In a speech to the youth wing of her party last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany a “complete failure.” Merkel’s remarks have caused some consternation both within Germany and abroad. Detractors have used the speech to highlight what they claim is an increasingly strident anti-immigrant (and particularly anti-Muslim) tone in the words and deeds of the right and centre-right in Germany. The clip below–from Al Jazeera’s English-language news program–places Merkel’s comments within the context of the contemporary debate in Europe on issues related to the assimilation/integration of Muslim immigrants. (Note the clip on the recent “burqa controversy” in France.
There is, I believe, a more charitable reading of Chancellor Merkel’s comments. The public debate in Germany on immigration, multiculturalism and the place of immigrants in German society has-for peculiarly German reasons–lagged the reality for a long while. It was not until the election of Gerhard Schroeder’s SDP/Green coalition in 1998 that the German citizenship law was changed to make it consistent with the social reality.
Kenya’s political leaders have finally reached an agreement that Kenyans hope will signal the end of the recent instability and inter-ethnic bloodshed, which resulted from disputed elections in late December of last year. The New York Times reports that the structure of the political system in Kenya has been altered as a result of an agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga:
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s rival leaders broke their tense standoff on Thursday, agreeing to share power in a deal that may end the violence that has engulfed this nation but could be the beginning of a long and difficult political relationship.
The country seemed to let out a collective cheer as Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, sat down at a desk in front of the president’s office, with a bank of television cameras rolling, and signed an agreement that creates a powerful prime minister position for Mr. Odinga and splits cabinet posts between the government and the opposition.
The two sides, which have been bitterly at odds for the past two months, will now be fused together in a government of national unity.
But there are still many thorny issues to resolve, starting with how the new government will function with essentially two bosses who have tried unsuccessfully to work together before. The government must also deal with the delicate business of reassigning the choice positions already given to Mr. Kibaki’s allies.
When we get back from the spring break, in intro to comparative we will analyze the political systems of several democracies around the world and you’ll realize that very few democracies have institutionalized a system that contains a strong Prime Minister and strong President. The most successful example is probably France, with its semi-presidential system. Even in strongly democratic France, however, political stability is often compromised when the President and Prime Minister are members of different political parties, as will be the case in Kenya. It will be interesting to see how the Kenyan version of cohabitation will develop in the coming months and years.