Cablegate: Hesse Integration Emphasizes German Language,

Published: Fri 23 Jan 2004 11:36 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Hesse Integration Emphasizes German Language,
1. (U) Beginning this month, Hesse becomes the first state
in Germany to mandate German-language pre-school
instruction in public schools, part of a broader campaign
by the CDU government to promote German language and
culture among the state's large immigrant community (12% of
the total population). Reflecting this approach, the
state's 2004 budget sharply cuts funding for foreign-
language programs and NGOs that work on immigrant issues.
Some critics applaud Hesse's focus on German language but
think that its hardline assimilationist stance will counter
integration efforts by marginalizing immigrant culture.
Hesse Integration Emphasizes Language, Cuts Social Programs
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2. (U) Hesse is introducing a year of mandatory German-
language training prior to the beginning of primary school
for children with insufficient German language skills. The
state government will actively discourage those who do not
pass this course from beginning their education. Older
children entering Hesse will be asked to pass a German
entrance exam before attending school. Students already
enrolled in Hesse schools who exhibit an obvious language
deficit will be asked to enroll in intensive German
training concurrent with their normal course load.
3. (U) Hesse Social Ministry Head of Integration Dr.
Walter Kindermann believes the classes will help integrate
Hesse's immigrants and propagate German culture.
Kindermann asserts that promoting these values is essential
to the success of integration efforts. Language education
is the centerpiece of a media campaign called "Hesse
without borders," which aims at promoting the state's
openness to international business and its approach to
cultural concerns.
4. (U) Hesse's 2004 budget includes deep cuts in
assistance for NGOs that work on immigrant issues. Social
Ministry officials maintain that these groups often
"agitate against the state government" (e.g., protests
against the refugee holding center at Frankfurt airport),
and should not receive taxpayer money to sponsor their
efforts. The government has also dramatically scaled back
support for foreign-language social counseling for its
immigrant population. They expect the cuts to stand,
pointing to the lack of public outcry after Baden-
Wuerttemberg eliminated similar programs last year.
Officials highlight the fact that, even with the cuts, the
current CDU administration is spending more on integration
than Hesse's previous SPD/Green coalition government.
5. (U) Frankfurt, Hesse's largest and most diverse city,
(almost 27% of the population does not hold a German
passport) has a major focus on language and assimilation.
Frankfurt Commissioner for Integration Albrecht Magen cites
the Frankfurt initiative "Mama learns German", which
provides German-language training for immigrant mothers, as
an important success. The program is completely funded by
Frankfurt and has become the template for similar
initiatives in Stuttgart and other cities across Germany.
Frankfurt Chairwoman for Multicultural Affairs Helga Nagel
maintains that "Mama learns German" promotes female
empowerment by removing mothers from an often limiting and
conservative family and social structure. Frankfurt's
private sector is active in a variety of formal and
informal integration efforts, including sports and leisure
programs and independent outreach initiatives.
NGOs, Opposition Parties Reject Hesse's Approach
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6. (U) The Council For Foreigners in Hesse (AGAH), an
umbrella organization of Hesse's local offices for
foreigners and NGOs, disagrees with the Hesse initiative.
While the group acknowledges that German-language education
is essential for integration, they stress the need for a
more comprehensive approach, including help for abused
women as well as initiatives to prevent hate crimes and
racism. The AGAH maintains that Hesse's budget cuts and
single-minded focus on language threaten many of these
goals. Illustrating the point, AGAH chairman Manuel
Parrondo quotes a government poster reading "Only somebody
who speaks German gets into first class." The German word
Klasse means both "grade" and "class", and Parrondo
believes that the government's campaign implies that all
non-German speaking foreigners are second-class citizens.
7. (U) Opposition parties in Hesse evince a predictable
but strongly-felt resistance to the CDU program. SPD
education spokesman Lothar Quantz condemns the recommended
exclusion of foreign students from classes because of
insufficient language skills, saying that "these kids
require more support rather than less." The FDP has a
similar position. Hesse's Green Party criticizes the CDU's
lack of dialogue with NGOs and churches on integration, and
sees a growing alienation between the Hesse government and
groups working with foreigners. Opposition parties
continue to work against Hesse's integration program in the
state legislature but are unable to overcome the CDU's
absolute parliamentary majority.
8. (SBU) Hesse's initiative is the latest chapter in
Germany's continuing struggle to assimilate its immigrant
population while preserving a distinctly German cultural
identity. Although some Germans may view immigration as a
threat to the "traditional" German way of life, the vast
majority recognizes the need for integration. German
cities and industries already depend heavily upon an
immigrant workforce to power their economies, and Germany's
demographic outlook (an aging population coupled with a
dwindling birth rate) underscores the need for a continued
influx of workers to support the economy and maintain the
country's extensive social welfare system. How the
integration of these immigrants should proceed remains
undecided, however, and the speed and scope of Germany's
efforts in this area is and will remain part of the
political discourse for the foreseeable future. END
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