Speech at Harvard University

Charles M. Huber, Member of the German Bundestag, Christian Democratic Union

It is a great pleasure to be here. Thanks to Mrs Elaine Papoulias of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, evcharisto. Thanks to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellowship, thanks to Mrs. Theunissen, who handled all the communication with my Berlin office.

You are probably wondering why I chose this particular topic for my speech.

Well, as a German MP, I travel to many countries of the world on behalf of the parliamentary committees which deal with foreign affairs, economic affairs and energy, and economic cooperation and development.

In Europe and many other countries – unlike the US – it cannot always be taken for granted that people whose appearance differs from what Europeans regard as the norm will be elected to Parliament. This applies particularly, as in my case, to Germany, in view of its history. I am referring, of course, to the time when a megalomaniac dictator instituted and implemented a system of fanatical racism, culminating in the Holocaust which claimed the lives of millions of people, most of them Jewish citizens.

So today, I would like to explore how the German people’s awareness and Europe’s view of its non-European communities have changed in the recent past. As the first person of color to become a German MP, I in some ways epitomise this change, at least from an outsider’s perspective. So if I may, I would also like to draw on some of my own life experiences and share them with you.

My election to the German Bundestag attracted considerable international media interest. By international, I mean in Europe and beyond; it almost seemed as if there was more interest everywhere else than in Germany itself, to my surprise. What’s more, I was elected on a CDU ticket – a center- conservative party. I say that because generally, you would expect to find a so-called “German with a migrational background” in the Greens or the Left Party, or at least in the SPD – the party which is closest, more or less, to the US Democrats on the political spectrum.

They came from the New York Times and the Herald Tribune and from South America, Russia and South Korea – journalists from all over the world were curious to meet me and ask one key question: how had it come about that someone like me, with my African roots, was now a Member of a national Parliament in Europe? What they were really asking was: what were the Germans thinking?

At that time, religion, especially the debate about Islam in European society, was already a big issue, and there was a sense that anyone who looked different, who looked “foreign” – in other words, if they didn’t look European – would arouse more suspicion than sympathy, especially in Germany. But in reality, things turned out very differently.

Even though I was a political “outsider” – I hadn’t made a career for myself in the CDU – I was elected to the Bundestag from the party list, after I’ve missed a direct seat by merely 2,000 votes against a former minister from the SPD, in a constituency which is traditionally dominated by the Social Democrats and Greens.

Interesting is that I optained my best results in the most conservative corner of my constituency.

The transformation of European – and that includes German society, the need to sensitise those whose forebears have lived in Europe for a long time, and fears of alienation and Islamisation have all increased since the Syria crisis.

So these are not just extremely interesting topics: they are, at present, critical issues for politics and society.

In almost every European country, we are seeing the rapid rise of parties on the extreme right – whether it is the Front National in France, which is now being funded by Russia, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, the Lega Nord in Italy, or Jobbik in Hungary.

They changed our political landscape also in Hesse, where the results of AfD in the recent municipal elections gave us cause for serious concern.

But what I would like to talk about today is not only about this extreme right parties’ views on European society but, first and foremost, how society at large views the migrants who live among us.

I think it is also important to look at how the core countries in Northern and Central Europe, such as Germany, France, Great Britain and the Benelux states, view those Europeans who – before the founding of the EU – came from what were at that time poorer countries with weaker infrastructures outside this core zone.

How has the picture changed? For example, what has changed in the way Europeans in the more affluent societies view those who lived in disadvantaged regions, such as Eastern Europe – long hidden from sight behind the Iron Curtain – who themselves were classed as refugees from poverty?

And how are today’s new migrants from outside Europe viewed by this latter group, some of whom were once labelled “asylum seekers” and “refugees” themselves when they entered the European cultural and economic space, legally or illegally, and thus gained access to all the benefits of its social systems?

I remember when during the so called “German Wirtschaftswunder” the first so called guest workers arrived in Germany, mainly Italians and Yugoslavians, later on Turks, Greeks and others.

Is there any linkage between cultural acceptance and the economic success of the countries of origin: their overall performance as societies, their work ethic, good governance not only measured by macroeconomic parameters but also on soft ones like the human development index, inclusion and participation?

In other words, how do the elites deal with their human capital? Here, I want to refer to Francis Fukuyama’s theory, which he described in his book “Trust”: The relation between honesty and loyalty among individuals AND the macroeconomic performance of a whole nation, as it eases, like he states, settlement processes. And, Germany, like your country and Japan, according to his theory, were these so called “high trust countries“. In my eyes, I have to admit, this theory has a certain relevance to the economic success of the post war Germany.

Looking at the overall context in terms of peaceful social relations, I find the ideas of social psychologist Erich Fromm very interesting. His concept of the “authoritarian personality” describes how a certain state of mind can negatively affect people’s social behavior. This state of mind is characterized by conformity, authoritarianism, extreme obedience to authority, and ethnocentrism. These evaluation criteria should form part of an honest and meaningful debate about integration, not only in relation to Europeans but also in relation to immigrants, some of whom come from totalitarian states and societies.

With a migrational background” – that’s a phrase which I myself regard as counterproductive to a positive self-image, especially for young immigrants, and it’s a term I have never applied to myself.

I don’t know whether this expression even exists in your country, especially when talking about immigrants who are now naturalized US citizens or who are descendants of naturalized immigrants.

Indeed, if we applied the German concept of a “migration background” to the US context, 95 per cent of Americans would fall into this category. I simply mention that in passing.

So I had to start by explaining to many of the journalists, wherever they came from, that according to the sociological definition, the color of a person’s skin is not, on its own, an indication that she has a migrational background.

I myself grew up speaking German; I didn’t have a second language – unless you count the Bavarian dialect. It has its own pronunciation and so many idioms of its own that the rest of Germany would probably say that it is at least to a certain extent a foreign language!

Bavaria is what we call a Free State, where the spirit of King Ludwig II lives on. King Ludwig built Neuschwanstein Castle, which may be familiar to some of you. Perhaps you have also heard of our Oktoberfest. And if you were to categorise this region as a separate cultural and political ecosystem within Germany, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

So let’s take a brief excursion through our party landscape. Bavaria is the only German state with its own Christian Democratic party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). It’s the sister party of the largest of the mainstream parties, the Christian Democratic Union. That makes the CSU unique in Germany.

I am practically an “expatriate Bavarian” , so to speak: I migrated to the state of Hesse – well-known as the home of Germany’s financial centre, Frankfurt am Main, some U.S. Army veterans will be also familiar with the the Rhein-Main Air Base – yes and thus I entered CDU territory.

Your current President Barack Obama and I have something in common: our fathers both came from Africa – his from Kenya in East Africa, mine from the West African country of Senegal.

Yes, ladies and gentleman I was brought up exclusively in a Roman Catholic region of Germany as my African father and my Bavarian mother separated soon after I was born.

My mother worked in the state capital Munich, so I spent my childhood in the care of my grandmother in rural Lower Bavaria, close to the Czech border; your people would compare it maybe with the South. And I must say, it was generally a very happy childhood.

One day, I found an old magazine that my grandmother had put by as a keepsake. Leafing through it, I found out that my father was an African diplomat and that the philosopher and humanist Léopold Sédar Senghor, a former President of Senegal, was actually my great-uncle. From my perspective, this was all quite surreal: here was I, a young lad in lederhosen in a tiny Bavarian village with just 1,200 inhabitants, running around among the cows and potato fields. The big wide world of politics and the Académie française, where Senghor belonged to as the only African member, didn’t seem to fit into the picture.

Another frequent question from journalists was why it had taken Germany so long to elect a person of color to Parliament: in France and the UK, this had happened much sooner.

So I would point out to them that former colonial powers like France and Great Britain have very different social structures, a much larger non-European population than Germany, including more people from Africa, Asia, Carribean and that as a Member of the German Bundestag, I see myself as a representative of all Germans, regardless of color or origin.

There might have been enough votes from Africans living in Germany to elect me as treasurer of a local German-African soccer club, but not to secure me a seat in our national Parliament. That does not mean that I have ever denied my origin from my fathers side. Why – contrary to the common paradigms it represents the intellectual part of my family as my German side were more or less farmers.


Germany acquired its colonies and protectorates during the time of the German Empire in the late 19th century and lost them under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Other European powers began colonizing overseas territories from the 15th century onwards, but Germany played virtually no part in this.

On 27 July 1900, Kaiser Wilhelm II called attention to himself again with what came to be known as his “Hun Speech”. Using robust language, which I do not wish to repeat here, he exhorted the German East Asian Expeditionary Corps to protect European and German interests in China.

When we talk about conflicts between Europe and its migrants, the colonial era features prominently in the debates, although less so in Germany than in France, England Belgium or Holland, for example. Unfortunately this are the countries were most of the European Djihadist which are fighting in Syria come from.

So, we can view the problem of failed integration in two ways: we can see it in terms of an individual lack of commitment and discipline, or we can look at it in the context of real discrimination.

I think there are arguments to support both standpoints.

 When we talk about European colonial history, we are really talking about two key players: Great Britain and France.

Sure, the Spanish were involved as well, mainly in South America, while the Dutch were in Indonesia and the Caribbean. The Portuguese in West Africa and South America, the Italians who were the first to use poison gas, deploying it in the Abyssinian war against the Ethiopians, who resisted colonization to the last. Muslims had long been present in Africa as well, with progressive Islamisation of large areas of the continent. King Leopold II of Belgium halved the number of the Congolese population from 25 million at that time to 12 million.

In the migrant forums on social media, however, it is mainly these two countries who are mentioned, due to their enduring links with their former colonies: Great Britain, with its links to the Middle East and East Africa, and France, with its still intensive political and economic dialogue with North and West Africa. Here, foreign policy elements are mixed with host countries’ domestic policy perceptions of migrants.

Eastern Europe – long in the shadow of Big Brother, the Soviet Union – played a lesser role in this context, as did the GDR, which offered university places or jobs as temporary workers to some young people from overseas.

There is no disputing that colonialism was based on what one can only describe as a racist ideology which served to justify the exploitation of other countries and continents – an approach also adopted by Hitler. Indeed, in the colonial era, some Europeans were fearful that people of color would take any opportunity to rise up against white rule; Lothrop Stoddard’s bestseller The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy captured the mood of the day.

Europeans were convinced that the Turkish victory over the Greeks in 1923 was – I quote – “discussed in every bazaar everywhere in India … and in student debates from Cairo to Delhi, Peking and Tokyo”, with widespread fears of a loss of Western influence.

But there were also some influential figures who took a different view. One of them was the philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes, a US citizen, who in 1942 organised a Committee on Africa, the War, and Peace Aims and sought to apply the language of Churchill’s 1941 Atlantic Charter on self-government to Africa. The Committee’s report voiced firm opposition to racism.

The British were the first colonial power to consider the wide-scale decolonisation of Africa. They wanted a gradual transition of power to moderate, democratic governments.

Contrary to popular belief, an analysis of the colonial era reveals that there were also some unexpected developments, at least from a pro-independence point of view.

In a referendum held in the French colonies in 1958, by far the majority voted to remain in an association with France instead of opting for complete independence. Within just two years, however, France’s empire – the French Community – was consigned to history. In reality, only Algeria’s status as a colony continued for a while, ending with the political victory of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in 1962, after more than a century as an administrative “department” of France. When the Algerian war ended in 1962, France finally turned its back on colonialism.

The past conflict in Algeria, however, is still part of the public debate. France’s colonial past still echoes strongly in its North African diaspora communities – intellectually and emotionally.

You may be wondering why I am telling you this. Let me explain.

The fact is that the history of colonialism, the perceived stigma of colonisation and the lack of prospects, especially for young people, even after independence, are fertile ground for radical propaganda, especially by Islamist groups.

Old enemy stereotypes are being reawakened. I spoke a few moments ago about the “authoritarian personality” as defined by Erich Fromm, and of course these personality traits can be found in some immigrant communities as well and are reflected in their family structures, making it more difficult for young people to integrate into a new and unfamiliar society.

But there are also some politicians who operate according to the same principle and refuse to allow refugees into their country. Some countries have denied that they have ethnic discrimination, but this is often because they either have no minorities or because they employ them as unskilled labor, e.g. as agricultural workers, sidelining these people unilaterally in what amounts to a parallel society.

And at a time when some economically weaker European countries are benefiting from emergency support from the European Union, some of the messages coming from them are far more discriminatory than those they themselves complained about before they were integrated into the European community of solidarity. For some of them the doors for Non- European migrants should be closed. And when it comes to discrimination: “Discrimination is OK, as long as it isn’t directed at us.” Unfortunately, racism is, however, also an issue among migrants themselves – even if this is rarely discussed.

So let’s talk about Europe’s openness to other cultures.

My political awareness started back in the 1970s, the Hippie Era. Like in the U.S., all of a sudden, young people where interested in other cultures, clothes, food, incenses, foreign policies, Asian literature and Eastern religious philosophy. “We are all one, no matter what colour we are, what religion we have.” We all went spiritually towards the far East, towards a peace oriented philosophy, like Buddhism.

After the Hippies started travelling outside Europe towards India, Tibet and Africa, these areas received attention from a larger part of the population, especially from those who had no significant colonial ties.

As a whole and aside of some negative aspects of this period, like ultra- left radicals like RAF, the 60s and 70s opened and changed the European societies in many sectors: in the awareness of other cultures as a whole, in the awareness of nature, including his own. This period created interest in foreign literature, food, clothes and the willingness to open one’s mind for the unknown.


It was a major turning point in Western Societies and – mostly out of our direct awareness – it still influences our European lifestyle and cultural and political perception to a certain extent, at least rudimentary.

But: There’s no denying that European societies’ relations with other cultures were less burdened and, yes, far more cordial before the integration debate came to be dominated by the issue of religion.

Fromm’s theory is one, which can be applied to all sectors of society, and the traits which he described can be displayed by a casual worker as much as at political level, and can appear in diasporas and host societies alike.

Anyone who is still unsure of their own identity will remain an outsider in any society. And a society which does not integrate these people will find itself increasingly confronted with the threat of terrorist attacks, especially if these countries concerned are involved in interventions against actors in the Islamic world.

Especially young folks with roots in Islam and the Arab world, those who feel that they are not accepted by European society are a target for recruitment by Salafists and the Islamic State. They are easy prey for its particular brand of authoritarianism if they conclude that intellectual flexibility, emotional openness and democratic awareness have brought no benefits for them personally.

They may then find themselves fighting for a caliphate – more a criminal organisation than a faith community – whose aim is not only to make territorial gains in the MENA region and in the Muslim countries of sub-Saharan Africa but also to gain ground in diasporas living in Europe.

Islamic State presents itself as a platform from which real or alleged discrimination and social exclusion can be overcome and through which a form of reparation can be extracted from the so-called oppressors with acts of revenge.

This is a fiendish temptation for disoriented people, especially for young Europeans from diaspora communities who lack equilibrium and believe the promise: if they become a martyr, God will give them 70 virgins.

People who don’t want to assimilate should at least integrate so far, not to try to put their own culture above that of the host country, no matter how they try to justify doing so.

But what I believe is that the winners in a short or long term perspective are and will be the intellectually liberal societies – those which have opened up, at least in part, and which are sharing the benefits of prosperity ever more fairly at home. Democracy may not be perfect- but it will always be ambitous on all levels. A totalitarian, authoritarian state or system has just one major objective: To stay in power.

This is increasingly being felt by their young migrants as well, especially from Asia. The linkage with economic success in the countries of origin, which I have already mentioned, comes into play here.

For example, in percentage terms, high school students from Vietnamese immigrant families are now outperforming their German classmates in their school-leaving exams, and there is an almost disproportionate number of young Chinese in higher education in Germany, especially at technical universities. Tradition does not have to be a barrier to career success.

Italians, before and after being part of the EU, have always stuck to their tradition. As their culture is known since the time of the Romans, they are the champions in marketing their talents and assets of their rich culture.

They, for example, told us Germans not just how to eat but how to celebrate a meal. Eating was not just about filling your belly anymore, it was rather a concert conducted by the waiter or the owner of the restaurant.

Food was served with charm and a good mood. Italians practically invented the culture of “event gastronomy” with a little bit of “Comedia del Arte”.

Also the Greeks enriched our menu. My kids could tell you more about Greek and Roman history and language. As their relative Senghor was Professor for Greek and Latin at the Sorbonne University in Paris I recommended them to step a little bit into the footsteps of the family, so they studied it at highschool. Up to the recent dept crisis and bailout discussions there was never any controversial discussion with Greece or Greek migrant groups. If you go through European crime reports you will not easily find a Greek citizen.

Concerning the refugee crisis the country needs definitely our help.

France of course has an own culinary tradition.

English cooking is not very famous and by the way. Neither French, British , Benelux , Suisse and Austrian citizens were designated as migrants in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

That echoes the thesis of context between social acceptance, even cultural ranking of foreigners and the economic performance of their home countries.

In a combined sense, I can say. Not only our German lifestyle, also in other sectors we benefited like nearly all other parts of the world from the creativity of its migrants. Sometimes we tend to forget that.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was an actor. In fact, I was the first black actor to star in a TV series outside the United States. My TV career started 1984. I played a cop, not the stereotype pimp or a drug dealer. Before I started the series was sold to 60.

At first, I was contracted to appear in four episodes. After the first episode was screened on TV, my producer was threatened by a group of neo-Nazis, who told him in no uncertain terms that he should ship me back to Africa.

People on the street, the audience however, behaved very differently.

I performed in another 120 episodes. Meanwhile the foreign sales have doubled and also other European countries like France and UK developed these kind of formats for people of dark skin.

I was born in 1956. Although the war was over, the first few years were not always easy for people of color. I remember one incident in particular: a local official in my Bavarian village – himself a refugee from Germany’s lost territories in Eastern Europe – couldn’t bear the fact that this “negro boy”, as he called me, was getting better grades than his son in school. He tried to persuade my mother and the head teacher to deport me to Portugal, claiming that I would have more chance of developing my talents there. What he really wanted was to send me to an orphanage. The plan failed, but only because of my grandmother’s vehement opposition. I tell my story in my book.

I can say my grandmother was my source of intellectual, social and emotional inspiration, like for most of the so called ” war babies” who s fathers were Afro- American soldiers during the time of occupation and which were left behind, like a fly in the butter milk. For most of them psychologically an extremely tough challenge which didnt always end positively.

And now I’m a German politician. Like some other political and business figures who come from other cultures, such as Tidjane Thiam, the Chief Executive of Credit Suisse, Anshu Jain, the former head of Deutsche Bank, or Philipp Rösler, former German Minister of Economic Affairs and Technology as well as Minister of Health, with a Vietnamese background, my path in some ways symbolises like I said the transformation that has taken place in European society and in its attitude towards people with a different cultural background.

This would not have been possible in the past.

Successful social relations do not require unconditional reciprocal altruism, as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas would call it. What is needed is a desire a hunger for knowledge and the insight that we can learn from each other.

That is what has made your country great.

If you have to appeal to an individuals will to learn that’s mostly a suboptimal variant. A sustainable strong society has, no matter if migrant or non- migrant, to be attractive for those who apply for education by themselves for those who have a focus on their career not only on money which comes from no matter were.

Anyone who opens themselves up to new experiences is a winner. It doesn’t always mean radically changing your own firm beliefs and opinions, provided that they are compatible with the society you live in. But it is a process which has to involve everyone.

The Bible has a simple message which is relevant here: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Known as the Golden Rule, this message is found across faiths: from Christianity and Hinduism to Judaism and Buddhism.

It is found in the writings of Aristotle, and it was discussed by Kant in his Categorical Imperative. The Quran says that “no one truly believes unless he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”. I take “brother” to mean all people here.

Our chancellor Angela Merkel initiated the first integration summit in 2006. She didn’t just talk about it, she institutionalized integration and gave this challenge a bigger importance within the German society. Her open mind changed our party and took the next step to liberalize and modernize the German society. That’s why I joined the CDU.

There is a Japanese saying: The lucky one learns from the experience from others the unlucky one from his own one.

I think I don’t belong to the first category.

And I allow myself to add if anyone were to ask me how I got to where I am today, I would answer that I always looked to the future and never relied on views that belong in the past.

Thanks for you attention.


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