Constructing a normative national identity: the Leitkultur debate in Germany 2000/2001

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In recent years, public discourse about German national identity has increasingly focussed on the large foreign population within Germany's borders. Whilst right-wing politicians such as Edmund Stoiber foster fears of identity loss ('Überfremdung'), more liberal observers, and indeed the ruling red-green coalition, acknowledge that multiethnicity has by now become an integral part of this identity. The debate experienced its provisional climax in late 2000 and early 2001. Friedrich Merz, then parliamentary leader of the CDU party, introduced the term 'Leitkultur' into the political discourse. The notion suggests the existence of a clearly identifiable spectrum of German cultural values and proposes that foreigners who wished to live in Germany should adhere to these values. Merz's proposal triggered a wave of highly controversial comments which have been evaluated for the purpose of this paper. It draws on roughly 350 newspaper articles and interviews and aims to introduce the English-speaking reader to the complex range of arguments. The Leitkultur debate is taken as symptomatic of the current state of public discourse about foreigners and national identity in Germany.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-496
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004


  • Leitkultur
  • multiculturalism
  • national identity
  • migration
  • foreigners
  • Germany


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