Best columns: Europe
What does it mean to be German?
The Nazis were obsessed with the question of what it means to be German, says Heinrich Schmitz, which is why it’s a subject best avoided. So what was Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière thinking when he recently demanded that immigrants accept Germany’s “dominant culture”? Writing in the tabloid Bild, de Maizière gave a list of 10 things that define Germanness—among them, being willing to give one’s name to strangers, appreciating Bach and Goethe, rejecting the Islamic face veil, and respecting Israel’s right to exist. “Our country is shaped by Christianity,” he wrote. “We are not burqa.” Clearly, he’s fishing for Islamophobes’ votes ahead of federal elections in September, a tactic “that is neither wise nor right.” Even some members of his party, the Christian Democratic Union, said they are appalled by the idea that being German requires adherence to certain behaviors. If anything defines us, it’s our diversity. Modern Germany was forged from a number of kingdoms, principalities, and city-states less than 150 years ago, and Rhinelanders are still quite distinct from, say, Bavarians. That’s the great strength of our nation, not some imagined set of fixed attitudes. Embracing the idea of a German dominant culture would “not bind us together but split us apart.”
Attack shows sad plight of Roma
The horrific arson attack that killed three girls in Rome last week has opened Italian eyes to the poverty and desperation of the Roma, said Marco Impagliazzo. The girls, ages 4, 8, and 20, were asleep in a camper van with their parents and eight other siblings when a man hurled a Molotov cocktail at the vehicle, setting it ablaze. Whether the perpetrator was a xenophobe or had some personal vendetta against the family doesn’t really matter. What Italians must ask themselves is why 13 of their fellow citizens were sleeping packed together “in a metal box without electricity or water, on the outskirts of a rich and comfortable city.” The deep-rooted prejudice against Roma—once known derogatorily as Gypsies—in our society has become self-perpetuating: Deprived of education and jobs, some Roma turn to crime, leading society to fear and reject the group as a whole. But when children are dying, we must wake to action. There are some 150,000 Roma in Italy, most living in squalor. The Italian state must find them homes—not in camps, but houses. Proper accommodation, education, and work “can prevent tragedies and ensure that deeprooted prejudice and mutual distrust finally give way to true integration.” ■