On the one hand, I know the debate and the burial of “multiculturalism” is a false one, largely manufactured by the European center-right to supposedly prevent gains by the far-right and tax the center-left of dangerous naïveté and self-hatred. On the other hand, who can resist a moment when the Russians of all people can pose as more progressive than their holier-than-though Western cousins?
Though Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy and a Dutch deputy PM have all gotten onto the bandwagon and pronounced the death of multiculturalism, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev recently declared the opposite at a meeting with minority leaders. He condemned the Western statements as a “fashion trend”. In an odd reversal of roles, he pontificated against European leaders, saying that if “we speak about the failure of multiculturalism, then the destruction of traditions could follow; this is a dangerous thing and European countries need to understand this.”
The situation in Russia is not the same of course as that in the rest of Europe. Medvedev is no doubt referring mainly to the various nationalities that have deep roots in Russia’s current territory. The Europeans do not contest the right of Scottish or Breton culture to exist, but rather that of the immigrants from the Third World.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but be struck by the incredible bad faith of the European leaders involved. I will leave Cameron aside as Britain has legitimately had an ideology of multiculturalism which, whatever one makes of it, can at least be said to have existed. The same cannot be said of Germany or France. The Germans have long had an ethnic-racial concept of nationality that was enshrined in the laws on acquiring citizenship. Until the reform of 2000, it was easier for a long-lost Russophone Volga German in the Kazakh SSR to become a German national than a person born, schooled and raised in Germany to Turkish parents. Blunt und Boden and all that.
The Germans have never believed in multiculturalism because they had never asked themselves the question of what nationality was. The French, on the other hand, have had an explicitly anti-“multicultural” national ideology for over 200 years. This dates back to the Revolution when, in granting equal rights to Jews, one politician famously stated that “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and grant everything to Jews as individuals.” Sarkozy’s recent comments were a response to a question at a roundtable discussion with ordinary Frenchmen. His long reply included “We were too concerned with the identity of the person that arrived, and not enough of the identity of the country that received” and that practices “communities next to one others” as in Britain and America [sic] has “reinforced the extremists”.
I would like to stress that, with little exaggeration, the French people and authorities have never given a damn for niceties like the “identity” of newcomers. This is not America where signs in Spanish for campaigns and advertising are common and you must press 1 to hear your instructions in English. If these things were to exist in France, there’d be a bloody riot calling for the saving of the République from the Musulman hordes. Even hard left radical Communists in France have refused to to participate in certain demonstrations (on Gaza, say) if certain participants held signs in Arabic.
The declaration regarding “extremists” is also puzzling to the extent that alleged “multiculturalism” has not led to a noted radicalism among American Hispanics or Muslims (though the case might more strongly be made in Britain). In France itself, the Muslim and black working and under- classes are ultimately much more moderate than the White working class preceded them (and often lived in the same areas). The latter tended to vote en masse for the (quasi-Stalinist) French Communists.
All in all, a rather sad but unremarkable development across Europe. Instead of a substantive discussion of realities and real dilemmas, Europe’s two most important figures lay the blame for poor race relations at the door of something which has never existed in their country. What are these realities? There is a degree of inherent “communitarianism” among newcomers and non-Whites in general, a measure of which is normal and not threatening but can be a problem in specific cases. However, whatever developments there are must stem principally from the grotesque inequality of power between the newcomers and the “natives”.
Lets take the French case, that I know best. It doesn’t matter which sphere – police, political, economic, education, housing – one group has everything while the other is dependent on the first’s good graces for anything. Anti-Muslim discrimination in hiring and accommodation is systemic. The country passes laws against burqas and veils – claiming it does not target Muslims – but not one of France’s 577 deputies is Muslim and only 2 of its 343 Senators (something that alarmed the U.S. Ambassador to France). Police brutality is not rare and black and Arab youth are 3 to 15 times more likely to be stopped by the police (a trend also identified by the Council of Europe). In such a situation, one might excuse some for feeling entirely welcome or at home in the land of their birth.
Comparable situations exist across Europe. If we are seeing a lasting split among Europeans between natives and newcomers, I would prefer the discussion recognize these situations and who might hold the most power in bringing us together. Instead, our leaders blame their own failures to deal with these problems on a figment of their imagination.