The hypocrisy in discussing the foreign issue
The surprise was perfect. When M., my Polish friend and translator at the editorial department of Langenscheidt’s dictionary, entered the party room, my aunt and her husband, who were also invited, welcomed her with cheerful, friendly words. Much to my amazement, they talked to each other as if they were good friends. It turned out that M., some ten years ago, long before she got to know me, had cleaned my little cousins’ baby arses and my aunt’s middle class house. We had a good laugh and felt like family members who had been lost to each other for a long time and hadn’t realized that they have lived close to each other all the while.
Actually, there is nothing special about this anecdote. It is normal for a German middle class family to engage a cleaning lady from Poland, and it is quite normal for a Polish woman’s working career in Germany to begin in a private household. For a couple of years especially people from former communist countries have been having strong influence on the urban labour market. Their situation is different from that of the millions of so called Gastarbeiter from Southern Europe and Asia in the 60s and 70s, the first hired as contract labourers by the West German government in times of full employment, the others after being invited by the former German Democratic Republic.
But although their influence on the German labour market is so obvious, in public discussions their work is considered to be exceptional, something abnormal Ð and taking into account the high German unemployment rate, even immoral. This has been reflected in polarized discussions about regulation of immigration and has been reaffirmed by the restrictive policy of the German legislation. Until recently, there was no immigration law in Germany. There was only the so called recruitment stop, put into force in 1972 in the Federal Republic in order to stop the immigration of workers, and at the same time several exceptions from recruitment stop, that softened the regulations.
Until now, immigrants from former communist countries have had to be in accordance with one of these irregular circumstances to work legally in Germany. Due to bilateral agreements they may work temporarily in well defined categories like seasonal worker, project-employed worker, border commuter, new guest worker, nurse or student, if a job is available. According to the Institute for Employment Research (IAB Nuremberg), there are on average about 250 000 persons from Central and Eastern Europe, who stay in Germany temporarily every year thanks to these exceptional regulations. Most of them come from Poland, Romania, from the territory of the former Soviet Union, from Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. People from former Yugoslavia who came to Germany in the nineties are tolerated as long as humanitarian reasons prevent them from going back.
If they don’t fit into the legal exceptions, persons from outside the European Union have just two alternative possibilities to enter the German labour market. Either they marry a German guy or girl in order to get residence and work permit. Or they just do it illegally, like Sergej from Russia, who stayed longer than his tourism visa was valid, who camped in the Grunewald and played violin in the Berlin subway, because for him it was better than the alternatives. Sure, there are a lot of immigrants working illegally, who sleep on private building sites and dig out the building foundations for a few Euro per hour, like the Polish workers at my friend’s house. Indeed, there are estimations of the IAB, that one should add 50% to the figures of the legal temporary employees from Central and Eastern Europe to get the real amount of the working immigrants from this region.
In public discussion these legal and illegal workers often play the role of scapegoat. They are being accused of destroying German tariff and social assurance by offering their work for very low wages on building sites, in the restaurant trade and private nursing services. Employing them is considered to be a serious crime committed against the local building industry and social service enterprises.
But German immigration normality is hypocritical. While public discussions with xenophobic arguments stress the need to close the borders, on the private level Germans engage legal—illegal workers from Central and Eastern Europe on a large scale. The German Heimwerker (handyman) would hardly get along without them. No middle class family would go without its Polish, Bosnian or Kosovan cleaning lady. Their work is sort of normal, taken for granted. Why Germans so naturally establish these illegal networks of mutual profit and support and accept the immigrants living among them, is a mystery. Sure, by engaging immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, legally or illegally, a lot of Germans are able to afford some additional comfort or to manage a difficult financial or family situation. On the other hand, German employers mention other reasons as well: Sometimes they are convinced, that the immigrants do their work better than Germans. Often they feel better helping a poor Bosnian family in this way.
But these stories of profit symbiosis rarely come to the surface of public discourse. What is seen as normal on the private level of everyday life isn’t considered to be normal at all when it comes to public discussions. Sometimes an illegal engagement is noisily uncovered by a neighbour, who informs the police —because of hostility towards foreigners, neighbourly quarrels or a bureaucratic understanding of citizenship. Such denunciations cause the deportation of the immigrants who are working illegally and punishment for the person who has engaged them. They are a permanent danger to the legal—illegal employment systems that Germans and immigrants arrange. Therefore, their stories are told behind doors and the storytellers ask for anonymity. Two stories are quoted below.