How close is nationalism to racism

Right-wing extremism

Martina Susanne Ortner

Martina Susanne Ortner, Dr. phil., graduate social pedagogue (FH), adult educator, 2008 doctorate at the University of Philosophy in Munich on civil society solidarity using the example of migrant self-organizations. She works as a professor for migration-sensitive social work at the OTH Regensburg. Before that, she worked as an asylum advisor, as a consultant for intercultural opening, as a research assistant at the specialist information center for right-wing extremism in Munich and in various areas of migration work and youth work, and for many years as a lecturer at various universities of applied sciences.

So far, relatively little is known about extreme right-wing attitudes among people with a migration background in Germany. As part of a four-year project, the specialist information center for right-wing extremism in Munich (firm) conducted in-depth interviews with people of non-German origin in Munich. Martina Ortner presents the results

Under the motto "We have the right to live as we are", Nasser El-Ahmad and the Lesbian and Gay Association Berlin-Brandenburg organized a demonstration against homophobia, violence and forced marriage on April 12, 2015 in Berlin. The young Lebanese is homosexual and was threatened and abducted by his family as a result. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

If someone in this country speaks of "right-wing extremism", it is usually associated with the attitude patterns and behavior of Germans without a migration background. So far, little attention has been paid to how widespread such attitudes and behaviors are among migrants. There is differentiated research mainly on the so-called "gray wolves" [1]. The brochure "Right-wing extremism in the immigration society" [2] of the network "School without Racism - School with Courage" made a further contribution. A representative study of the spread of extreme right-wing attitudes among people with a migration background in Germany, a comparison of different extreme right-wing organizations that address different migrant groups (e.g. Italian, Greek, Turkish, Croatian) and an observation of their development we did not in the years up to 2009. [3]

When we asked in discussions why this is so, we - the team at the specialist information center for right-wing extremism in Munich (firm) [4] - were repeatedly confronted with rejection: people with a migration background [5] had to deal with so many exclusions, rejection and hostility deal, now we come to this topic. Nevertheless, we wanted to provide some clarification and from 2009 to 2013 we carried out a project with the title "Homeland Love, National Pride and Racism - Individual Opinions or Trend? Extremely Right-Wing Political Worldviews of Migrants (in Munich)".

In total, we interviewed 19 men and 17 women between the ages of 16 and mid-50s and with different migration backgrounds in five group and seven guided individual interviews. [6] Our research question was how right-wing extremism manifests itself among people with a migration background. We wanted to find out what influences socialization in the country of origin, migration or experiences in Germany have on political worldview.

Love of home, patriotism and nationalism

In the conversations we wanted to explore, among other things, the use of sensitive terms such as home (love), patriotism and nationalism. Love of home, as the interviewees stated several times, relates to personal feelings. It is about individual memories, rituals, one's own cultural memory, for example the smell and taste of home as well as the feeling of security. Home refers to a certain place or a certain city in the country of origin and - depending on the length of the stay in Germany - also to the city of Munich

In contrast, the term "patriotism" is somewhat blurred. As a rule, the respondents admitted that everyone was patriotic. But then the differentiations began. While some emphasized that one could be "patriotic" independent of the political developments in the country of origin, others denied this. There were also differences in the question of whether one can only feel "patriotism" for a country in which one also lives or at least strives to do so - or whether one can be "patriotic" without living in the country in question, that is to say, a kind of " Ancestral Patriotism "can cultivate.

When using the term "nationalism", the respondents approached each other again with their descriptions. The term clearly has a negative connotation, for them it also includes notions of inequality. Bernd, one of the respondents, sums it up:

"For me, patriotism [...] is rather a love of my homeland. That's how I see it. Nationalistic is much more about putting one's own nation above the others. [...] That is much more pronounced. That is also true for all nationalities. Also with Turks or Kurds or Africans or whatever, I know exactly. That they feel like something better, as a better people. That's what I mean. That is their compensation for their feelings of inferiority. If they were immediately integrated, for example the right to vote, what I know, club, that would probably not be so strong. "

Bernd describes the process that experts know as self-ethnicization. It occurs as a reaction to rejection experiences and an exclusion that people with a migration background experience at their new place of residence. They then often develop a nationalistic attitude towards their country of origin. This excessive nationalism is accompanied by ideas of national community and racism. Benedict Anderson has already pointed out in his standard work "The Invention of the Nation" (1996) that nationalism does not refer to a real, but to an "imagined political community". In the present context, this description has a further meaning because those who think this way do not live in the country whose imagined community they feel they belong to. A nation constructed in this way has therefore always included the risk of excessive exaggeration and thus ideas of inequality vis-à-vis others who do not belong to this nation. [7] So here the mobilization potential of a constructed social category is used for socialization efforts. The question is therefore about the exact mechanisms of their effectiveness. It is about a construction, often connected with myths that are linked to family blood ties (cf. e.g. Arslan 2009: 37), or serve as a substitute for them.


The interview passages on the dimension "racism" were usually very emotional - and possibly racist attitudes in oneself were not an issue. For some, racism experienced in the country of origin was a reason to migrate. Most of the time, however, the focus was on how people with a migration background are treated in Germany. The respondents were not only concerned with cases of fatal racist attacks such as those in Mölln and Hoyerswerda, but also reported about the racism they experience every day, from allusions or insults in the subway or at the supermarket checkout.

The respondents described such experiences - regardless of whether they were experienced in their country of origin or in Germany - as "xenophobia". Both times they also used the description "second class people". The term "racism" was used in relation to Germany to describe acts of physical violence against "foreigners" and in relation to the region of origin for acts of violence against ethnic minorities.

When racist attitudes among people with a migration background were discussed in the interviews, these were often attributed to their countries of origin. For example, the opinion was expressed that whoever rejected a group in the region of origin also tended to do so in Germany, provided he or she did not deal with this attitude. The political situation in the country of origin is also important. There is war there, hatred is stirred up, and that promotes racism. If a certain ethnic group defines itself as such and is in power, labeling and devaluing others as well, then that is and promotes racism.

None of the respondents said they were racist themselves - but some involuntarily documented it during the interviews. For example, the interviewer was patiently tried to explain why certain ethnic groups were not at home in certain regions, behaved strangely, spreading lies about their treatment, etc. With regard to his country of origin Afghanistan, an interviewee explained which ethnic groups were not in the country should live, which are criminal and which are inferior.

In the reports on the racist attacks by German right-wing extremists such as in Hoyerswerda and Solingen, the concern was expressed that Germans could at any time fall back into behavior as they did during the time of National Socialism, Turkish interlocutors sometimes compared their own group with the Jews after 1933 The cause of a radicalization in the population of Turkish origin identified: extreme right-wing groups had an enormous influx as a reaction, because they were supposed to serve to protect and defend themselves.


Anti-Semitic statements and acts of violence were only described by the participants in the discussion for the regions of origin (e.g. desecration of the cemetery in Italy). If the language came up to people with a migration background living in Munich, it appeared that anti-Semitism was also suspected in them, but concrete examples of this were not given. Overall, the term anti-Semitism was mainly used in connection with acts of violence.

In the course of the talks, anti-Semitic attitudes came to light in some cases. For example, it was said that Germans overreact very quickly and describe something as anti-Semitism that is not at all, such as Jewish jokes. All those questioned were aware of the genocide of the Jews and the role of Germans as perpetrators, but the involvement of people in the respective countries of origin in the Holocaust was never an issue. It became clear that anti-Semitic attitudes among respondents did not require personal contact with Jews, but were based on the passing on of prejudices through stories. Some referred to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", which had long since been exposed as a forgery. There were also expressions of religious anti-Semitism, which other participants in the conversation contradicted.

The taboo homosexuality and lived sexism

In a group discussion, the question was explicitly about homophobia. The first reaction was an accusation: Why was the question asked at all - when homosexuals in Germany had only had rights for a few years. For (self) defense it was also said that other countries and societies have different values.

The interviews showed that homophobia is represented in all groups of people with a migration background. They were found equally among people with a Latin American, Iraqi and Turkish background, the latter adding, for example, that homosexual artists present in the media would be tolerated in Turkey. An interviewee from Poland took the position of the local Catholic Church that homosexuality is a disease. The many facets mentioned in the interviews make it clear that there were many forms and justifications for homophobia and that it is widely accepted or at least tolerated by people who are not extremely right-wing.

Sexism towards women was mentioned several times in the interviews. A number of participants represented a role model of women as mother and spouse who had to support their husband and would be protected by him. Sexism was most clearly portrayed by Otto, but when he described the behavior of other (Latin American) men towards women on the dance floor of a discotheque:

"Otto: ... [at music events] I often notice how close the situations are almost to rape, definitely great molestation of women. You can't say anything. Ok, you can say that, but when you're in a German disco would say, dude, fuck off, he might understand that better than a Latino. (...). "

Bettina and Marita described similar things from Russian discotheques. The two young women also reported that they were not only viewed as available by their compatriots, especially when they were drunk, but that others also showed sexist behavior towards them, for example bouncers.

Migration and feminist research repeatedly shows how men try to compensate for their insecurity caused by migration by exercising greater control over their own families when integration causes them difficulties. The demonstration of power gives them stability (see Rommelspacher 1995, Winkler and Degeler 2007).


When planning the interview, we assumed that no interviewee would express himself negatively about democracy. It was confirmed that the democratic system in Germany was consistently affirmed and that democracy in general was valued as something special. This was particularly evident in people who come from countries that are currently at war, an authoritarian regime or the country was previously socialist.

The picture became ambivalent when it came specifically to democracy as a code of procedure. The respondents also highlighted Germany as a positive example, mentioning in particular the rule of law in general and freedom of expression. With regard to the countries of origin, however, there has already been talk of democracy, if elections are possible at all and a majority takes decisions (even where this is at the expense of ethnic minorities).

The advocacy of a "right-wing authoritarian dictatorship" is seen in social research as a characteristic of right-wing extremists, nobody showed such an attitude in our interviews. However, it was repeatedly shown that right-wing extremist organizations or protagonists in the respective country of origin (for example in Croatia) were played down when it did For example, it meant that they had changed in the meantime and that they would also orient themselves towards the rules of democracy, but that they still needed some time.


Even if the people with a migration background we interviewed distanced themselves significantly from the extreme right, we often encountered ideas of inequality among them. However, we would like to follow the Dortmund social scientist Kemal Bozay and speak not of right-wing extremism, but of "ethnic nationalism". This term, which Bozay used for German-Turkish immigrant groups, combines nationalism, racism and inequality - all points that we were able to clearly identify in respondents.

This "ethnic nationalism" among people with a migration background can refer to a real state as well as to an imagined community (Anderson). In order to adhere to this ideology, it is not necessary to live in a state or a community to which you feel you belong. Ethnic nationalism, one of the findings from our project, functions as an offer of identity and falls on fertile ground above all where immigrants are structurally and socially excluded from the majority society and at the same time find offers from ethnic nationalists who are at least tolerated within the community and by the majority society either ignored or even encouraged.

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