Lachmann and Nationalism

Primary Source : New Europe – Europe and Migration, October 13, 2015

Günther Lachmann, author of the 2005 book Tödliche Toleranz (Deadly Tolerance) and journalist for WeltOnline, published an article today on his website geolitico.de an article entitled “The Goal is a Different Germany.” In this article, Lachmann exams the refugee crisis from a perspective that exemplifies the positions of the “bourgeois” right-wing; the employed, well-educated right-wing so commonly part of the PEGIDA base in Dresden. In fact, I found geolitico.de through a shared article on the PEGIDA Facebook page, which I have begrudgingly “liked” in order to follow the political developments in Dresden and elsewhere.

As Lachmann’s title asserts, he is concerned with the national changes occurring due to the influx of refugees and the legal and political disarray emerging as German politicians attempt to cope with the crisis. There is no dispute that these changes are occurring at a rapid pace. From this court case about the attempted seizure of an unoccupied villa for refugee housing to the bitter infighting within the CDU to the 490 attacks on homes for asylum-seekers just this year, it is clear that the social, cultural and political landscapes have already been affected. How could they not be? The refugee crisis, just as the wars and extremism which cause it, is changing the world order.

Lachmann uses this piece to articulate a conservative political position which is nationalistic in its basic orientation: there is a clear sense of superiority of a national culture over – in this case – the transnational alternative offered by EU membership. To quote Lachmann:

„However, everything that we see here is simply the obvious part of what’s happening. It is, to use the simile of Plato’s shadows in the cave, simply the shadow of reality. What most don’t see and what isn’t being reported on are the political goals for which the refugee crisis are being used,  just as the Euro-crisis was. Because essentially they are the next step along the path to a centrally constituted and centrally governed Europe.

What is at stake in all this? Well, it’s about the dissolution of the already weak national consciousness in Germany; it’s about the softening of traditions and customs. It’s about, destroying those identities available and about creatings a new, transnational European identity.“

Lachmann, who has been quite vocal in his opposition to a multicultural Germany, which he believes only fosters radicalism and should not be tolerated, does not want a strong Europe composed of weaker national bodies.  He wants a strong German state, the Germany that “used to be” (einmal war). This romantic notion of Germany, however, is an empty signifier. Given the changes which took place just between 1871 and 1990 – in terms of territory, leadership, forms of governance, and financial stability – we can see that even just 120 years of historical evidence practically offers 120 versions of German nationhood.

His argumentation when he describes the cultural changes brought by refugees devolves into the offensive, broad tropes common within right-wing nationalism: 90% of the refugees are Muslim; many are illiterate; open borders will bring infiltration by religious extremists who are ready to use violence and who have already used rape, assault and attacks on “children of the Christian faith” as their tactics to sow violence within refugee homes. It’s not a million people that’s the problem: it’s a million of these people. The racism and Islamophobia hidden by journalistic prose become visible when we analyze the reasons given for strengthening national identity.

While we might criticize the romantic notion of a strong, nationalist German state and the harm supposedly wrought by European Unity, there is one point in Lachmann’s article that demands further discussion. Lachmann explores the negotiations currently taking place between Turkish prime minister Erdoğan and European heads of state. In order to prevent refugees from leaving Turkey – where they hold no legal refugee status and many work illegally to survive – Europe may provide Turkish citizens with visa-free travel and re-open discussions about Turkey’s entrance into the EU. The immediate trade-off would be a partial halt to refugees passing through Turkey to get to Europe, and the expansion of refugee camps in Turkey, which would provide a place to organize re-settlement programs. (WBEZ Chicago spoke with Demetrios G. Papademetriou of the Migration Policy Institute to discuss these plans yesterday). And this is the point where some on the right and left converge: what kinds of long-term political consequences will this have for Europe?

Although Lachmann is upset about how he sees Germany sacrificing its national identity for a transnational one, ultimately the arguments used to strengthen Europe are similar to strengthening the nation: fortify this boundary or fortify that one; Germany or Europe – Hauptsache, stop the flow of refugees so that we don’t have to change too much. In the face of this kind of argumentation, my question will seem banal – but I am finding myself up against imaginative limits. It is clear what the origins of the refugee crisis are: war, religious extremism, economic instability and uneven distribution of global wealth. It is unclear how best to remedy these issues. So what would a true change in tactics and strategies look like? What would it do to political discourse to stop talking about fortifying boundaries and start talking about . . . well, something else?

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Johanna Schuster-Craig
Johanna Schuster-Craig : In Europe, Scandinavia and the United States, right-wing movements of all shapes and sizes are voicing political opinions that both garner public support as well as unleash xenophobia, racism and resentments against the political elite. Many are grounded in fundamentally religious ideologies. I post about a variety of topics that have to do with understanding right-wing movements, especially when these intersect with immigration, refugee, integration politics and US/Europe comparisons. I am currently an Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies at Michigan State University.
Johanna Schuster-Craig

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