptable behaviors that stem from completely different ideas of authority and gender roles. What are we doing about it? What is not achieved in school can often not be made up for in a lifetime.

If the number of students of Turkish origin at our universities has doubled in the last ten years, then that's good news.
But the number of foreign secondary school students in relation to their age group is three times as large as that of the German - and in secondary schools it is exactly the opposite.
40 percent of young people who are not of German origin and have completed secondary school do not get a training position.

  • We need educational concepts that take greater notice of the fact that students from a German family with an occidental-Christian background are no longer the norm everywhere. That belongs much more to the pedagogical and didactic training and further education of teachers.
  • We have good model projects in which mothers and children learn German together, because in most cases the mothers do most of the upbringing.
  • Anyone who lives in Germany permanently must be able to speak German. That is why "German for Foreigners" is a central educational project for the future of our society. We need more teachers for this. I know: it costs money. But I also know: If you save in the wrong place today, you will have to pay dearly for it later.
  • It is not a sign of xenophobia if teachers and headmasters make sure that German is spoken in school. On the contrary: If this does not happen, integration fails from the start - to the detriment of all children.
  • It is in our common interest that all foreigners or newly naturalized persons have the best possible educational opportunities. Education promotes integration, education opens up opportunities for good jobs, education enables people to talk.
  • After all, education is the be-all and end-all of any encounter between cultures that really deserves this name. Only education can help overcome prejudices. It is the best protection against fundamentalism and racism.

What we absolutely have to prevent is the emergence of a new educated proletariat, a class that loses social contact due to a lack of education. This leads to the formation of an ethnic ghetto with all harmful, even dangerous consequences.



The harmful consequences of the formation of ghettos and cliques, unsuccessful integration, hopelessness on the labor market, and social marginalization include violence and crime.

Numbers and statistics about it are often misused. They must be read carefully. Then some judgments turn out to be prejudice.
It is true, however, that younger, male foreigners and repatriates in particular are more involved than average in crimes and acts of violence. Like all other offenders, they must be punished according to the law and as quickly as possible.
However, the statistics also clearly show that where integration has succeeded - through education, training and work - violence and crime are no more widespread among young foreigners than among young Germans.
By the way: a skinhead with combat boots doesn't seem any less dangerous to me, even if he may have a German passport.



Our society is still strongly shaped by Christian traditions, but it is more secularized than many realize. In the meantime, don't some who themselves have no religious background experience in their Muslim neighbors for the first time a person who lives his faith in everyday life? And, conversely, do not believing Muslims, especially in our big cities, often have to have the impression that they actually live in a world of "unbelievers", against whom they believe they can only protect themselves by sticking to the traditional? Strict Islamic educators and parents fear that their children will turn away from religion in the same way that parents have experienced with their children for decades.

Freedom of belief and religion applies to all people in our country, not just to Christians. This also includes the freedom to express one's faith - in worship services and worship services. That is why there are now mosques in many cities in Germany.
Many have had to get used to the sight of these mosques, if they look like classic mosques. I add: It would be easier for many if Christians in Islamic countries had the same right to live their faith and also to build churches.

I am in favor of Islamic religious instruction being given in our schools. This should be done in German, by state-trained and recognized teachers and on the basis of teaching concepts that are developed by recognized Islamic partners and approved by the school ministries.
That means: We need academic training for Islamic religion teachers, we need reliable Islamic partners with whom these difficult questions can be discussed.

Our constitution is based on trusting cooperation between the state and the religious communities. Islam is not structured like a church. That is why we need another form of reliable, institutional cooperation with the Muslims in Germany. We need a regulation on the basis of our constitution that corresponds to the legitimate interests of fellow citizens of the Muslim faith.

What we must insist on, also in the interests of all the children who live here, I want to say clearly: In our state and private schools, children are brought up in accordance with the basic values ​​of our constitution - including in religious instruction.



I spoke earlier about the fact that we should not make the fundamental right to asylum, as it has been revised for several years, up to date.
However, in many individual cases, the applicable law repeatedly leads to decisions that many of those who, in principle, advocate restrictive asylum practice consider wrong and unjustifiable. I get a lot of letters in which members of parliament and entrepreneurs, school classes, parishes and committed citizens speak out against the deportation of individual refugees. I can often understand that very well.
In most cases, however, it turns out that these people cannot be helped.You cannot stay here because it would go against the law.
I wonder whether the authorities don't need a greater degree of decision-making freedom so that they can better deal with the particular situation in each case. If you want that too, you have to advocate appropriate changes in parliament. He has my sympathy for that.



We need a new, common effort for coexistence in our country. We have to rethink all areas of social life and political and state action.

We have to take note of reality if we want to shape it successfully - without fear and without daydreams. Successful integration is in our own vital interest. It mobilizes forces that we need for a good future.

Let us clearly define our interests and goals.
Let's decide how we want to shape integration.
Let's set realistic goals.

Education and again education - that is the basic requirement for any integration. Integration must become a central part of any educational policy.

Immigration cannot be left to chance. We need well thought-out, workable concepts that do not overwhelm anyone. We need the courage to do the right thing even if it is not popular always and everywhere.
We need a broad consensus on integration and immigration. I therefore ask everyone who has a mandate and a voice in our society: argue about the best way to achieve this goal. But in such a way that neither fear nor illusions are aroused.
We also need European coordination in migration policy. But that must not be an excuse not to do what can be done in your own country.

Many foreign citizens are involved in our country: in organizations and associations, as self-employed and entrepreneurs who create jobs and offer apprenticeships. I thank them for that.

I want to encourage you all:
Participate in social life - in the city districts and schools, in trade unions or in sports clubs. Only if as many people as possible take part will we be able to develop all the wealth that can arise from the coexistence of different people.
My urgent appeal is: learn German! If we live together, we need to understand one another. Anyone who grows up in Germany or is new to us must speak and understand German.

The promotion of integration is a socio-political task of the very first order. We have to take them really seriously. It should be so important to us that we create a legal basis for it.

We need a discussion about how we want to shape immigration and which rules are necessary for this.

I wish for a diverse and lively Germany - peaceful and cosmopolitan.
It is worth every effort to work on it.
It does not depend on the origin of the individual, but on the fact that we win the future together.

- The spoken word is valid. -