East Germany has a refugee problem. But the call is coming from inside the house.

Something pretty significant flew under my radar until I was sent a link: In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung back in May 2016, his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said,

“…there are too many refugees. Europe, and Germany for example, shouldn’t become an Arab country. Germany is Germany (laughs).”

His Holiness. Source: Yahoo News.

His Holiness, who is a Tibetan refugee in India, is worried about the integrity of the German culture in the face of so many refugees.

His words come to the sheer delight of those opposed to Angela Merkel’s refugee policies, among them supporters of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. Many fear that “they are gradually losing their homeland,” and similar right-wing sentiments can be heard across Europe. Are they right to be worried? Is the Dalai Lama right? Are refugees tainting Europe, and Germany in particular?

Risen from the ashes

The AfD, linked to the Dresden-based hardline protest movement PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”), was founded in 2013 upon principles of eurosceptism but has since been mainly characterised by its anti-immigration stance. It is most popular in the former East German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, and Thuringia. Its popularity is steadily on the rise.

In the capital city state of Berlin, September’s election results demonstrate the stark contrast between east and west on a micro level. As shown in the map below, most voters in the West voted for the centre-left SPD (red) and Angela Merkel’s CDU (black). The centrally located districts voted for the Greens (green), and the districts in former East Germany swung very much both ways: 15.6% went to the Left Party (purple) and 14.2% went to the AfD (blue).

Berlin’s election results from September 2016. Source: Berliner Zeitung.

(By the way, the blue districts are home to the fewest migrants in all of Berlin.)

Is something rotten in the state of Germany?

The CDU’s losses are largely seen as a blow against Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which implements a quota system where states accept a certain number of refugees based on their GDP. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, with the lowest GDP, took in only 25,000 refugees last year.

Take a look at the map of Germany below, which shows per capita GDP according to state. The latest data, from 2015, can be found here and tells very much the same story: The west has more; the east has significantly less.

GDP per German state, as of 2011. Source and some numbers from 2015: Statista.

According to Merkel’s refugee policy, GDP determines a state’s refugee quota. That means states in former West Germany take in many more refugees than their eastern counterparts. Nonetheless, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric remain consistently highest in the east — where there are the fewest refugees and migrants.

Unemployment remains highest in the east as well. There are lots of causes for this —including low population density and the legacy of Soviet-style education programs that left many untrained for the West’s capitalist economy. But in 2014, the German Institute for Economic Research blamed the east’s high unemployment rate on one thing in particular: Not enough employers.

Un/underemployed AfD voters in the east are right to be sounding the alarm

But they’re turning their fire hoses to a tiny match in their yard, oblivious of their house burning to a crisp behind them.

Source: Reconstruction380

Nowhere is that more true than in the small district of Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea, where over half of the population voted AfD in September. Peenemünde hasn’t accepted a single refugee.

Right-wing extremism, in the form of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, has increased sharply in the past year alone. There’s an attack on a refugee residence in Germany almost every. single. day. They take the form of arson attacks and flooding, or stones and Molotov cocktails thrown through windows.

Looking to settle in Saxony?

The attention that the AfD and its loose affiliate, PEGIDA, have received in the foreign press has had a significant impact on eastern Germany’s international reputation. After PEGIDA’s Monday marches in Dresden gained international attention, the city took a solid hit.

In 2016, you’d be one of a rare few looking to live and work there. International research applications to Dresden’s Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems were slashed in half. The hospitality and tourism industry was hit hard — hotel bookings were down 10% in July as compared to last year. And at a restaurant in downtown Dresden, for example, owner Richard Fordham used to take in an average of 130 reservations on Mondays (PEGIDA’s protest day). Post-PEGIDA, the average is down to two or three — resulting in lost revenue of up to €100,000 and two redundancies. The Dresden branch of the semiconductor firm GlobalFoundries is finding it harder to recruit new international employees: “It’s becoming more difficult to convince them to move here with their families,” says a spokesperson.

And it’s not that the jobs aren’t there, either: As of September 2016, there were approximately 70,000 open positions in the state just waiting to be filled by qualified applicants.

A vicious cycle

The Federal Government Commissioner for the New Federal States releases its “Yearly Report on the State of German Unity” leading up to October 3 (the day marking the reunification of East and West Germany). (Here, in German).

The report typically points out the economic and social strengths and weaknesses in each region, and makes sober recommendations for ways to improve German unity and regional parity.

Not this year.

Yes, the report contains the usual. But it sounds the alarm as well:

“The lines between civil protest and right-wing agitation have blurred.”

The increase in xenophobic and right-wing attacks over the past year, says the report, puts important integration processes in danger — not only that, but social peace in East Germany as well. At the same time, there is a risk that the chances immigration could present will be squandered in those areas where, due to the demographic developments, immigration is needed the most.

The report also contains something unprecedented: A clear call to action for the “silent minority,” i.e. citizens who don’t sympathise with right-wing extremists, to become much less silent. They have a “common interest to leave no room for xenophobia, extremism, and violence.”

In an interview with DIE ZEIT, Commissioner Iris Gleicke said:

“Right-wing extremism, in all its manifestations, presents a very real threat to the social and economic development of the [former East German states].”

And Saxony’s Economy Minister Martin Dulig sees xenophobia asthe biggest barrier to the future.”

Maybe the Dalai Lama was right.

The fallback resulting from the few refugees who have come to Germany’s eastern states has raised cultural spectres of fear, mistrust and anger — and the economy is suffering as a result. But not because the refugees have come to make jobs disappear and inflict violent chaos. The loud minority in East Germany is perfectly capable of doing that all on its own.

Title image via independent.co.uk.

Originally posted on Medium.com.

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